M and J decide to make mango pudding for our tea time, want to do it on their own without a recipe. They stir sugar and flour, puree mango pieces, pick small mint leaves. They pinch chocolate shavings from the bottom of the chocolate chip bag and argue over whose turn it is to stir. We eat the cool sweet pudding out of small bowls on the back porch, the girls eyeing us with pride.

I watch a bee eater snap a bright blue butterfly in its beak, carry it back to a branch of the potato tree. The butterfly is big, too big for the small beak. The bird works with determination, trying to somehow shove those fluttering wings into its own body. I am struck most by the colours, the metallic green of the bird’s feathers, the shimmering blue of the butterfly wings, am amazed to watch the one colour disappear, become a part of the other. Now, incredibly, the bird holds the fragile blue of the butterfly in its own green body. I notice I’m not sad at the butterfly’s death, more amazed at the fusion of life.

Phil calls us to the backyard. It’s raining. We all stand on the brown grass, look up at the clouds, darker than we’ve seen in months. The rain falls in small individual drops, not enough to make us wet, stops before it really begins. We set a purple bucket in the yard, an overly optimistic gesture. The bucket remains dry. We keep waiting.

I sit on the Lamu couch and fold gold embossed origami paper into lopsided peace cranes, trying to conjure hope with each careful crease.

P has propped a small note up on the coffee table “I lov you, famale. You mak me smuyl.” Under the note is a brown envelope full of carefully folded drawings. She pulls them out one at a time, hands them to each of us, pictures of flowers and sunshines and trees in bright marker colours.

I carry a plastic bucket of bath water across the lawn in the early morning to water my favourite palm tree. I notice how wet the grass is and wonder where all that moisture comes from in this time of drought, heat. The ground is hard, the dirt in the flower beds cracked and dusty, but the grass is cool and wet beneath my bare feet. It’s the first time I remember being deeply grateful for dew.

J and her friends decide to institute International Baby Day. She wraps the doll M made for her in a sweater, the doll with the orange yarn hair, the purple bonnet, the stuffed sock body, and tucks her into her backpack, secretly when no one is watching. Later after her secret plan has unfolded without a hitch and she no longer has to worry about me interfering, she tells me about the day, the baby, the way the girls played with their dolls during recess. Her doll is still strapped to her back with a green cardigan like a Kenyan mama.

I read Peter Duck to the girls before bedtime. The words are difficult, the sailing lingo tedious. But the girls don’t complain as they colour pictures of Harry Potter wands, draw trees with curlicue branches. P has been drawing guinea pigs on all her pictures for months, small round creatures with curved legs and small smiles, her signature work.

I duck my head as I hang laundry on the line, hoping no one will see me, notice that I used my washing machine during this time of so little water. Each clean piece of clothing feels decadent, a luxury that I’ve stolen.

After supper the girls beg for a Family Game, something involving hiding and chasing around the yard. We decide on Big Black Bear, Phil gives into the pressure to hide because he is scariest, fastest, loudest. We run around the house, hold hands, shriek into the fading evening light. I remember playing this game as a child, running through the farmyard with my cousins, scared of older brothers, the thrill of danger.

The Sacred Ibis

There was a time when the Egyptians worshiped Thoth,
the god who gave them writing, wisdom, words,
their god with the head of the ibis,
all beak and no forehead.
They worshiped the ibis itself, too,
not the loud squawky hadada,
but its silent cousin, the white sacred ibis,
collected their bodies for great burials,
painted, in faith, their avian portraits over temples.
Every morning I watch a flock of sacred ibis
float across the valley behind my house,
their black curved bills, their white bodies
drawn like thin gloves
against the grey fog of those early hours.
If I were writing my halting poems
in another time, an ancient place,
I suspect I would fall on my knees
each morning at this sight,
press my forehead into the damp grass,
thanking the benevolent Thoth
for considering me worthy
of this divine visitation.