I have stood here for countless days, spreading my thick canopy and watching the jungle life unfold around me.
Though my first encounter out of the shell was with the darkness, it was the sun that caught my imagination, not the pitch-black that welcomed me. Bright and warm sun in the infinite blue bewitched my tender senses. I had dreamed to reach the Sun, and not share him with anyone.
Determined, for many mornings, I sipped and grew as much as I could. None are taller or bigger than me in the vicinity. My neighbours, germinated after me.
And yesterday one of the neighbours’ stopped talking. She was smaller, yet the favourite of the monkeys for her fruits and leaves. But recently, she complained about being thirsty all the time. Over the next few days, she lost all her leaves, the bark fell off, and last morning, she stopped telling us her jokes. Termites chip through her as we speak. It’s hard to see the near ones fade away.
She was the one who started calling me Cooper. I host many different species of jungle dwellers. Some leave after a short period and some stay longer. My thick canopy and the hollow in my trunk provide a cosy home for the birds and the squirrels.
Not all my neighbours can claim to be a home to such a wide variety of animals. The grumpy one has thorns all over, the gloomy one harbours leopards, and the funny one was too small. They would often wish to move like animals do, or fly as the birds do. But, I am proud of what I am, never agreed with them on this.
Apart from the residents of this jungle, many migratory birds make a seasonal layover. With them, come the stories of varied nature. You know there is something called snow and you can pass through the clouds? They say, there are vast bodies of water and trees bigger than me. I like them, I like all that crawls, walks, burrows and flies – provided they don’t harm us, the trees. We are a happy family, me, the animals and my neighbours.
But there are animals which harm others – leopards, tigers, snakes and others. Humans, though a rarity, visit us for our timber and an occasional hunt. I know this particular man, he would come once in a full moon on his horse, set the trap, hunt and disappear. His visits are acceptable until he gets an axe to one of us.
Talking of the visitors, I have to tell you about this young kite couple that visited me yesterday. They had been tree shopping for a day or two, they finally zeroed in on my branches. Their nest here may keep the smaller birds away, but I never turn away anyone who wants to become a part of my family.
It’s been a few days since the kites made their nest here. The dry spell continues. My neighbours have reported more dead trees this season than any before. Even the spotted deer, a rarity in this part of the jungle, have become regular to this area. They must be visiting the pond in the vicinity. Every being awaits the rain.
My gloom-filled days turned joyous as the Kite couple laid two eggs. With all the deaths around me, I am looking forward to their chicks. And one day, it happened, their first chick hatched. As it broke out of the egg, I heaved my branches in excitement. The mother, attended the wet and tired hatchling with great care. Three days later, the second egg hatched. The chicks, fluffy and innocent, with white feathers, are pampered by their parents.
It has become a routine for me – open the windows on my leaves as the sun rises and watch the chicks get restless for food. The older chick was a tiny bit bigger in the initial days but started growing faster than her brother. From what I have understood, she is a ferocious eater, gulping down most of the food dropped into the nest. I can often hear her fight with her brother over food. Their parents’ presence is the only thing that keeps them quiet.
Had she been able to talk to me, I would have told her not to worry and eat as much as she could. She has to grow strong to be able to survive the harsh world out there. Especially now, with the forest carpeted by dry leaves, there is a shortage of fresh graze. The herbivores are starving and the predators struggle as their prey dwindle. This is the driest year I have seen in my lifetime.
The chicks hop from one branch to another. I hear the mother cautioning the young ones to master the art of flight, “You will be dead if you can’t fly.”
How wrong is she? I am doing fine, without ever moving an inch. All I have ever wanted was to reach the sun, but I do not think I can grow any taller.
If you think that am getting attached to the little birdies, you are not mistaken. There is a strange attachment to them. Seeing her leave my branches for her first flight, filled me with joy and dread in equal measures. Her brother is still hopping on my branches.
One day she took flight, rain clouds gathered in the sky, but the rain evaded us. The next day, the clouds completely blocked the sun and wind picked up. Strong winds swept through the forest.
And then, it happened. A blinding light, dropped out of the clouds and hit the ground, the entire forest echoed the thunder. It had struck a dead tree, setting it on fire. My neighbours say that the fire has spread out to the nearby trees. I hope they are wrong, like they were during the last rainy season. If they are not, there would not be any of us left to live the next day.
But the soot belonging to my fellow trees rained on me, sending the message home. My leaves quivered in fear. Is this it? Are we going to be a fuel for this monstrous entity? Is this the end of my life? Will I not be able to see the next sun rise?
Light from the west scattered across the forest, consuming everything in its path, the force of annihilation grew brighter. Animals ran helter-skelter, the larger ones like deer and bison, charged through. Smaller beings like rodents, rabbits and others ran out of breath and surrendered to the hunger of the blaze. Birds have abandoned their nests and took to the safety of the skies. The hapless trees shuddered in fear, we couldn’t run. With shrieks of animals and ash of the trees, a terror spread in the air. More pungent than ever, more fierce than the sun at noon.
The animals and birds made a beeline for the pond. Leopards ran alongside deer, and the elephants with the wild dogs. But, the man returned today, set the trap and then climbed my branches in wait. Here is a creature which seems to be enjoying the sight.
Does he not fear the fire? Does he not pity the animals? He watched with glee as the deer fell into his traps. He killed them with an arrow, right between their panic-stricken eyes, ending their misery. He tied their lifeless bodies to his horse and rode away. For a moment, I feared him more than the fire. The forest is on fire, animals did not look to hunt, but he is no animal.
In the midst of this, the kites egged their young ones to fly away. The older one, with all her might, took off and disappeared. The younger one shrieked and took the plunge from the highest branch. But he could not fly, and landed on the lower branches. The panic on his face told a tale, he is not going to make it. I always rooted for his sister, wishing her more strength.
I have never imagined him to be stuck in a situation like this. His parents abandoned him to his fate and flew away. In agony, he tried again and again. I wish the disaster would have happened a day or two later, after he had learned to fly.
‘Fear not, my young kite, you are not alone, I will be here with you till the end. I am sorry, I cannot move like the animals or fly like your kind. If could, I would have carried you with me, perched on my branches, to the safer shores.’
Being born second may be the only crime he has committed. Unfortunately, he has to pay for it with his life. Till then, he can rest on my branches. The roaring inferno, fuelled by the winds, raged through my neighbours. Their leaves melted, the branches crackled and trunks crumbled. I could feel their pain through the roots. O my friends, isn’t it a tragedy, for all of us to die together?
The exhausted young kite, fell off my branches, into the flames below me. I watched as he rolled in fear and pain, shrieking and hopping like a ball of fire. I watched. As life left his body, my trunk, depleted of water, could no longer resist the flames.
The heat has started to numb my branches, wilting through my leaves and killing my roots. I looked at its full glory, blazing with hunger, the fire looked familiar.
Perhaps, this is the closest I can get to the sun.
Now, I see it. The same pitch black, the very same sight that I saw back then. My life has come to an end, but life itself will bounce back here. And my ash will nurture it.
Note: This story is based on the emerging research into plants and the ecology. Events happening away from the tree is known only through the network. I tried to limit the world view and work with the tenses to reflect that fact.
Photo By: Awsyndrome
This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
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