Written by Silver
The summer haze was thick within the forest; drops of dew hung languidly from leaves the size of a small bird, while the hot mist clung to boughs of giant foliage, leaving it gasping for cool air. Even for the animals in the Congo it was a warm day, and many tried to find shade under a canopy of leaves, overhanging rocks, or their dens in the cool dirt. The promise of rain was still several days away, but you could feel it in the air. If you were lucky enough to see through a gap in the fence of foliage, the clouds were dense and ready to burst, and the Congo’s inhabitants were ready.
To travel through the Congo is a bid to lose all sense of time; a perpetual twilight. Daylight would come but once every so often and, when it did, it seared through the trees, settling into a patch of chalked dirt, where maybe a snake or beetle would bask and snooze. Soon enough, the light disperses and fades into the half-light the forest knows so intimately, and the animals shrink back into their comfortable abodes. When darkness arrives, a wonderful silence emanates from the Congo, only to be replaced by the night-lovers chirping moments later. Under a cloak of indigo and black, a hubbub of activity takes place. Insomniacs add to the noise with their shuffling and pacing, elephant calves disturb bushes with their fights and tantrums, while chimpanzees look for trouble and play games of ‘spot the forest insect’. Other restless sleepers toss and turn, while those that need shut-eye will snore and breathe deeply, ignoring the blend of nature’s sounds.
A new day dawns and, with it, the same pattern: a circle of time. But it is a day closer to the storms; they can feel it in the air. It ripples through the forest, hitting some more than others, depending on their fashion of habits. Newly born animals risk dehydration, the elders too are at risk but they are wiser to the Congo’s ways, finding dew drops hidden in the highest canopies or broadest bushes. The most intelligent – or, perhaps, luckiest – find a remote stream, where the soil is softer and the sustenance richer. But as the heat cripples the hearts of many animals, it also weakens the heart of the Congo.
For a fraction, time stands still. And in that moment, numerous events occur. The dense mist shrivels into the undergrowth, awaiting its execution. The languid dew drops quiver and shrink, pushing themselves off their veined homes, to explode into the cracked mud below. And the animals scatter. Elder birds urge their youngest to spread their wings and fly, while small apes cling to their mother’s fur as she runs through the thicket at remarkable speed. Elephant calves send out sharp chirps to their kin, making sure they don’t get left behind in the frenzy. Snakes slide out of their small dens with their babies, coolly taking their time, while insects crawl over their bodies in a hurry. With most animals gone, only the weakest are left behind, bearing the same fate as the colossal boughs and trunks.
The cries of the smallest are ousted by the roaring crackle of the heat. A fury, a blaze, a rainbow of different shades of orange and red join together and take the Congo minute by minute. It spreads quickly and consumes foliage, fruit, and those that are young or frail – condemning them to a brutal end. But not all are taken by the orange blaze. The grey clouds begin to crowd together, their anger evident through the grumbling in throats and their flashes of migraines, coming and going as the pain pleases. Grumpy and exhausted by the smoke, the clouds crack their knuckles and jab at the fire with yellow bolts, unleashing their biggest weapon: rain.
It flows freely and harshly into the centre of the blaze, extinguishing the licking flames at the clouds’ feet. The orange fury begins to abate but then a last stab of war comes forth from its raging heart, whipping at the foliage with all its might. But it is no match for the grey clouds and drowns in a sea of murky water.
With the fire extinguished, the floods arrive, and the animals flit back to their homes. Only a fraction of time exists in the Congo, but only when it is the most critical does life notice.
Written on behalf of a Fiction Frenzy challenge last year, Silver’s aptly named ‘Fraction’ takes us into the heart of the Congo, where the animals mostly live in peace. Inspired by a BBC documentary series which followed a number of animals, Silver’s piece works to re-enact what happens when the forest fires are imminent. It’s a perfect piece to reflect the very nature of our ‘Light’ theme this month. To check out more of her work, click the links for poetry such as ‘Fudge‘ and ‘ Spirit‘.