I’m taking an online class on creative non-fiction this summer. Here is an excerpt from my first assignment. We were told to describe a place with sentences of seven words or less. I hope you enjoy it!
I’m on a water tower. I sit comfortably, back against the tank. My left ankle lies under my knee. My right leg is outstretched. I’m sitting on hard wood. I can feel every plank. It’s night-time now but not too late. We actually just finished an 8:00 dinner. Afterwards, Sage wanted to make a call. We came here because there’s good service.
The sun has already completely set. The black ground looks soft like felt. Down to my left is our camp. Its hut-like homes are illuminated. Dark green trees are barely visible. The horizon before me hosts scattered lights. I can count nine. They’re very far away. I imagine Kilimanjaro, hidden beneath the darkness. In daytime, the mountain looms over us. At night, it is invisible. The wind breathes deeply, and I shiver. I should have brought a jacket. Kimana is usually chilly at night. The wind makes it freezing. Still, I’m glad I’m here. The stars are worth it.
Before Kenya, I had never seen stars. At least, not real stars. Last week, the Milky Way introduced itself. We’ve chatted every night since. I only listen. I have so much to learn. That great river of light speaks now. I can see it over the railing. It hosts many stars within its whiteness. The galaxy arcs like a rainbow. However, it is not perfectly smooth. Rather, it weaves slightly through the sky. It teaches me about my smallness. It gently reminds me to pause. It knows poetry and prose. All that it says is true. Surrounding the galaxy are innumerable stars. The sky is saturated with them. Looking closely, the colors vary greatly. Some are blue, and some are red. Some are white, and some are yellow. Some are bright, and some are dim. They wink at me again and again. I feel like I should wink back. The brightest one is directly above me. I strain my neck to see. It is yellow.
Stars bring people together. That’s mainly why I love them. Under the dark sky, inhibitions slowly melt. Insecurities disintegrate like meteorites. That which divides people becomes overshadowed. People are more open, more present. Awe replaces all pretense. Just being there together cultivates friendship. A connection, a universal common ground, prevails. Under stars, no one feels big.
My friend Matthew is to my right. He is tall, skinny, and well-dressed. He wears a collared shirt and pants. Illuminated, the shirt is striped blue and white. The dimness makes it black and grey. He is bent over now. His greyscale outline eclipses the stars. He’s capturing them with his Nikon camera. The screen is bright first, then blank. It turns off to take pictures. Then, he holds his breath. The camera must be still to see. If it moves, the stars vanish blurrily. For 30 full seconds, there’s stillness. For 30 seconds, the camera absorbs light. For 30 seconds, it opens itself up. Finally, CLICK. The camera screen reawakens with a picture. Matthew smiles and shows me the screen. “Look at this!” The picture is incredible. The Milky Way is astonishingly clear. It could have been from NASA’s website.
The night is very dark. My computer is on the dimmest setting. Still, it appears bright. The monitor light blots out the sky. I cannot see both screen and stars. I must pick one. I choose the stars, lowering my screen. As I type blindly, I remember Duke. I remember choosing screens over stars. I remember the stress.
Life was a blur at school. That place seemed to spin constantly. Assignments, meetings, and plans swirled everywhere. Ambition and opportunity propelled the movements. These two forces abound at Duke. After the semester, my mind was different. It had grooves like a record player. I can replay the music now. It’s fast, jumpy, and frantic at times. It’s like a ragtime but dissonant. I landed in Kenya dizzy. The jerking change of pace nauseated me. All of the sudden, I was still. But I wasn’t used to peace. Serenity has been the most difficult adjustment.
Slowly, my mind is being rewired. On this tower, stillness replaces restlessness. I’m too captivated to care about vanities. I am just like Matt’s camera. It had to be bound to railing. He tightened its strap around the metal. That way, it was still. Here, experiences bind me to the present. I too am still. I too am absorbing the stars. I too am opening myself up.
After the picture, Matt says he’s tired. He steps over me with his camera. As he climbs down, I am alone. Sage is around the tank talking. I hear his muffled voice. The words are unclear. They blend with crickets and wind gusts. I’m reminded that I’m cold.
In the distant bushland, I hear barking. The sound comes from Kilimanjaro’s direction. The Maasai people live in that land. I imagine some of them sleeping there. I imagine their dogs keeping them awake. Sometimes, Maasai sleep on the wilderness ground. At least, that’s what our hosts say. I hear they don’t fear wild animals. They are well-respected warriors.
Maasai men guard the camp as well. I see a few there now. They’re conversing and laughing under a light. I think they’re speaking Maasai. It could be Swahili. Either way, I don’t understand the words. The laughter, though, I get. They laugh playfully. You can tell they’re friends. They shine their flashlights at me occasionally. When they do, I’m momentarily blinded.
Sage finishes his phone call. He walks around the tank towards me. He says good night. I say that I’ll come in soon. He calls for Amos, a Maasai guard. He asks him to illuminate the ladder. Amos shines his flashlight as Sage descends. As he climbs, the tower rocks slightly. I feel Sage hop off the ladder. There’s a faint ring of metal shaking. He says “good night” to Amos. He walks home, flashlight in hand.
I sit alone on the water tower. I love it here. I don’t want to move. It shakes slightly from the wind. The air is dry, fresh, and cold. It is like a deep breath. It blows through me; I shiver more. Breathing, I don’t do it enough. None of us do. We move to quickly to really breathe. And yet, breath is essential for life. On this tower, wind breathes for me. I am thankful for that.
A light shines from the left. The guards are looking up at me. I think that’s my sign to descend. Good night.