Chasing butterflies

  • Butterflies are self-propelled flowers, and the flowers tethered butterflies
- Tushar Subedi, Kathmandu

Dec 9, 2018-

It was back in the summer of 1990. The classes were over for the day, but I was still in the classroom. There was a big chart hanging on the wall which illustrated the life cycle of a butterfly. I didn’t realise I had been staring at it for some time until I heard my name being called repeatedly. It was the school bus assistant. Before I could turn around, he quickly grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out of the room, down the stairs yelling at me all the way to the parking lot where the school bus full of students had been waiting for me. When I got into the bus, I could see anger and fear painted on almost every face, in different proportions though. 

1990 was also the year when I had lost my mother to a stroke. I remember one of my relatives coming to my school in the lunch time to take me home. When I got there, her lifeless body had already been covered in a white cloth. I tried to run towards her but the people around me wouldn’t let go of me. Everyone was crying, but my father. It seemed his red swollen eyes had run out of tears, and his face was frozen in a twisted scream of agony. Later that day, they shaved off my head and made me set the large pile of wood on fire which covered her whole body that she was barely visible from the outside. I cried a river that day which alone could have been enough to put that fire off. I couldn’t watch her burn to ashes.

The school bus dropped me right in front of my house. I waved my friends goodbye before I went into the house. My father was sitting in the couch reading a newspaper. He always asked me how my day had been. I told him that the teacher taught us about the butterflies that day, and I wanted one of those charts too. 

“Okay. I will get you one on your birthday,” he said flipping a page of the newspaper with his left thumb. My birthday was still a couple of months away. I couldn’t wait that longer. 

“No daddy. I want it tomorrow,” I replied.

The next day when I was home from school, my father wasn’t home. So I went to my neighbours’ place and waited for him. When I saw him coming, I couldn’t see the big chart in his hands. I was very sad, and thought that he might have forgotten. I went up to him and stood beside him as he fished the key from his pocket to open the door locks. Later that night after we had dinner, I mustered my guts, and asked him about the chart. 

“Oh! I’m so sorry son!” he exclaimed, and reached for his briefcase. He took something out of it. It didn’t look like a chart. It was a book. A thick hardcover. 

“I couldn’t find the chart, but this book looks way better,” he said and handed me the book. At first, I wasn’t all that excited about the book. 

I wanted the exact chart that was hung in my classroom wall. But when I flipped a few pages, I wasn’t upset anymore. I lifted my head up to face him with a smile on my lips, and hugged him.

Day by day, my fascination for butterflies only grew. I would spend much of the time reading the book my father had given me. It had beautiful pictures of different varieties of butterflies from around the world. I would sneak out of my house into the backyard gardens to play with the butterflies. I really enjoyed chasing them down. 

There’s nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. Yet it’s wonderful how those wings are born of struggle and transformation. One fine morning, as I was chasing one, I happened to smack it. The poor butterfly fell on the ground with one of its wings detached from its body. I didn’t do it intentionally and felt very bad. I picked up the butterfly and its wing, and rushed into the house. I tried to glue the wings together but they only broke further into small pieces. 

It took me a while to realise that it was already dead, and I started sobbing. I had killed something which I really loved. My father heard me crying, and came up to me to ask if I was alright. I told him what I had done and that I felt very guilty about it. 

“Is there any way I can bring it back, daddy? I want to see it fly again,” I asked wiping away the tears rolling down my cheeks. 

“No son. I’m afraid not. We can’t do anything about it. This is how the world is. Nothing ever comes back once it’s dead,” his voice sounded different. I looked at him. He was staring into the photo frame, which had a picture of my misty-eyed mother. I held back my tears. I still wasn’t familiar with the concept of death. Sometimes I hoped my mother would come back, and believed there was similar chart of life cycle of my mother too. I daydreamed her emerging out of her cocoon with bright coloured wings which couldn’t wait to fly towards me.

Someone has said, and rightly, that butterflies are self-propelled flowers, and the flowers tethered butterflies. The former flutter seemingly aimlessly in the air of freedom while the latter disperses fragrance of love. Together they illuminate the spring with their vivid colours. 

I had started believing that these butterflies were the kisses that my mother had sent me from the heavens above. This belief led my fascination grow into an obsession which worried my father a little. 

I was always found either reading the books on butterflies or chasing them down in the gardens. Though I never tried touching any of them after that incident. I just chased them up to the edge of the world until I ran out of breath or couldn’t feel my numb feet.

I used to wonder why butterflies were named so. It’s not like they are made up of or taste like butter. Flutterfly, maybe? 

At nights, when I was half asleep, I used to dream and partly imagine hitching a ride on the back of a butterfly. I guess there’s no better way to fly than flying in a formation with butterflies, twirling and gliding through the air in the space courted by the green grasses and the endless skies. And I kept dreaming that the butterflies would take me to their queen who had the brightest and the biggest wings of all that I could easily build my own world and grow flowers of love on them. 

The queen butterfly and I would then dance together in the meadows, and follow the wind drifting into the nothingness. My mother, the queen of butterflies!

Years later, I realise how we all are just like butterflies. Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well. We all flutter for a day and think its forever. We come into this world out of nowhere, flutter here and there in search of a few things throughout our lives. Some soar high in the skies reaching for the sun and the ever-changing clouds while some fly so close to the ground that they get stepped upon. Some don’t even make it out of the cocoon, and a few get their wings broken. But then ultimately all of them just disappear into nothingness again without leaving any trace behind. 

It’s been 26 years since my obsession began, and I still go the parks carrying the beautiful butterfly book with me. I spend my time with the butterflies and whisper to them. I see drops of love falling from the skies and landing on their wings. They flutter their wings, and disperse them around. A few drops land on me too, and I can easily feel it’s her. But I want some more of it. So I get up and chase them. I have found my own reasons for chasing butterflies for all these years. Have you found yours? 

Published: 09-12-2018 07:46

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