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The Black Cherry Tree

All of us have an association with something from our childhood days that we hold on to, all through our lives. Maybe it is so because of our want to be connected to our roots, in some way or the other. This story speaks of the strong connection our protagonist has with her cherry tree from her childhood, and how she nurtures it all through her life.

“Gopi! Gopi! Where are you? Didn’t I tell you that you would stay home today, and not scamper around with those munchkins? God only knows, when you will grow up!” An exasperated Nirali, Gopi’s mother, was calling for her. Gopi and her friends were all nestled on the branches of the big Cherry tree, feasting on the sweet fruits.

Hearing her mother shout out for her, Gopi suddenly remembered that some boy with his parents was coming home, to see her, for marriage. Her mother had told her the previous day that she should go to the river early morning, and scrub herself clean, and then stay indoors. Gopi, like all other days, had gone to the river with her friends, where they all played for a long time in the water. And then on their way back, as per their daily ritual, they had fed on the fruits that hung unclaimed from the trees. There were apple trees, pear trees, all laden with fruits, but everyday Gopi would pluck the black, ripe, juicy cherries and would happily devour these. No one ever said anything to them, or forbade them. The cherry tree was Gopi’s favourite hide, where she could spend hours, sitting on its branches. She had a stray kitten as her pet, who followed her like a shadow. It would also climb on the tree and roam around the other branches, scaring the squirrels and the birds away. Many an afternoon Gopi would doze off on those branches, with her kitten somewhere beside her.

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One day, Gopi had gone a bit too far to collect firewood for home. Her kitten, as always, was with her. While Gopi climbed a big tree to cut the dry branches that she saw at a height, her kitten spotted a mouse scuttling behind the bushes. Bravely it tip-toed towards the bush and pounced on the mouse, but just about missed it. The mouse ran and the kitten chased it with all her might. Unfortunately, in the process, the kitten had strayed off a bit too far. And suddenly a pack of hounds emerged from nowhere, and the little kitten stood no chance. They attacked it and shred it into pieces.

Gopi, searching everywhere for her pet, kept calling out for it but there was no sight of it. Gopi couldn’t dream of returning home without her kitten; she kept on looking for it, when she heard the barks of the hounds, from a distance. She froze! With a pounding heart and flying feet she reached the spot. The sight brought out a heart-wrenching scream from her.

She fell on the ground, howling. Slowly she gathered the left-over pieces of her kitten and holding them in her palms, close to her heart, she walked back to the cherry tree. She sat down under the tree, holding the pieces of flesh and blood, of her kitten.

She kept sitting there, till it started getting dark. Then she got up and with a piece of sharp, strong wood she dug the ground under the cherry tree. Very gently she buried the pieces and covered it with soft soil again. Her pet little kitten now lay under her favourite cherry tree, for ever.

Gopi had planted a small Tulsi, an evergreen plant, at the place where her kitten was buried. She would water it every day. It was over a year now. The cherry tree was still Gopi’s haven of peace.

Hearing her mother’s voice now, Gopi quickly climbed down the tree and ran towards her home.

Gopi’s parents, Nirali and Shankar, were very poor. Shankar was a goatherd and had a few mountain goats. They had a small patch of land, but the soil was very rocky and infertile. It really did not yield anything much and the family found it very difficult to make both ends meet. Gopi and her three younger sisters often had to go to bed on an empty stomach. The abundant fruits on the mountains were a big and comforting source, to satiate their hunger.

A distant relation of Shankar had brought this proposal for Gopi’s marriage. The boy, Manu, lived with his family in a small village on the other side of the mountain. He lived with his mother and three younger brothers. Manu was a woodcutter and took the wood to sell in the town. His mother, Janki, would work on other’s fields and also do all the housework at home.

By a stroke of bad luck, one evening, while she was returning alone through the forest, she was attacked by a leopard. She survived the attack, but her right arm and leg were mauled badly. She could not use these limbs of hers for work anymore. For the urgent need of a pair of working hands, it was decided that Manu should get married.

At the beginning of the winters, fifteen years old Gopi got married to Manu and went away to her new home; her husband’s home. The day before her marriage, Gopi had sneaked out of her home and had run to the cherry tree. She bid a tearful farewell to her kitten, buried under the tree. She then hugged the tree and plucked a handful of cherries and tied these in a piece of cloth and brought these home. She carried the cherries along with her, to her new home.

Gopi was welcomed by Janki, with open arms. The day went past with people dropping by to meet the new bride. Gopi, at night, while taking out clothes to change, saw the tied cherries. She held these gently in her palms. Memories of her village, her home, everything, came rushing back to her mind and she sobbed uncontrollably. Manu came to her and asked,

“Why are you crying, Gopi? Missing home? I can very well imagine, you must be missing your parents and your sisters! Don’t worry, I will take you to meet them, in just a few days. I promise.”

The next morning, Gopi looked out from the window of their hut. The landscape looked beautiful with the tall Deodars, the mighty Oaks and the lovely Maple trees. Against the backdrop of the Himalayas these trees looked like they were the sentries for the entire valley, in which their village was one among many such villages. She closed her eyes and inhaled the fresh, cool air that was brushing past her face, when suddenly she remembered something. She took out the cherries tied in the piece of cloth. These had mostly become squishy. Still she ate a few, and then she went out and buried the seeds in the ground in front of the window. She just pushed the seeds deep inside the soil, as much as she could push with her fingers, and patted the soil on top of it. She heard Janki calling for her and ran inside the house.

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For Gopi, life in her new home was much tougher than that at her parent’s. She had mountains of work to do. Manu’s earnings were not enough for the family, and so, like Janki, Gopi too had to work on others’ fields. Since Janki could not do much, Gopi had to take care of the household chores as well. Her parents too were poor, but Gopi never had to work so much there. But unadulterated love from both Manu and Janki, kept her going.

One day, during the monsoon, when the earth turned green, she suddenly saw a tiny sapling come out from the place where she had planted the cherry seeds, swaying with the breeze that blew unabated all day.

Gopi was overjoyed, to say the least. She had not seen any cherry tree so far, in their vicinity. The weather took care of the sapling and she saw it growing, inch by inch. It was such a delight for her to watch it grow! For her it was an association with her village, where she was born and brought up.

There was a time when she was heartbroken to see their own goats chomping on the cherry plant. She knew the plant was dead but still, with hope burning bright inside her, she built a fence with sticks and ropes, around the plant, to protect it from being destroyed again; if it grew back, that is. The way it had been chewed by the goat, no one would nurture any hope for the plant to bounce back. But still, Gopi hoped against hope. She was one who never gave up in life, easily. In a short time, she had won everybody’s heart with her love and care. Now in fact she would go with Manu to the town every Saturday, to attend the weekly fair, where they would sell wood. She had started making handicrafts with wood; faces of Gods and Goddesses, wooden bowls, small wooden boxes and then she would do some art work on them. These turned out quite beautiful, and the demand for her handicrafts grew more and more.

To Gopi’s joy, the cherry plant sprouted new leaves and, slowly but steadily, kept growing. It survived quite a few accidents, like being infested by worms that ate up the leaves, a very heavy snowfall, and even being munched up again by a kid, who with its tiny mouth, could make way between the ropes of the fence! Gopi always kept a close watch on her cherry tree. She connected with it very strongly.

Deep in her heart she somehow believed that, like her, her cherry tree too was able to withstand all sorts of hardships and emerge stronger. In some way, the cherry tree was her strength.

Years passed and the cherry tree was now a fully grown-up, robust tree. Varieties of birds played all day amidst its green leaves. It had become home to bulbuls and lovely scarlet minivets. Squirrels scurried up and down the tree. Gopi loved spending time with the cherry tree. She would rest under its shade, and talk to it. Soon the cherry tree blossomed and then bore fruits. It became an attraction to many more birds and insects now, who would come and feast on the bright, dark fruits. One afternoon, on a rare day of rest for her, Gopi climbed the cherry tree and devoured the fruits, sitting on its branches, just the way she did so many years ago.

Gopi was now eighty years old. She was sitting under her black cherry tree, watching her two grandchildren play around. Suddenly her seven-year-old grandson Anik came to her, crying.

“Bhola’s goat has eaten up my cherry plant, Aji! (An endearment used to address Grandma, in an Indian language.) He is such a horrible creature, to have killed my little plant,” sobbed Anik.

Instantly Gopi was transported back in time, and she smiled nostalgically.

“Has he? Very bad of the goat to do so, Anik. But let me tell you a secret! Your cherry plant is very tough. It knows how to fight calamities, and you will see how it fights back! It is not one to give up!”

How Mother Nature teaches us the life lessons, in her own, simple ways!

She just tilted back her head and rested it against the sturdy, thick trunk of her black cherry tree, which in her mind had always stood for resilience, courage and bravery. She smiled affectionately as she gently lay her wrinkled cheeks against it.

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Anima Chatterjee

Anima Chatterjee

Author of the book “The Heart Speaks”, Medium writer since 2018, top writer in fiction, short stories. Loves writing, dance, music, children. Learner for life..