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Short Fiction • New Writing Vol. 3

Trees

She fell in love with a Muslim boy. She had never eaten meat in her life.

They had to run away to get married. It became quite impossible to do otherwise. Their families met each other, and decided it was too difficult for them to get along, religion-wise. So they thought about it for a while and decided to run away. It was she who thought of it first. It was too simple, really. All she really had to do was to open her window and climb down a tree. She thought about all the films that she had seen that had replicated this act far too often. She had never looked at the tree outside her house in quite that manner before.

Trees, illustration by Kamal Singh

Ultimately, then, it was the tree that got them together.

Before they were able to rent their own apartment, they lived on the love of independent friends. That they had run away from their family was a source of enchantment to their independent friends. They made friends of the independent kind wherever they went. When they themselves were independent, they planted the same tree in the verandah of the apartments they rented.

It was amazing. The people who lived on the ground floors of these apartments too were of the understanding kind. They did not understand why the couple had run away, but because the times were liberal, and the need to understand de facto independence had swept over the country, they let the boy and the girl do as they pleased. In addition to planting the tree, the boy and the girl would spend a considerable part of their salaries on gardeners. As a result of this, the families on the ground floor always had a garden filled with flowers and bees.

The girl and the boy loved each other, of course. Surrounded by stories of how they had been so far apart, they made up new stories of how they had become so close to each other. They made love to each other every night, and every night they climaxed knowing that they had climbed trees to get to one another.

What does it actually mean to get to one another? One day, the girl had stupidly raised the question. Both of them were gazing out of the little balcony of the little apartment that they were renting at the time. They had recently reached a stage in their lives where they could afford to rent little apartments with balconies, and in their excitement, had purchased two wicker chairs and a table so that they could sit outside when they came in after work, staring at the wonder of the little world outside as they sipped their tea. The tree that they were to plant at this new apartment had just arrived. And because they had just moved in, all of their furniture—which there wasn’t much of, of course—lay in disarray.

The girl had only just asked the question when the couple heard some movement below. The movement was truly below, which is to say that they were on the fourth floor and the little world always rested below them. Even so, the movement reached them acutely. It was the boy’s family that had created this movement. Indeed, the boy was about to start thinking about what it meant to get to one another when he suddenly saw a flash of the shawl that his mother always wore, and was left startled. The next moment, he was all tears as he saw his family get out of the car that was parked outside, one by one, all looking quite teary-eyed and startled as they went about discovering where the couple lived.

You see, they had never visited the boy and the girl before.

The boy wiped away the stray tears from his face and thought it would be too undignified to shout from above and startle his family even further. He decided to run down in order to procure them. He also told the girl to make some tea. As the girl hurriedly ran about the kitchen preparing tea, the family of the boy ascended the stairs quite painfully. The apartment was, after all, on the fourth floor.

They made love to each other every night, and every night they climaxed knowing that they had climbed trees to get to one another.

As the family stepped in, the girl excused herself to change her clothes. When she came back, she asked to be excused for the state of the apartment and for the plant sitting in the drawing room because plants not yet in their pots are not meant to be sitting in drawing rooms. The family, of course, excused her, and made themselves comfortable on the only piece of furniture that one could sit on apart from the wicker chairs.

All of them, in short, rested themselves on the bed.

This story has a predictable end. Each time they came visiting, the family made themselves comfortable on the bed, and the girl, predictably grown heavy with child, made them copious amounts of tea. The tree in front of their apartment grew and grew, and when the child inside the girl had grown so much so as to make an entry into the world outside, the family of the boy invited them back to his old house.

New Writing Vol. 3

The boy’s old house, beautiful and wood-panelled, didn’t quite provide the views of the apartments that the girl and the boy had shared. The fact was that the garden of the old house was already heavily populated with flowers, birds, and bees of all kinds. The fact was that the house by itself was quite beautiful. According to custom, the boy and the girl purchased the plant that had got them together, but the fact was that there were already several trees of the sort in the garden.

The old gardener of the old house absolutely refused to give in to sentimentalism. He was, in plain words, not of the sentimentalist persuasion. Nor was he understanding of de facto independence. Their independence meant nothing to him. The garden was perfectly lined with perfection, they could do whatever they wanted with themselves, but necessarily leave this space for him. In plain words, the old garden was the old gardener’s dominion. The boy’s grandmother, deeply infatuated with the gardener when she first came to the old house, still keeping intact that infatuation, supported the gardener’s drive for perfection. Equally infatuated with the child of the boy’s and the girl’s making, however, she pleaded with the gardener to plant their plant in the verandah instead.

What happened when the tree that got them together was planted inside the house instead of outside? Nothing happened, to tell you the truth. Looking at a tree inside a house isn’t very different from gazing at one outside. After a while the girl’s parents too came visiting, and the couple had another child. The tree in the verandah grew and grew, until it was large enough to carry a swing. The girl forgot all about her stupid question that was not really stupid. The girl also forgot her name and tried on another’s: that of the boy’s, of course.

Predictably, the girl, the boy, their children, and the tree lived happily ever after.

Aakriti Mandhwani
After receiving an honours degree in Commerce and working for a year as a researcher at a consultancy, Aakriti switched careers and now teaches Literature in English at the University of Delhi. She also writes.
Kamal Singh
Kamal is a musician and illustrator from Bangalore. Better known as the guitarist of post-rock band Lounge Piranha, he also writes songs under the moniker of Hoirong, and makes a living making t-shirts and other things at Hypno Owl.

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  • Vermilion

    This was brilliant

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