The Only Tree on a Hill

After what feels like centuries a story has been brewing inside me, earnest to be put on paper. Enjoy. 

My grandfather housed a distinct fondness for trees. A love he happily passed on to me after failing to do so with my father. Being a reclusive child I seldom ventured outdoors, fearing human malice for, as a kid I was once pushed in a muddy ditch for committing the innocent crime of being the new girl in town.

The cucoon into which I invariably recoiled in grew into a home. I turned inwards for respite and befriended books and nature to ward loneliness. But the queer claws of time germinated an odd upheaval in my bosom. A longing for something so elusive it prevented me, at times from getting sleep.

Perhaps, my grandfather sensed this turmoil within me, an utter restlessness and angst for desiring something farther from my reach, and invisible to the eye- like friendship but not with a human form. Humans repelled me.

Thus, one cool April morning when the sun was tepid enough to cake us in its warmth and the air still tasted of dew my grandfather took me to a nearby hill, where I often previously went for walks. I noticed the clatter of a shovel tied to his waist against keys dangling from a belt loop, and a small plastic bag full of what seemed like dirt; but didn’t say a word.

We stopped at the highest crest the hill could afford. A few gulls croaked in the distance and a warm breeze swept the fields. Far East, I could see our little house, a tiny dot within a green pasture, a muddy road snaking its way into it.

“Do you know why we’re here?” my grandfather asked with a twinkle in his eyes, breaking my reverie.

I shook my head. Even at the usually stimulating age of fourteen, my heart somehow was always too tired to speak.

“I’m here to introduce you to a friend. Who will stay with you throughout your years and will stay further for your posterity and perhaps further for more generations to come.” 

With this he dug a small pit in the heart of the earth and handed me the bag of dirt, which upon closer observation, bore a tiny sapling. I placed the sapling in the ditch gently and pat it shut.

My grandfather passed away shortly after and I found respite in the sapling when my heart ached too much for him. Its existence became my purpose. I spent my youth watering, nurturing and at times even talking to it.

Time flew past like gusts of wind and ten long years later, I sit under what grew into a magnificent, sentinel, behemoth tree- lush and green, watching over me like a silent guardian. The distant longing inside me quelled with the tree’s pristine, watchful presence- quiet and sincere. The tree taught me stillness and how to give without expecting.

My grandfather gave my restless ship an anchor. He gave direction to my rapid thoughts. The tree embodied his own spirit, omnipresent but never holding you back.

Today, sitting under its shadow I brood over my life so far. Remember those who left and bemoan those who never arrived. I hope the tree will remain, if nature permits, perhaps for centuries,  and will continue granting stillness to those running from the future’s chaos. I pray it assuages their inner wounds too, doled out by a callous world.

A warm breeze tussles my hair and makes the leaves above rustle with delight. I’m pulled back to the present.

‘I know friend’, I muse looking up, ‘you too like the breeze as I do.’ 

 

Love always,

Your blogger.

 

Her

Part-I

The day he broke the news, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him very soon. Not the next year, not in a few years, maybe not ever. The December sky had already given me a foreboding that the time had come. Things were quieter than usual and the days were colder ..than usual.

Sombre grey always hung low in the horizon and the mornings were never fresh or tepid. Just frostbiting cold and the fields dotted with sluggish cattle, clumsily grazing with drooping eyelids. Christmas was not very far and I saw little kids skedaddle their way from school; blissful for the inception of the Christmas holidays. Occasionally when I peaked from my window I saw a few seagulls visiting our little town, and each time they flew my heart leapt at the thought of the lands they’ve visited and the people they’ve met.

Nights were freezing cold and our old fireplace did a poor job in warming up the house. It had snowed heavily that year and our streets were flooded with enormous cascades of pearl white snow. People were busy shoveling and clearing their jammed doors and pathways, steams of warm breath emerging from every shove.

All this while nature always informed me whenever something wrong was going to happen, in secret and subtle ways only I could understand. In codes and language only I could decipher, like an old scholar rummaging through an ancient manuscript. Of course the hints were nature’s own self-creation from all the resources it could possibly conjure.

The wind would blow stealthily that day, like a gory murderer slowly crawling towards his victim’s bed. The leaves would rustle frantically, in tuned chords and rhythms. The woods would appear deeper, like there’s some dark secret hidden somewhere in their heart. And the sky would have a gloomy grey spread across its bare chest, like a painting made by a solitary lover. Heavy clouds laden with rain would always hover above, like a distant warning, yet they’d never downpour.

As I tried to figure out what was wrong, I walked towards the most snug, warm and perhaps the only cafe selling the best cocoa in town. My steps were slow, almost hesitant, the image of the hot cocoa mug did not succeed in tantalizing me, something else was troubling me and I guess I already knew what it was.


Part-II

Pushing the door open my entrance was followed by a slight tingle from the bell above, few heads turned my side and then turned away. After a brief scanning of the arena, I saw him. He flashed a half grin and waved at me, I got instantly pulled towards it, like I always had been. Pulling out a chair, I made myself comfortable. The dense aroma of coffee lingered in the air.

“How have you been?” He said, taking a sip of his coffee. I took a moment and breathed him in, blue eyes, slightly copper skin, light brown softly tussled hair. Although he wasn’t swooning handsome, he was the one man I’d felt ridiculously drawn towards in my entire life, right since 2nd grade.

“Lyla?” he called out. I snapped out of my reverie, “Oh, I’ve been great, better actually,” I lied. “I’ve been thinking about the holiday project and have managed to come up with a splendid idea,” I grinned. 

He nodded in approval and said, “It’s good to see you Lyla.” His eyes grew deeper, like an intense suppressed emotion struggling to reach out. It was interrupted by Bernard who placed my cocoa on the table, sweet little freckled boy always knew what I ordered.

School was coming to an end and pretty soon we’d all be on our separate ways. While this blue eyed boy in front of me had been with me since 11 long years, I could never summon the courage to tell him how I felt, out of fear that it might not be reciprocated back which, in my opinion, stood a very fair chance.

“Lyla, I’ve been thinking a lot and last night I made a decision and that’s why I wanted to see you,” he continued, “I think I’ll be leaving for the city very soon. My parents had already been wanting this for me, my cousins are settled there and have been prospering so I’d have no trouble adjusting.”

He sounded disturbed and had been this way for a while. He was always a mystery, like a part of him was always hidden away, stored and somewhere far for the right person to discover.

“Bu..but why?” I mumbled.

He sighed, “To tell you the truth, I’ve been very very alone Lyla. I don’t have any friends and you know I’ve been in seclusion my entire life. Sometimes I feel I’m destined for great things but this town is eating me away. We’re all stuck here and I feel even though Christmas is all about love and cheer, yet I won’t find any, as long as I stay here. 
Look around Lyla, there’s no cheer. Just a bunch of sick people dragging another Christmas in poverty and beers. And there sure as hell no love here. At least I couldn’t find it, but I also know that it won’t happen unless I get out and grab her, whoever and wherever she is. 

Sometimes you’ve to break all the boundaries and let the winds sweep you away, so they’d land you on the right ground.”

I took a deep breath and fought away the tears. “That’s wonderful Pete. I’m glad you realized your dream and I’m incredibly happy for you.” 
“Thanks,” he said, “You know I’ll keep writing to you, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” 


Part-III

As his train slowly melted away in the distant fog, I waved him a final goodbye. The spark in his eyes had no regrets but just a measly dab of guilt that I could see. Nature had been right after all, I brooded as the train crawled towards the distant woods, Pete’s coach far in front, already marching through the jungle.

What I was to him, if neither a friend nor a love, I guess I’ll never know. The letters came every week, and after an year became less frequent. Telephones were a luxury we couldn’t afford.

I have no idea where Pete is today.

girl-in-the-snow

 

Photo Courtesy: www.memoirmode.com

Father of a Firefighter

It has been 1 month, 7 days and 2 hours since that day. I still remember the picture of it. Every image, every second was like a knife pierced into my heart. I couldn’t bear it. I gaped for fresh air. I wouldn’t necessarily expect you to understand how it felt, the heart wrenching pain. Maybe you’ll listen to it like another one of the tragedies you hear during the course of your life and then forget. I won’t blame you. But even as I type with these trembling old fingers of mine, I still think my son deserves this. He deserves to be heard. He deserves to be known. People need to listen to his story. And if while finishing the last line you’re filled with remorse, I wouldn’t blame you either. I still shiver at the thought.

 

Back in 1968, we lived in the bustling town of Estbush, a small town with a welcoming air. We had our home just a few miles away from the street market. A small cottage with a comforting essence, it was the shade of red. Red because my wife, Holly loved it. And during the construction I had made sure that it was a perfect present for her, furnishing every detail about her choices and reflecting every little thing she loved. Jim was born in this very cottage. It feels like yesterday when I used to watch him play in the backyard. The sounds still echo my head when Holly used to thunder on Jim for covering the floor with prints of his muddy feet. I used to sparkle when I saw him play. I waited anxiously to come home from work to get embraced by his eager felicity to see me.

 

Funny how I abhor the sight of the backyard now. How the once blooming daffodils are a pile of dried petals. How during the bleak winters the ground is enveloped in a cascade of snow and there’s no one to take care of it.

 

Time flapped its wings too fast. I couldn’t tell when I was watching him toss his toy-firefighter he adored, and the next day he’s standing in the church, watching his wife come down the aisle. Janet was a very sweet, loving and a respectful daughter-in-law. I couldn’t ask for a better wife for my Jim. She understood him way more than I did. Jim grew up to be a handsome young man. Tall, well-built, and of course, the exceptionally unique emerald eyes he got from his mother. Janet was equally beautiful. The people in town often called it a match made in heaven and tried to be as modest as I could.

 

I take a glance of the empty room I’m sitting in. In the corner of the room, there’s a dusty piano covered in white cloth. My room is dark and dingy most of the time. Except for the daily hour when Janet comes to draw the shades for some sunlight to sneak in. Rest of the day, the room is dark, rather it always has an air of staleness.

 

Jim was an ambitious man, right from the beginning. He was good at everything he did. Whether it was helping Holly and Janet in the kitchen or fixing the old rusty second hand truck he had bought. Whether it was fishing or a game of cards, he was the best among us. We sure didn’t have a sumptuous lifestyle, or wealth to be pompous about, but what we did have was happiness, contentment and peace. And of course, a family which is a privilege denied to many. One specific thing that Jim was always passionate about, since childhood, was becoming a firefighter. He had something in him that always urged him to help people. Get them out of hopeless situations. Bravery and valor was always his forte. But unfortunately, he couldn’t become one. He did not tell us the exact reason and never really talked about it. And we never raised the topic.

 

In the summer of 1994, the weather conditions went really bad. There was a thunderstorm almost every alternate day. A tornado had hit close to our town. The weather reports claimed that it was the most violent of tornadoes in the past 5 years. At the time the tornado hit the outskirts of our town we were returning from a local carnival. Jim was driving. We were aware of the unrest and complete disorientation that prevailed all around by the news on the radio. It was raining heavily. We were passing by the town hospital when there was a blast behind us. It shook our car and it went screeching in every direction. The window had broken and rain entered our car blocking Jim’s vision. Fortunately, we were safe, as Jim had hit the brakes on time.

 

We stepped out of the car and witnessed a blazing and luminous ball of fire emerging from the hospital building. We could see several fire trucks and police cars. Numerous jets of water being injected in the building, but the fire seemed inevitable. Sounds of sirens and wailing could be heard. Ambulances carrying people away. I had not seen a more deadly and horrifying sight in my life. Suddenly, Jim started telling us to leave. He ordered us to get back in the car. Since Estbush was a small town there were less firemen and the situation demanded more. He had decided to help. We cried and pleaded him not to go. But he had made his decision. I wonder if he had even heard me in the constant claps of thunder and the loud noise of rainfall and the utter confusion.

 

I dropped Holly and Janet home, and made my way back to the hospital. I saw Jim gearing up in a yellow suit and without wasting any minute he went inside the building. My heart leaped and beat rigorously against my chest. He was assumed to be an official as he wore the uniform. In the absolute chaos, no one got to know he was a civilian. Black smoke came out of the fiery building. Every second was like an year. Despite the rain the fire was ablaze. The smoke was choking and the air around was damp but it hurt the lungs like needles piercing through.

 

Jim came out with a man half-burnt on his shoulders. He was screaming with pain. The sight was terrifying. He handed the man carefully to the officials and again went inside. I almost felt like pulling him back but I was helpless. As soon as Jim went in, there was another blast. A strong wave of heat swept the area. I was appalled. I swear to God, I couldn’t have been more frightened. More fire trucks came. More jets of water. Another man was rescued from the second floor. The Head of the team ordered the firefighter’s to recede. Several of them came out. But the one who rescued the man from the second floor could not come out. The building was going down. People shouted for him to jump, but he couldn’t. There was no escape. The building collapsed. The fire was brought under control. It had finally extinguished. I ran further too see where Jim was. But I couldn’t see him. I was blanched with fear.

 

I ran up to every face. Questioned every person. Yelled. Cried, and almost died out of remorse. I was unwilling to accept what had happened, still incredulous. I hoped he would be among the countless firemen I saw. But he wasn’t. I fell down on my knees, almost out of breath. I wailed at the top of my lungs, his image in my mind. People came running towards me, helping me to regain my posture, trying to comfort me. But where was comfort now? They didn’t even know the man that was inside.

 

When the storm passed and situations normalized, every firefighter that died was given a proper, respectable funeral. But there was no grave for my son. Jim. My Jim, who didn’t even have second thoughts before risking his life for others. He who could have easily gone home and watch the scenario on television, chose to fight and help people. No one came to know about the sacrifice of my son. No one recognized it.

 

You may now understand the pain I have residing inside me. This intense lump in my throat. Janet, who was once the Goddess of cheer, barely speaks now. She has lost all her spark. And sometimes, I hear her quiet sobs as she weeps at night. I’m writing this for the local newspaper as I need the people of Estbush to know this story. I need them to know, that my son was a brave man, who saved the lives of many. Whose death deserves to be respected or at least be known.

 

It’s almost dusk, and the crickets can be heard now. My tired eyes and old fingers have done their job of telling you the story. I don’t ask you to drop by flowers on his grave everyday but I can only pray now, and hope that when you hear of Jim, you realize his worth or at least have a small notion of the pain and anguish of this helpless, hopeless and proud Father of a Firefighter.