The sun sets over open dry grasslands.

Several miles from the eastern border sits a newly painted house. Mud-walled and bandaged with overgrown bamboo trees, blue gums, Nandi flames, pine trees, acacias, jacarandas and bottle-brushes. Just short of twenty metres from the windows, they form a tangled perimeter. Branches overlap like patterns on a snowflake. The colours, greens and blues and browns, soften like wood shavings.

A woman bends by an outdoor tap. The water splashes off a glass pitcher and onto her shins. She rinses out the lime pulp and then glides to a bench, refilling it with more fresh lime pulp.

The woman recalls how years ago her palms would tire from squeezing the tough rinds. But the thought of it prickles her now.

Her eye stings. A drop of lime juice has jumped into her judgment.

Guarding the well with mossy bark and boil-afflicted leaves are the ten-foot tall lime tree. It began to produce fruit just after the rains. Its fruits can grow to the size of her fist if the local children don't visit for a time. And they did. They didn't.

The rains kept her neighbours indoors for most of the season. Quiet and troublesome, loud and grateful. Their absence creating dispersions were, instead, rain collected along with the chocolate powder soil. Rainwater swept away saliva and fruit juice labels and shattered liquor bottles; while years-old polythene paper bags pinned under thick dirt continued to sit like a strand of hair in your mouth, far from the concerns of the Ministry of Environment or the practised eyes of eco-friendly groups toting picks or the rainwater that precipitates to penetrate humus and topsoil and will certainly not.

The woman leaves the pitcher full and on the veranda. She walks inside her home jutting out her jaw, stretching the muscles under her deaf ear. Her hand massages the tendon with quiet masochism. She steps into her bedroom to retrieve her yellow khanga.

Outside, the woman sits before shrieking yellow weaver birds. The birds dance on the branches and the leaves clang. She estimates there to be over two-hundred of them, calling her attention to a message they have brought for her. A joke. Seemingly eternal in their tickles. Their joy replenishes her.

The bamboo leaves make the most static. They irritate her these days. They sound like holding your stomach from expired githeri and it scratches her scalp from inside her head.

The weaver birds are weaving new two-door homes and for that, most of them settle upon the bamboo branches. Branches that their small claws can wrap around while they fly to-and-from resources.

Birds eat wild berries from a shrub below a jacaranda.

The woman's home is at the centre of this feathered arena. Squawking. Piping. Chirruping. Chipping. Squeaking. Chirping. Tweeting. Whistling. Cawing. Twittering. Cheeping. Singing.

  • Four months ago, three cows farted. They drank water from a rubber troughs. Three female African weaver birds scratched rim shots and dipped into the water. They bathed and chirped and waited for the males who sat over twenty feet in the air, clipping select blades of dried grass off their nests and letting the wind carry the rest. Their confidence in nature picking up and breaking down what is necessary is reflected in the red eyes of their colony. In the many coloured eyes of other birds. In the eyes of animals on land and under the sea. In the habits of female weaver birds who never clip their hanging nests. No, they scratch rim shots. The intricately woven nests built by round beaks adapted to eating maize, shredding leaf fibres and snipping the strongest grass around. Upholstered with the softest grass they can find. Flask-shaped and entered through the bottom. The finest in all the colonies. Destruction is never even a thought. Only songs. They know. They trust. They are confident that in two days, they will have a new home. Painted in bright greens and fresh scents and the flaming blood of two children who in the early hours of the morning had screamed for their mother. In hunger and, some point after that, in agony.
    Mother Earth provides seeds and joy. The males build nests together. Seven to a branch like a cul-de-sac. They don't live inside each other like sociable weavers. No, village weavers live beside each other. To the left and right of each other, setting clear boundaries that require an invitation to span. So how could anyone have done anything when they heard the cries of the children?
  • A cow dropped dead in the pen. Its legs poke out beneath the blue tarp that covers it. It's tongue too. As a young girl, the woman would trek bare-footed to the local primary school. The dirt road would be showered in muddy quartz protruding from the ground, the size of pebbles and fists. Her soles were thick in the skin and she hadn't thought about it. One day, a traditionally candid neighbour made her aware of a ghastly danger. It was explained to her how in the event of a stone puncturing her foot, exposed to mere air, insects could swallow her foot whole. It would itch at first because the bugs would begin with nibbles smaller than the eye could see. Eventually, the pain would rise; the insects would feel more brazen, hungry. It would reportedly take a week for her entire leg to be eaten, from heel to hip. The neighbour had warned the young girl saying, "Chela, listen once."
    She always loved blue waxbills and red-cheeked cordon-bleu finches. The latter for their cheeks, the former for their trickery. She could never tell them apart so she studied them. On the warmest days, she would look for the males, listen for their songs. Search near trees for the militant females, trees on the fringes of the forest. Spy between tall grasses for those Nokia-sized finches. She would keep an eye out for pin-tailed whydahs who would make sure her birds were not around. She would look in bushes and low-lying plants, and in thatches for their homes. On her way to school, she would challenge herself to locate the finches. She became obsessed. It kept her mind off her legs.
  • She took the cows down to the river this morning. One got stuck in the mud - a calf. The woman rescued the small thing and watched it hurry to its mother. Hopping on the ground of her veranda was the Richard bird, the superb starling. It had been a couple of months after the funerals. She was outside washing a cup for tea when the bird arrived. It flew down from the acacia tree and perched where the dishes lay drying. It stared curiously at her, delivering a message she could not decipher. Its presence affected her. She felt it has been created in a world different from hers. A world where her pain meant something different than pain. Its wise ash-white eyes looked as if to say: "Do you understand?" And she did. She could not say what it was but she did. It stood poised with strong feet in iridescent blue-green, teeth white and red-orange. A thin band of white crossed its chest like a strapless bra. Her chest was tight. It was midday that day. The sun was burning the woman's braided scalp. The unafraid Richard bird began to sing a soft song. Repeating phrases that rhymed with its name. Ree-cher. The woman looked up to the acacia and could see the dome-shaped nest. Two Richard birds peeked out from it. Suddenly, the singing Richard bird jumped on the spot and flew away.
  • Dawn was breaking. Mist covered the farm. The cows were resting. Just a week ago, the woman woke up to wailing. She opened her curtains slowly to see them. The stealthy hadada ibises. The woman watched them forage in the garden behind the house where the loquats grow. She was careful not to move. The big birds trailed one another. Three of them. They searched for millipedes, earthworms or snails with keen precision. She loved seeing the purpose in their steps. The intention so well cultivated. She would keep the image in her mind all day. They neared a rose bush and halted simultaneously. She could see them looking straight at her. They hesitated. She didn't move. They took a step. She opened the window and reached out towards them but they had already taken flight. Hawing and drawing into the sky. Landing on the other side of the mud house, in the cow pen, continuing their forage.
  • Photo by vishnudeep dixit from Pexels

    Chebet Fataba
    Twitter: @fatabak