The Name of the Tree
by Alex Moisi
Underneath the freshly sprung grass, layers of earth and sand slowly shifted, probed by the tips of a dozen slender roots. They stretched like an enormous spider web, always searching for water, the sweet, sweet elixir of life.
It was this precious water that was going to feed the ever-growing trunk and the many leaves that were just starting to bud. He had almost doubled in size since last spring, and he was going to need a lot more water, minerals, and sun. It was a never-ending cycle; grow so you could grow even more, such is the life of a tree.
Others, just saplings a few years back, were already as tall as he. He had the advantage of age, but in two springs that wouldn’t be enough. Not enough light, not enough water. He had to grow larger than the other trees; it was all part of life. You had to have the deepest roots and the tallest branches so you could enjoy the water and the sun longer. Just a minute or two more but oh, how sweet it was. Those few moments made years of work worthwhile.
There was almost nothing that compared to the feeling of leaves moving in the spring breeze; the mild warmth that promised of a warm summer; the scent of fresh grass. It was a blessing, rivaled only by the amber lights of the dusk. At these times the whole world was silent, watching, enjoying the last sun rays. The true wonder lay in the colors. The sky was burning red, contrasting the perfectly white clouds; a magnificent painting on the wide canvas of the sky.
Of course he never actually saw the colors, but he could imagine them; he could imagine everything: the clearing around him and the river running close by. It was a piece of heaven, quiet and peaceful. Just as he liked it, a perfect evening in a perfect place.
“Hey, mister, can you hear me?”
The silence was cut by a high-pitched voice. The last of the sun’s rays died and the moment was ruined. For a second the tree almost forgot his calm nature.
Why did humans always have to fill the perfect silence with their voices? They didn’t even sing as some birds did. No, it was just loud, annoying and pointless noise. And this one sounded like it was still a sapling, probably a female; the worst kind. Human saplings always climbed, jumped around and yelled. They yelled all the time, without reason, just for the fun of it. Humans, they were such pesky critters.
“Excuse me, mister tree?”
It was actually talking to him! What ignorance. He was a tree. Why would he bother answering? He had much more important things to do. Try and explain simple concepts like growing roots to a human; they would never understand. They were so busy running around, living their short lives looking for truth, love and other useless ideas. They thought the whole world was revolving around their wishes, around their desires. Selfish, that was what the humans were.
Normally, he would have continued his litany of complaints, but a little hand touched his bark.
“Hi!” He felt a knocking on his trunk. “Can you speak?”
The shape of the little hand left a warm feeling on his rigid trunk. He could feel the girl’s pulse through his whole body, even in the remotest corners of his roots. It was a strange feeling, tingling inside him.
Do not answer; you are better than a pesky human. The tree tried to convince himself. But the warmth of the little hand was there, meddling with his thoughts, changing him. Humans are useless critters, he repeated, trying to stay focused, but the rhythmic drum of the pulse made it hard to remember what he was saying. Why would the little girl human want to talk to a tree? It was such a peculiar...
His train of thought was interrupted by another series of knocks.
“Please tell me, can you talk?”
There were limits even to a tree’s determination.
“No, I cannot talk. Trees cannot talk, they do not have mouths, now, do they?” he exclaimed.
There was a deep silence while he contemplated what he had just done. Sometimes your feelings get the best of you, even if you are a tree. But before he could think about it properly, the little girl’s voice came back.
“Did you just talk?” the voice asked in a surprised tone.
It was typical for humans. They ask for something, and when it happens they act all surprised. In a way it was almost funny how silly they could act, silly humans.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself,” the girl eventually said, distracting the tree once more. “My name is Merlia.”
The girl shook a lower limb and waited. It was almost ten minutes until she suggested he should introduce himself.
“Well, why should I do that?” the tree asked grumpily.
“I’m not allowed to talk to strangers, so before we can speak I need to know who you are. So please, tell me your name.”
It was absurd. They were already talking. They already knew each other more than enough. Besides he had other things to think about. He could grow that new branch or extend his left root. Still, against his better nature...
“Very well, if you must know my name... It is... if you must know... well...” the tree stopped, embarrassed. He had never before thought about a name. A tree did not have a name. It was something so trivial, so human. Nobody called a tree or addressed a specific sapling. Why have a name?
“Yes?” the girl asked politely.
“Well... I... I...” If a tree could blush he would have been as red as a tomato by now. “I don’t have a name,” the tree finally whispered.
For a second Merlia seemed troubled. The tree was sure she had never encountered somebody without a name and that made him feel even worse. How could he be nameless before? It made no sense. Going around without a name... Truth be told he never needed a name before but now things were different; now it felt like the most important thing in the world.
“Don’t worry,” the girl finally said. “If you don’t have a name, I will give you one. Let’s see, what would be a good name for a tree?”
“Treejan? Bark-wood?” the tree suggested shyly.
“Now, don’t be ridiculous. Those are too funny; you need a serious name. Ah, I have it: Archibald! My grandfather was named that and he always looked a little like you. Big and, well, you know...”
No, he didn’t.
“You mean you don’t know how you look?” Merlia asked with disbelief. It was hard to stay angry at a little girl so genuinely surprised you had no eyes.
“Why don’t you, I don’t know, just look around?” the little girl asked.
“I am a tree. Trees don’t have eyes and I cannot look around without eyes. It’s not natural,” Archibald said. A name would be understandable. He was sure other trees had names. But eyes were something completely different. It was just not possible.
“My mother always said you should not argue for your limitations. Besides, you don’t have a mouth and you can talk,” Merlia pointed out. “Who says trees cannot see? It’s just a stupid old superstition. It all comes down to what you really want. That is what my mommy always said.”
It took Archibald only a few minutes to consider the situation. The little girl was right: if he wanted to take a look around, who was going to stop him? Besides, he was rather curious to see little Merlia. To actually see, none of that presuming and imagining, now that was something.
And all the colors the world actually had... why didn’t he think of this before? It seemed so simple, all he had to do was look. Archibald took a moment to ready himself and then he looked.
In front of him, dressed in black and with a pointy hat, there was a very small girl with long black hair. For a second, he met her eyes, and she smiled.
Then he glanced around. It was so much more than he ever imagined. The sun had not set yet even though his leaves didn’t feel the rays anymore. And the true colors were so beautiful compared to the muddy image he had in his mind. He had always thought sunsets were beautiful because of the warmth, but there was so much more. All the shades of red he never knew existed.
And the green grass he always felt growing and tasted in the wind, it was so beautiful. And the brown earth he explored so much and yet was colorless until now. For the tree every new shape and every new color was a small spectacle. The world was so beautiful. No wonder the birds sang all the time, how could they not? No wonder the humans spent so much time just pointing out the obvious; there was no way to describe something so beautiful.
Finally, he looked again towards the dark little figure in front of him. Her eyes were so clear, and they had a small sparkle that made them more beautiful than the sky or the trees. It was no wonder that the humans always talked about each other’s eyes. No wonder they always gaze towards each other lovingly. Merlia slowly pushed some stray hair back and smiled again. She was so pretty.
“Hello, Merlia.” his voice sounded strange in the evening air. The little girl had shown him a world so full of beauty than he had never thought possible; a world so much better than his dreams. There were no words to express his awe. He needed time to see it all and bathe in the real colors and shapes of everything around him. He needed time to look at the distant river and at the small blades of grass; he needed time to enjoy it all.
It was a while until he broke the silence again.
“Are all humans like you?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” the girl asked, embarrassed. “Oh, I know, the black. No... I... well... I am, I mean I wish I were... a, well, you know... a witch.”
The tree tried to remember what a witch was.
“Why would you want to be that?” Archibald asked, confused.
As far as he could remember, witching wasn’t something to look forward to. There were witch hunts and witch trials and a lot of other bad things. The dark eyes looked at him for a while. She seemed to wonder if he could be trusted or not.
“You’ll laugh!” she finally concluded, turning around.
That is absurd, the tree thought. I don’t even know how to laugh!
“I’m just an old tree. If you cannot trust a tree, who can you trust?” He tried without much hope. But it was enough to convince Merlia to glance over her shoulder.
“Are you serious? You won’t laugh?”
Archibald nodded solemnly.
“My mother, I mean my first mother, my mommy, she’s dead,” the little girl said slowly.
She didn’t cry, she didn’t even sigh. There was just a deep sadness in her voice. The kind of sadness you can feel even if you are a tree. The little witch turned around. Her eyes were dry, but the sadness on her face seemed even deeper. It was the sadness you get as time passes by and a wound heals but still hurts. It was the sadness you still have after many hugs and kisses; when you are alone and wonder why things are the way they are. It was a silent sadness that just won’t go away.
“I never had a mother,” Archibald said, “but I can see how sad it is.”
The girl looked down and silently nodded. “Thank you. Nobody just says that, they all try to make me feel better. Everybody tells me my new mom loves me just as much. Everybody tells me I shouldn’t cry. I know it’s true. My dad and my new mom, they do their best. But it’s not about them; I know they love me. It’s just that I miss her, my mommy.” Her little shoulders went up and down.
“I don’t feel like crying or running away. I don’t even feel like looking at old pictures anymore. I just want to feel her close to me again.” She tilted her pretty head and looked up at the sky.
“I know she is an angel and she can see me. I know there is a reason why she had to go, but I wish I could tell her I love her. I just wish I could tell her I remember everything she told me. I’ll never forget her brown hair and her green eyes, never. That’s all I want. I just want to say goodbye.”
The stars were starting to shine around them in the dark sky. And the air was getting colder. The little girl started shaking and slowly hung her head. Without even thinking about it, Archibald lowered his branches and slowly hugged her. For the first time in his life, he wished he had the warm, clumsy hands of a human.
This is why, he thought slowly, this is why they go around the world and do all that they do. It wasn’t silly or pointless, it was just different, bittersweet and much stranger than growing roots or budding new leaves.
“I’m sorry,” Merlia said, brushing against his cold bark. “You see, I am a witch and if my spell worked for a tree, it will work for an angel. If it can make a tree become alive, it can make an angel come back as well. But I am not strong enough for that. I don’t want to harm you, but it is the only way. You understand, don’t you?”
He did, he understood, it was how humans were. And you can’t really blame humans for the things they do, they can’t help it.
“I knew you would, if I had the chance to talk to you and explain,” she said softly.
Under her warm hand, the cold bark faded away, slowly disappearing until all that was left was soft, green moss. The warmth of the small hand grew inside him and slowly burned his old trunk away. His century-old branches withered away in the night wind.
He understood. There are things more important than growing, more important than water, even more important than life. Those are things that are worthy of any sacrifice. The little girl stepped back and looked in amazement as the last leaves fell, caught by the wind and a tall figure walked away from the tree.
Her wings brushed the ground as she embraced the child.
“I missed you so much!”
The angel smiled and took her by the hand. For a second Archibald felt nothing but sorrow running through him as the hole in his trunk widened. He felt so empty and sad. She didn’t even say goodbye to the old tree. Then the little cracks in his roots widened and his trunk trembled. He wondered if the little girl knew how much it hurt to give away your soul. He wondered if she ever cared about him. A warm little hand on his bark made him shiver.
“Thank you,” Merlia said quietly before walking away.
And the pain, the emptiness, the sacrifice, none of it mattered. She had given him a gift just as precious; she had set him free. In the end, she opened his eyes and he loved her for that. That was all that mattered. And as the little girl walked away with her mother, the old tree became dust in the wind.
Copyright © 2009 by Alex Moisi