I don't remember how old I was when I began chasing butterflies. There was no derth of them in my grandmother's flowery garden, where I spent summer after summer until the age of 12.
My grandfather, who was my instructor in matters of both science and spirituality, took advantage of my interest in life forms to explain to me the insect's metamorphosis, from egg to butterfly. My grandmother delighted me by showing me a cocoon clinging to the underside of a leaf. She told me a butterfly would come out of it one day. Beside it were the remains of another, recently broken open.
From then on, the cocoon became the only object of my attention. At every opportunity, I would rush out into the garden to see it, hoping to catch the butterfly emerging.
I don't know how many weeks had elapsed before my grandfather told me it was taking too long; the butterfly-to-be had most likely died in there.
I was upset that day. At night my dissapointment turned to horror. I imagine the ghost of that dead thing that had hung in our garden so long creeping in though the window. I was afraid to look towards the window. I was afraid to look away. I lay flat on my back, staring up at the fan, the vision of those cocoons etched at the back of my eyelids. They must have been identical once. Twins. One a vehicle of rebirth, the other a coffin. Life and death. Womb and tomb.
I slept badly.
I went back to chasing butterflies after that, around and around that flowery garden. Sometimes alone, sometimes with cousins or friends. The company never mattered as much as the butterflies.
Once, a friend actually caught one. He showed it to me, holding it gently by its snowy wings. I was wonderstruck. I went inside to alert my grandfather of this feat, but by the time he came outside, my friend's hands were empty.
'Where is it?' I demanded.
'I let it go.' He grinned.
I was upset, but my grandfather told me it was the right thing to do. In fact, we should never have touched the butterfly in the first place.
'If you touch it's wings, they might break and fall off, and it'll become a helpless, crawling thing. Like a worm. A bird may eat it. Is that what you want?'
I imagined the caterpillar mummified in its coccon for so long to grow a pair of wings, only to lose them. I was ashamed.
'It's good you let it go.' I told my friend.
I resolved never to touch a butterfly after that, but there was no need. They had always been to quick for me, anyway. In a few years, we sold the house. I barely got to speak with my cousins after that. When my friend the butterfly catcher died, I dug and dug for memories to cling to, but could this one surfaced. I'd forgotten what it was like to chase butterflies. I'd forgotten the names of flowers my grandmother had taught me. I'd forgotten the prayers my grandfather chanted, and the need to attack him with questions. I'd forgotten his sermon on life and death and rebirth, but I remembered the butterflies' metamorphosis. Egg to larva to pupa to a beautiful butterfly. And I remembered his lesson: