“You are so good my friend. I feel so relieved after talking to you. As if the burdens of my heart get wings and casually flutter away like a butterfly…”
“You are so beautiful my friend, I just feel like looking at you and doing nothing. I feel everything is possible, that anything can be done because I have another moment in my life, another possibility of looking at you…”
“You are so magnificent my friend… its such a wonderful feeling to be in your company… All my desires seem less in front of my desire to be with you… to talk to you as I am doing right now, as I will go on doing forever… Until the time I find that I don’t want to enjoy my life… Until the time I think I will die…”
The tree was crooked in shape. Its twisted branches seemed somebody’s hands stretched and pulled in unspoken agony. Yet it held its head high, and never let it bare its pain, its sorrow. If ever it shed its leaves in autumn, it did not expose its pain or penury. It kept on putting up its façade of grit, as if his pretense would empower anybody passing by it. It stood at the periphery off the cliff, hanging behind almost in a way of falling down below in the deep abyss of the valley. But it never fell down. It never compromised on the faith. Of the young little boy.
The boy always came to the tree. Everyday, he would run all along the path from his cottage on the hill to meet his only friend in the valley. He brought all his near and dear possessions along; his blanket that he always carried behind him, the very short sweater his dead mother had sewn, which he wore even in the mildewed summer, his collection of distorted clay figurines built by his tiny creative hands… all the other things which substituted for the lack of toys children of his age generally had. Occasionally he would also bring along a prized possession earned by him, which included things like a nickel ring too big for his ears or fingers, or a small bell which the priest of the local temple gave as a gift, or an Alphanso mango given by stray tourist as mark of their pity towards his impoverished condition. And all these he would show to the tree with a look of pride achievement. A brazen, happy look of sheer ecstasy of hope… surrounded by a blanket of hopelessness.
“You are such a good friend… you always listen to me. Do you know that nobody listens to me? Papa doesn’t meet me. Mumma always stays in god’s palace. She doesn’t come down to take me also there. She enjoys it all alone. Do you know I am pretty angry with her? Indeed I am. How can she enjoy at all, leaving papa and me out?”
A little brown leaf fell off on his shoes. He picked it up and happily scaled out twig-by-twig of its papery veins. In the end all that was left was a skeleton of the original leaf. So happy was he off his creation that he decided to give it as a gift to his friend.
“You keep it my friend, as a mark of our friendship. I hope you’ll treasure it as much as I do.”
But that leaf, just like happiness and good memories, was blown away by the cruel wind of time.
“You have disappointed me, oh yes you have. At least you should have taken care of something important to me? Papa breaks all my clay toys in fit of anger when he doesn’t get money to buy yellow water. Mumma never bothers to come and see what I have lost or gained. You were the only person who used to pay attention to me. Now I wont show to you the new thing I found today. Huh!”
He didn’t stay with the tree that day. He moved around everywhere, tried to be out of sight of anything remotely tree-like. But in the dense valleys, it was not only very difficult, but out of question to not to see a tree once in a while. Frustrated he decided to go to the riverside. At least there wont be trees like that on its banks…
He was playing with the stones on the banks. He found he had natural flair for it. Small stones with rather sharp edge were sent to the other shore in one…two…three…four plonks plonks plonks, jumping like wild gazelles.
He discovered that he could have fun even without the tree. He decided to not to go near the tree for sometime.
“Let it learn for its carelessness.” He told himself without conviction.
He didn’t go to the tree that day, thinking of it as a punishment to the tree for its callous behavior.
“Only then it wont take me for granted next time!”
It started to rain late in the evening. He looked out of the wooden box like opening which was supposed to be a window, to look at water drops falling carelessly down everywhere. A shaggy dog appeared suddenly in front of his house, drenched and visibly whimpering. It shook his body feverishly, sprinkling off the water on its fur. But he still kept on shivering and moaning piteously.
He felt an unknown kinship, an inexplicable bond with the dog. He was eating the last morsel of bread he had for his lunch. He looked at it, then looked at the dog. Then their eyes met for sometime. Then he threw open the door of their shanty and beckoned the dog to come in. After a few jerks of his body, which sprayed water allover in the empty hut, he gave away his piece of bread to the pitiful creature. And watched happily as he hungrily gulped it down and swiped its wagging tongue around its still hungry mouth.
Slowly, the rains subsided. Just about twilight, when only the sound of slow dripping water splashing on the puddles outside the hut was heard over the omnipresent swoosh of breeze, the hut’s door banged open, and just like a member of some barbarian tribe, his father entered inside, preceded by an axe, dripping with… oh my god! Blood!
He cringed away into the shadowy corner of the hut. A few drops of the blood fell down and he realized they were actually water drops. Though he realized a new thing. Splinters of wood were sticking out from the edge of the axe. He was just left in denial.
One fierce look and the dog ran out of the house immediately. When he re-returned his glance towards him, he wished he could also have done same… but there seemed no way of exit. All he could do was to cower in one corner and wait, in anxious anticipation for a loophole.
And surprisingly, his father turned away the very next moment. He dropped the axe in one corner and went on to arrange to light the firewood he had brought along with him. Slipping around slowly, inch by inch, he sidled himself from the room, and exited tiptoeing. As he started to run once he was outside, he thought he distinctively heard a mirthless laughter ring inside the wooden hut.
His feet stumbled and tripped and fell down out of exhaustion. His breaths became quicker and sharper and every new stride sent a shoot of pain running by his side, yet he did not stop until he reached the tree. It was for the first time he had gone near it so deep into the night, in fact it was first time he had dared to venture outside the shanty after the nightfall. Everything seemed different and strange. Every next corner seemed to contain some ghost, and every hidden space in darkness seemed to call him out. But he did not stop to hear them. He did not stop, till the time he had reached the home of his only friend left in the world.
And then he slipped and started rushing down… down… down… uncontrollably.
When he opened his eyes, sun was shining brightly on his eyes. He opened them lightly and rubbed them. He looked around, it was an unfamiliar place. He got up and saw a tree stump ahead. Just as he reached it, a terrible pain shot across his stomach. He sat down leaning on the tree stump and exhaled deeply. Cool breeze sifted his hair easily and contentment washed over him. A few dead leaves rustled around him. He opened his eyes.
And then he saw it.
And in the next second which felt like an eternity, he realized it.
And he felt he could just have fainted.
But he just sat there in disbelief.
And turned around and looked at the stump.
And picked it up from the ground, and stared at it again.
And then the low cry escaped his mouth.
But the tears did not fall down…
It was the same leaf he had carved out as a gift to the tree.
He saw his father working on the tree next to his. But he didn’t seem to notice him. He kept on pulling his axe up in the air and bring it down with a huge resounding thud. He did not move either.
Then he looked at the place around him again. And saw a deep cliff run down just behind the stump. And beside it, marks of something going down the hill.
And then he looked at himself. And saw the sunray passing through him.
And he understood.
And he was filled with sudden, inexplicable joy.
And he sat down again beside his friend, united with him in death.
And he picked up yet another leaf and started working on it.