“In our town everything is organized. Everything is where it should be: the river, the trees, the old rural houses . . . All the elements that assemble our reality complement one another and establish an ideal symbiosis that rounds out the ensemble. The goldfinches sing beautifully while jumping from branch to branch, the morning breeze caresses the basil fields and wafts their sweet fragrance all over the place, dewdrops shine on the leaves of the trees . . . I seriously doubt there has ever been an artist—or ever will be, for that matter—as dexterous as to be able to match the beauty of this scenery with a painting.
“Everything is as peaceful as peace itself. I dare say even the notion of peace has more noise to it than the one reigning over this Paradise on earth. Even the trees observe the peace, for their sake and for the sake of the villagers. It is only the children who break the overall peace, snapping off twigs from the trees to build their kites.”
Suddenly, a chill and blustery wind began to blow, jolting me out of my reverie. Foreigners had arrived; they were men I had never seen before in my entire life. I saw them chop down some big trees. Some local farmers were lending them a hand. They loaded the logs onto a big truck, and just as they were about to vamoose, I saw them give the natives something. Dough, I thought. As it turned out, I was not mistaken. I knew for sure the moment I heard one of the natives complain, “We had agreed on 100 pounds more.”
To which one of the foreigners replied, “We’ll pay you back next time.”
From that day onward, peace became a rare commodity. With the trees gone, we were bereft of the shade they once offered. My own shadow started to feel imperiled by the desolate wasteland my once picture-perfect background had been reduced to. All that was left were a few disjointed tree limbs and mangled tree trunks that the foreigners had not been able to take with them and thus were lying scattered around. It was as if the sun had suddenly gotten sick and retched its fiery entrails out, ergo obliterating life on earth. There was no escaping the heat in this treeless inferno.
When they felled the trees, they probably didn’t contemplate how long it would take for them to heal, for them to grow back their branches and leaves. If they had only been able to cotton on to how silly it would be to leave behind the stumps! These remnants, reluctant to die, clung to the ground. Over time, new trees sprouted from those original roots. Their sap was pumped up by bloodthirst. Those same branches that back in the day used to provide posts for the legs of dainty birds, that used to have colorful butterflies speckle their leaves, that used to have dew drops shine on them, and that used to feel the caress of spring breezes had now steeled themselves in preparation for a ferocious storm.
Now, they no longer look a picture. They seem more like angry creatures that would not hesitate to unsheathe their pointed wrath and unleash fire and brimstone if need be. They are leery of changes and outsiders, for their sake and for the sake of the villagers. The few trees left want to make things right, to revamp reality’s appearance. Hence, from that day onward, they have targeted all paper planes cruising the sky. Whenever one bumps into an empty space in the village, one finds oneself inside a junkyard of paper planes dangling from warped tree branches, which covet a coat of mail that could be used to protect themselves from human attacks. Unfortunately, their dreams of heightened security have not come true, and their revolutionary desire to break free from their forebodings cannot cut across their own bark to rise to the surface and be seen. They are in search of their lost identity, but they find themselves unfit to restore the peace that prevailed in the past. They are unable to make sure their limbs won’t be sawed off again in the future.
A little over a year later, I saw the foreigners return to the village, which was still seeking peace. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d see them.
Written by Ahmed Mustafa Al-Ghar.