They hunted after her on the steep hillside, on the modest mountain upon which I have grown my whole life, the frontier of the desert. They drop their breeches and dump themselves in her, with wide eyes and horrible panting breaths welling up from their chests.
For as long as they keep going, I watch them. Disgusted by the act. But as much as I am disgusted, just as much I cannot tear my gaze from the scene. Something dark inside of each of us makes us unable to look away from something gruesome. It is human. I would be inclined to believe in my own humanity, if not for the branches adorning my bast.
Empathy. That word righteously describes the wave flowing through my cracked bark. As long as the action unfolds I look in her eyes. Her mouth imitates the shouts of the men holding her down in the dust and gravel, however, her cry is quivering and broken. I don't hear her screaming, I don't hear her curses and pleas to the heavens.
I don't hear them, because her eyes have my undivided attention. On the pupils that knack, the youth and lost innocence dripping through the salt tracks drying on her round young cheeks. In the breaches of her beauty, these tears well up, as mud breaking in the drought.
They finish with spastic movements. These soldiers, these brave warriors, pathetic souls in their unworthy vessels. Their unit has settled in the valley behind the next mountain. I have seen the smoke of their fireplaces flutter in the wind. The threes there must have fallen under their eager axes, their bodies sacrificed to the flames in order for these men to have a roasted piece of meat. In order to fill their mouths and bellies. In order to entertain themselves, letting themselves be hypnotised by the dancing flames. In order to feel safe under the night sky, when they close their eyes and settle their frightened minds with thoughts of a fire crackling behind their backs.
Would they do so again tonight, rest their limps, feeling safe and calm when the fire in their lions has been stilled? Will they think of her? The young merchant daughter they defiled as horrendous savages.
The girl is called Mia, I would later learn from a desert falcon. She came here to mourn, for who, I cannot say, but everyone who comes here comes here to mourn. The village's burial grounds are not far off, I have often seen the ritual fires, where they burn the bodies of their beloved before burying them under the ground, ashes wrapped up in colourful fabrics.
They piss their seed upon the hard underground, they piss upon my roots, they piss upon Mia. The innocent lying in the dirt. They spit upon her and return to their camp, to their fires and their little wars. And soon, I hope, their death, their graves.
Ever since then Mia's eyes look upon the world in a sorrowful manner. Her gaze has turned cold. Hairs are able to turn grey in only a day, happiness and hope have the same ability. She is merely fourteen, yet her heart is as broken as the old stones and dirt through which I grow my roots.
She keeps returning to my shadow, returning to the place where they stole her innocence and smile. The soldiers took it with them when they broke up camp after three days, never to return. The place where they took her by her hairs and pushed her down, because she is a 'filthy dog', as they called her.
I'm but a tree, hence I cannot help you. My own roots are stuck in the belly of Mother Earth, hence I cannot reach you. No eyes adorn my bark, hence I cannot cry for you.
She doesn't hear my thoughts, just as I didn't hear her cries. Her breath is deep and slow, tears well up in her eyes, burning with heat and salt until their surface tension breaks and they spill, one after the other, down the sides of her round face. She chokes, tears seeping into her hair, trickling down unpleasantly into her ears, but she makes no effort to wipe them away. She closes her eyes and grieves under my crown of early spring leaves. Her belly has begun to swell, soon she'll be the mother of her attackers' offspring.
The desert is my mother, my roots will never leave her, I'm destined to remain here forever. I live off the rain, which comes less and less trough-out the years and the minerals that are hidden deep under the sand. I'm destined to never be heard by men, but I keep talking to them, the people who pass here, I talk to the shepherds with their cattle of sheep, little clouds on sturdy legs, wandering over the plains and hills. I talk to Mia, as she grows a life inside her womb.
I have never felt trapped by my fate, I have enjoyed my life here. I do have the habit of stretching myself out towards the sky as if I could reach out and pull out my roots, take a step by placing one in front of the other. I stretch until it hurts my twigs, alarming the little insects under my rough skin. It brings them sorrow, these little creatures. They resemble man, in a way. A short life, their inability to make something of it, and if they have, their fear of death.
When Mia is with me, she lies down on her back. Her cold eyes closed. Her hairs spread around her head like a crown of auburn twigs. They resemble my own. Her lips often tremble, yet only sighs and prayers to her gods pass over them. Once, when her belly is already full and round, she tells me she doesn't want it. What doesn't she want?
"Yet the gods have for wished for me to have a child."
'No,' I cry out. 'Don't worship gods who would do this to you. Don't idolise a savage deed as the will of divine beings. How can you be so sure that this is what they wished for you? How can you be sure they exist beyond the human minds who created and believe in them.'
You people always need some divine presence, I didn't, I didn't believe in such things when I still wore a human skin.
'Where are your gods?' I ask her. 'Why did they ordained such a thing? Why do you need them? You people love them don't you, you need and love them so much you convince yourself they are real.'
She seems to start. Her eyes fly open.
'Why do you believe that what has happened to you was the will of a divine being? Does it bring you peace, knowing you are subjected to the whims of a being with no understanding of how it is to be you, Mia, an innocent who didn't deserve to be hurt.'
She sits up and looks around her. "You can't deny the gods existence, it isn't righteous."
'Ah!? You speak off righteousness. How horribly ironic in your situation. Dear child, what horrible deed have you committed that a god may see it as righteous to let soldiers assault you?'
Tears well up in her eyes, and at once I feel regret consume my heart. The first person to ever answer my monotone rants after four-hundred years as a three. The first one to hear me, and I chose to question her believes. 'I apologise, Mia, I'm an old piece of wood. Don't shed tears on account of my foolish behaviour. I should know better.'
"I forgive you." She smiles, although the tears still fall.
If I could smile I would gift her one in return, yet seeing one upon her lips seems as much a gift to her as to me. Forgiveness... she gives it so easily. Has she already forgiven the deed of the soldiers? Has she forgiven and forgotten, accepted her fate as a proper subject of her gods must do?
"Do you think me filthy as well?" Mia has laid herself down again. Leaning against my body.
What a question!
'No, of course not,' I reassure her.
"I think I am."
'Why? Because those men told you? Why do you deem their judgment of you more right than what you think of yourself?'
She waits for a long time before she whispers; "because they are more powerful, therefore they must be right."
'Since when does brute beastly behaviour translates in wisdom?'
Mia draws up her knees to her chest and hugs them, even tough her swollen belly gets in the way. "Since the beginning of time? People always listen to those who are more powerful."
'You mistake fear for respect, dear child. Those with sticks and swords try to make up for what they lack in wisdom, otherwise, no one would listen to them.'
She seems to consider this. Her brows are slightly furrowed and the tip of her tongue wets her lips. Do my words ease her sorrow? No, probably not. She is crazy, this young girl, with her gods and believes. She is talking with a tree, that says enough.
Does she believe I am one of her gods as well? Using the bast of a tree as a medium to console her? I must confess I'm not entirely sure myself since I have never been able to communicate with a person before. Yet, I believe I would remember it myself were I some divinity.
As I want to voice these thoughts, I realise she has left. No wonder, the sun will soon disappear behind the horizon and make way for the moon. I can see the dips in the sand where she has walked, back to her village, back to her bed, back to the home where she would soon give birth to her child.
And I? I remain here, my roots cannot follow. And who else might still pass by here tonight? I wouldn't want to miss it.