Umbrellas

In our town we have a strange tradition. Every time there is a storm the people write wishes on their umbrellas and stand in large groups outside. The ink runs beneath the downpour until we are left with our wishes falling around us. Some of the more optimistic residents like to say that if the writing is completely washed away by the time a person closes their umbrella, that person’s wish will come true.

My family has been selling decorated umbrellas for generations thanks to this tradition. The tradition itself was started by a long dead member of our own family. Today is a busy day as a storm is supposed to arrive this week. Great-grandmother sits painting umbrellas on the balcony with our great-aunt. Great-great-grandmother is supposed to be helping her, but lately she hasn’t been able to hold the brushes. I’ve heard that several other members of the town are having similar difficulties. There hasn’t been any rain recently and the houses here are quieter. It’s always livelier after a storm.

While the new umbrellas are being made I get ready to deliver the ones that were completed yesterday. People here live in large homes that extend far underground to save space above and prevent visitors to the area from prying. After my deliveries are complete I return home and make my way downstairs. There are several flights of stairs below ground level. Going down them all is disconcerting, especially as the last two are shrouded in complete darkness. I remind myself that I have a duty to do as a living member of the family.

I slowly make my way through the dark space on the last floor until I hear a growl. I reach out towards the sound and I am met with coarse fur beneath my palm. The growling continues, so I whisper.

‘Don’t worry. There’s a storm coming soon.’

The growling grows more violent and I feel something sharp scratch me. I close my eyes despite the lack of light. Suddenly there is silence once again. I will have to stay here until the storm comes and passes to prepare myself for what is to come.

Two days later the storm arrives. I imagine all those wishes mixing with the rain, never to be fulfilled; all lost for the sake of avoiding what many wanted to see as a greater loss. The growling next to me comes in intervals and I have acquired a few more scratches and cuts. Hunger and thirst claw at me from the inside. Finally I hear footsteps approaching. The youngest member of our family, a child of five, brings a bowl to me. I can feel her hands tremble slightly as I take it from her and I am careful not to spill the liquid inside. It is the duty of the children of each family to stand beneath the umbrellas and collect the wishes as they fall.

I know that soon the other children will arrive, so I place the bowl on the floor in front of me and tap the floorboards three times in quick succession. Heavy footsteps approach the bowl, followed by the sound of slurping. I reach out once more and make sure that the bowl is empty.

The wishes that we collect will never come true, but perhaps it is better that way. Tomorrow, great-great-grandmother will be able to hold things again. Tomorrow, we will feel whole again. Tomorrow, our town will come back to life.

Aaliyah Cassim is a twenty-one-year-old university student.

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