Creative Vignettes

Posted on November 16, 2012

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I recently completed a short creative writing course taught by Mark Tredinnick. Over a month and a half, we were encouraged to write to a creative prompt each week. It was lots of fun to get my creative nonfiction juices flowing, so I thought I’d share some of my pieces here:

The Small Pleasures in Life
It’s just a small tea cup, pink and chipped. But it waits for me each morning, empty like my tummy. So I flick on the jug and I stand at the sink, and I watch the world wake up while the trembling water yawns.

I don’t use a strainer. I like to watch the leaves drift and collide at the bottom of my cup, as if they were caught in my own ocean. And I wonder about the leaves, every time. Have they come from China, steeped first in tradition then again in pollution? Or were they picked in Sri Lanka, grabbed by hands clamouring for another life?

I like the way the morning sunlight balances on the surface of the water. I hold that beauty in my hands for a moment or two before I break the stillness with a sip. The tea slides down, all warm and smoky, and my tired insides stir with life. A film of fog spreads across my glasses, shielding me from the peering window and the busy street. I take another sip, and I taste the emptiness of mind that comes with a full cup of tea.

A River, Though, Has So Many Things To Say
It had been nearly three years since the rains. Once or twice the sky had shed a tear from its inscrutable eyes, but it was never enough to smooth the wrinkles from the earth’s face.

First thing he’d do in the mornings, as soon as he’d woken up, was to go and check his thermometers on the back verandah. There was one for temperature and another for air pressure, and he’d gaze at both carefully, taking note of the numbers and storing them with his mental catalogue of weather for the past forty-five years. He’d look longingly at the rain gauge beside them then move back inside to to make sure the radio’s predictions of the weather were the same as his.

We lived on the edge of the Great Dividing Range; we were far from the ocean, and my mum’s heart wept for the loss of her deep green sea. But I only ever knew an ocean of deep grey trees and never missed hers. To me it was enough that there was a river on our farm.

It was only ever a trickle of a thing, even before the drought. It slid its way past our house between the foothills of the valley. At night it would sing and whir, and in the daytime the galahs and magpies would sing to it.

After the skies dried up, the grasses were next to follow. The long green necks of lucerne turned golden, and it was beautiful. Then the brown of the earth turned to a cakey red, and when the cattle ran in search of feed they left their imprints in the dust.

Before long our river stopped singing, and the birds stopped singing to it. It was a silent time. We never uttered the words, in our house, that announced the world around us was shrivelling away. But the quiet of the river remained. Even in drought, a river has so many things to say.

Why I Live Here (in Dhaka)
There’s a layer of dust so thick on the top of my mosquito net that I can’t see my ceiling lying down. The white swathes of material are something like a filter for my lungs and soul, shielding me from city grime, mosquitoes and sleepless nights. When I escape the net in the morning, the sunlight illuminates an entire room sparkling, still, with dust. The lull in movement is the quietest this place ever gets.

From 5am, my ears are filled with the whisper of brooms. They are the voices of an army of street sweepers who aren’t paid by governments or house keepers to wipe the rubbish and dust from the pavement. As a prize, the sweepers get to keep any rubbish they find and sell it onwards. Grime is the currency of Dhaka because you need to own something to notice that it’s dirty; cleaning is a privilege since it demands a surplus of time, energy and pride.

Capital city of a nation built on a flood plain, it’s puzzling that water can never wash Dhaka’s streets clean. But that’s what you get when you pile 16 million lives and 94% humidity between the tonsils of a river’s mouth. That many people turn water into a toxic substance – it brings mosquitoes, diarrhoea, floods that drown babies and houses, rains that wash away memories and hopes.

But there are pockets of rainbows that flicker in the corners of broken glass windows. There are flowers in the pavement that sing of brightly-coloured hope and crows atop the rubbish piles searching for it. Men wail evening prayers across the rooftops while women downstairs don layers of colour to please their God.

There’s a homeless man who plays his flute by the lake in the evenings. The sound tells me when it’s time to end my day. After the flute finishes, the brooms start and I’m ready for my filtered sleep.

I live here to breathe this city’s dust.

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Posted in: Creativity, Writing