On Sundays, Hannah and I would walk into the edges of the jungle and catch butterflies. It was a comfortable routine for both of us. She would knock on my door at around 5 o’clock, when the heat began to soften, wearing cream trousers and a boxy white blouse, holding a net over her shoulder. She was always smiling. Her cheeks, animated by an afternoon glass of brandy, glowed like ripe apples below the wide brim of a straw hat. Strands of her dark blonde hair routinely fell across her eyes — the result of a bad haircut, I am told.
I played tennis this morning, she tells me on a late September Sunday. A remedy for the claustrophobic feeling of being cooped up in that house, I presume. Even though she had just turned thirty and was in good shape, her shoulders were starting to feel creaky. They crunch when she rolls them, she says. And although she implores that her shoulders are the sole reason for her recurring absence from the house, I knew why she wanted to escape. I wanted to escape sometimes, too.
Catching butterflies reminds us of home. Of a simple childhood spent running through English meadows with huge, cylindrical nets made from linen and wood. We charged like a retreating army with our billowing white flags, buckled shoes hitting the ground so hard that our shins vibrated. We would breathe in the sweet smell of honey blossom and lavender, feeling the tickle in our noses as we stumbled into an ocean of bright yellow rapeseed.
Catching butterflies eclipsed the torment of a life that existed around us. Parallel but always perceptible, like a news report you can’t switch off. A life of armoured cars, automatic weapons and cheap life. When we could, we traded the urban jungle for its organic sibling, allowing the air of juvenility to fill our nets; our laced up boots hitting the tapestry of the jungle floor as we ran, cloth balloons in our wake.
The bush was dense, humid and alive. The trees, tall and noble, are the elders that preside over the jungle floor, their hands turning inwards to shield smaller trees from the harshness of the sun. The splinters of light that slipped through the elders’ fingertips created a patchwork of spotlights that highlighted glistening drops of moisture collected by waxy green plants. The ground, thick with the bodies of fallen branches, almost bounced at the touch of a boot.
Hannah and I would walk through the spotlights, the squelch of our shoes adding to the hum of the jungle’s invisible traffic. We talked about food, the weather, of the mining strikes in Newcastle and the terrible roads in Port Harcourt. We delicately sidestepped any subject that could lead us to the thing that consumed much of our daily lives.
Hannah’s eyes would widen when she saw a butterfly. With childlike excitement, she’d bite her lip and run towards the butterfly’s sliver of sunlight. I would entertain her competitive streak by racing her there, knowing full well that my wrists weren’t dexterous enough to claim the butterfly as my own. She would transfer the creature, fragile and beautiful, into a glass jar. In silence, we would watch it beat its silky wings, admiring its flecks, patterns and hues. And although we would never say it, the butterflies provided us with comfort. A reminder of a world of calmness, beauty and serenity.