Beginning to cycle faster, and feel the wind rushing against my skin and through my hair. The noise of the cars grows softer. Whenever I travel down this small street, it feels as though the colour of the sky changes, and the air tastes different. As though I’ve entered into another world. I know this street very well; this is the street on which I grew up. Now mostly elderly people live here. Whenever I see them, I cycle more slowly, not wanting to show off my strength and youth.
Most of the houses here still ooze with the atmosphere of my childhood. They each have large gardens surrounded by low walls. Behind the large windows, white curtains are tied together with a lace ribbon, like a girl ties her long hair. Around this time, the air is filled with spices and the smell of rice cooking. The scent of my childhood. When I cycle down this street, I feel like every pedal takes me back in time by a couple of years, and the world becomes ever smaller.
I see him.
This distinct feeling of recognition, like seeing one of my first kindergarten teachers. Standing between the mud walls, he beams at me proudly. I stop by the wall and lean my bike against it. I pull my shoulder bag around in front of me and take out my canteen. To make sure the bicycle is stable, I push against it a few times. In one hand I have my canteen, in the other my bicycle saddle. I climb on top my saddle and rest my chin on the wall, which is now a little lower than me. Then I see him in all his glory. He is glowing.
The bitter scent of unripe walnuts tickles my nose. This walnut tree was the favourite tree of all the kids in my neighbourhood. To my friends and I, this was the greatest, biggest, greenest and most handsome tree in the world. We were always curious how the nuts from the world’s best tree would taste.
The tree stood in Daye’s garden. Daye was a lady with long, black hair, and she was also the town seamstress. She lived alone and was infatuated with her tree. She cared for her tree as much as she did for us.
She would get angry at us because we threw stones at the tree or came to stand on the wall. Then she promised to give us a few handfuls of walnuts every year. Each year, we waited for the walnuts that she would collect and put through our door.
Daye had hung a swing on the tree. She would allow us to swing until the tree began to complain and cry out. We never understood what she meant by this, and we had never heard it ourselves. But sometimes if we were playing around and swinging from it, Daye would yell that the tree was complaining and growing tired.
Whenever she said this, we quickly had to stop and go home. If we didn’t do so immediately, she would come to the tree and chase us away. Sometimes when I would swing from it, I would look at Daye. Between the half-opened curtains, I could see her behind the sewing machine as she kept an eye on us. Behind the large windows overlooking the tree, I could see her watching vigilantly.
When we had finished playing, she would always walk to the tree and pet it as one would a horse, singing for it and speaking to it. Daye was mostly quiet, but she would talk about a lot with her tree. Once, I heard her say that people don’t listen to her or understand her properly. That people should learn to listen, to have patience. That unless people keep themselves grounded through all seasons, they will never truly get to know the fruits of their life.
While I try to keep my balance, I pop the canteen open and hold it over the wall, pouring some water on the ground. The soil embraces the roots of the tree, holding them tightly like some precious item. I follow every droplet with my eyes to assure myself that I’m doing my part. I know that Daye’s tree needs water in the long, dry summer days. The last drops splash against the base of the tree.
I look into the garden. There is layer of white dust on the bricks around the windows. I hear the sounds of my childhood, of my friends, of Daye. But I still don’t hear anything from the tree. I never have. On the day that Daye passed away, I sat for hours with my ear against the bark of the tree, trying to hear its howl, but nothing ever came.
I look at the large windows that sit closed, without curtains. I take my hand off the wall and sit back on my bike. I pedal hard, not wanting to think about how long this house, the garden and the tree will remain here.