THE ETERNAL BAMBOO
THE ETERNAL BAMBOO
“Ryan Gallagher!” the screeching voice woke the young boy from a deep slumber. The class started giggling, making the exhausted boy’s face turn red with embarrassment. In his weak and tired voice, he replied “Yes, ma’am” “Would you like to teach your peers the last thing you remember? Or do I have to repeat last session’s classes as well?” Ryan stood up with his head hung down, failing to overcome the weight of shame. “If you find your biology lectures this boring then why don’t you report to your principal for a change of subjects?” the sharpness in the teacher’s voice was enough to silence the class. Ryan stood silently admiring the tiles on which he stood. The lack of response, however, only fanned the flames of conflict as his teacher slammed her book on his table and made him stand outside the classroom. Ryan wanted to beg but he knew it was of minimal use. It all happened so fast that the poor child could barely comprehend what he had been subjected to. The boy locked eyes with the gloomy weather outside, resonating with it. His tired eyelids started to feel heavier and his head drooped down like a sunflower in the rain. As he began to doze off, his ears picked up the concluding sentence of his teacher’s lesson. The lesson that he was restricted from attending. “Bamboos are a peculiar species. They live for about twenty years but they may flower anywhere between seven to a hundred and twenty! To us, in today’s world, that is no less than an eternity.”
Ryan entered his house, drenched by the rain, sloshing around the seemingly abandoned house. His mother wasn’t supposed to return for another hour and his father? Well, he went to the supermarket and hadn’t returned for two years. Ryan rummaged through her mother’s belongings to find her trusty umbrella. Armed with it, he set out of the house to visit the garden nearby. He ran around, desperately searching for something till he saw it towering above his head. Its existence under the veil of the boy’ umbrella. A bamboo tree. Ryan sat himself on the soggy ground and stared at the tree with delight. “They say you see everything.” He spoke softly. “That you can see into the heavens? Do you think that God would have room for a boy like me?” The tree shook and a leaf fell into Ryan’s palms. Ryan giggled playfully, thinking that the tree could perhaps understand his emotions and lent the leaf to Ryan as a gift of sorts. Ryan asked the tree with pure enthusiasm, “How much longer till you flower?” Ryan’s head hung in sorrow as a darker question occurred to him, “Will I be able to see it?” The bamboo stood silently. “The kids at school, you know, they-“ he sniffled. “-They don’t believe in your importance. They don’t believe that plants like you could ever feel but…..” Ryan placed his hand gently on the tree’s body. “I do. I believe in you.” “RYAN!” a sharp voice hailed him as his mother found him covered in mud. “What on Earth are you doing? You’ll catch a cold!” the mother picked up the only ray of hope she had left in this world and carried him back to the comforts of their abode. Little did she know that Ryan had made a friend that day. A friendship marked by a leaf in Ryan’s palm.
Ryan lived with his best friend for years to come, helping him grow further, helping him truly touch the infinite skies. Time flew by and the 8-year-old was met with his 10th birthday! Ryan returned home, covered in mud and bruises. His mother was preparing his cake when she laid her eyes upon her battle-scarred son. She immediately rushed to his aid and cradled him, trying desperately not to cry on the one day her son enjoys with his whole heart. “What happened, my baby boy? Who did this to you?” Ryan was exhausted and whispered the tale into his mother’s ears. “Bullies. Trying to cut down the tree. I tried to stop them but…….but…” his voice cracked up and tears started streaming down his face. His mother peeked through the glass window, watching the tree stand as steady as it always has. With a confused look she returned to her boy and told him that everything was fine. Ryan shook his head sideways and grabbed his mother’s arms. He took her for a closer look and she laid her eyes upon the torture that the poor soul had to endure. Cuts all over its sturdy trunk, its leaves drooping down in sorrow and pain. “I tried to stuff the wounds with dirt, mama. Will he be okay?” the boy forced the words out of his clogged throat. His mother ran her soft fingers across its open wounds and reassured her son that everything would be just fine. Ryan, however, was not convinced. “Tell you what.” His mother wrapped her loving arms around his waist and kissed his cheek with all the love and care in the world, wiping his tears off with her warmth. “You are the birthday boy. You get to make a wish. You do want your friend back right?” “Yes, mama” “Then it, I mean, he will be just fine. Trust me. When you open your eyes in the morning, you’ll see him stronger than ever! And who knows? Maybe he’ll save YOU next time.” Ryan smiled at the thought of it and agreed to head back to the house. Was it just his mother’s trick to get him inside the house before it starts raining again? Or was it just her innate kindness? These questions were insignificant to Ryan. As he blew out the candles with his mother and felt joy surging through his body, only one thing kept echoing in his mind. “ Maybe he’ll save YOU next time.” Because that’s what friends do right?
The storm roared on and Ryan covered his face to hide from the roaring thunder and flashing lightning. He was listening to his mother sloshing around in the rainwater for quite some time, trying to get rid of the water that had overflown their house. She could hear the ceiling crumbling under the force of the mighty winds but she couldn’t compel herself to tell her son the truth. Ryan wanted to help his mother but feared that he would only make matters worse. The bubbles of doubt and dilemma were suddenly popped by a fearsome blow that knocked down the ceiling, nearly burying the helpless woman. Panic started to settle in as she grabbed her child unwillingly and fled for their lives, seeking shelter in one of the richer houses. Every door rejected her and her boy and they were at the mercy of the storm. The mother had no choice but to camp underneath the ledges of the local clubhouse. She shielded her boy from the merciless storm. Her tears lost in the rain. As the painful night drew to a close and the Sun threw its morning rays on the duo, Ryan found his mother shivering and crying in pain. Ryan didn’t waste a second and ran around the block, begging for help, crying at the feet of the townsfolks and even promising menial labour in return. Eventually, a handful of people showed their willingness to help the hapless boy and rushed with him to the clubhouse only to find his mother nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. They picked her up and started to carry her away, leaving one of them behind to help console the boy. The boy cried out for his mother and through his teary and misty eyes, he saw her arm rising gradually. Her hand opened up, wanting to reach out to her son but perhaps, she was confused as to what light she was trying to reach as her arm fell lifelessly. Even from a distance, Ryan could feel the life drain from her.
After all the tears had been shed for her unsung sacrifice, Ryan strolled towards the ruins of his abode. His heart was shattered like the windows and his eyes were red like the frail exposed bricks. He stared at the parapet and reached out to something that would seem irrelevant to anyone else. He ran his fingers across the wall of his castle and looked blankly at the distance towards the barrage of broken and dismantled trees but one was left standing. His “friend”. He walked up to the bamboo tree, teary eyes. The cuts that the branches of the fallen trees left on his legs meant nothing to him. He clenched his fist as he came to an abrupt stop in front of tree. “Why?” the boy whispered. In a moment, all his anger, frustration and desperation left his body and his soul as he landed a cannonade of punches on the bamboo tree while repeatedly screaming at the top of his lungs, “WHY? WHY? WHY? Why? why?” The tree was unmoved, not bothered by these emotional blows, standing quietly. “Why didn’t you stop them?” Ryan asked quietly. “I see how strong you are! I’m giving it my all and they feel like mere tickles to you! The wind’s mighty blows are bowing before you so answer me! Why didn’t you protect me? After all, I’ve done for you, why didn’t you help me?” Ryan’s tears started choking his words. He glared at the tree for what felt like a century before delivering one last blow, a blow that may have actually pierced the armour and shattered the tree’s heart if he had one. Ryan unclenched his hand and in his broken and beaten palm lied the leaf, sleeping peacefully, unaware of the pain that was inflicted on its guardians. Desperate to break the tree in one way or the other, Ryan held the leaf and tore it straight down the middle before leaving the pieces on the ground and storming off. One could say that he may have heard the scream that the poor old leaf had let out but his heart was too cold to care. That is how the friendship ended, how the bond broke, how one of them went on to live with a family that will never be his own and the other stood in solitude, waiting for his friend to return.
The cracks in the friendship only widened with time and soon, the eternal bamboo tree became nothing but a distant memory. Like a pleasant dream that will never be a reality. Ryan was adopted by a loving family though he could never really call them his own. Time kept passing and the broken boy learned to move on and lived the city life, amongst the traffic and the urgency that floats around in the air. Ironical, yes. A boy whose life was marked by a seemingly unbreakable bond with nature, living in a world where it no longer holds any importance? Seeming to enjoy this change of air, even? Perhaps that’s what happens when you grow up, or maybe it was just a smarter way to bury the pain that his old life had left in his heart. He made new friends, fell in love with a wonderful woman and started a family of his own. Yet, for some reason, on certain nights he would hug his wife a little tighter than usual, especially when the merciless storms would follow him back! Years and went by and every time he went out with his friends for a night where the boys would rule the world under the influence of the cure to misery, a tiny part of his brain kept poking him. Every single time. The tiny part that would make him stare at the trees while his friends were partying. The tiny part that made him unconsciously touch the strong yet tender trunks of those trees while his friends were busy singing with slurs conquering their speech. The tiny part that made him feel closer to home while his friends intended on staying away from it.
His youth started to fade away and he became frail and weak. His condition worsened when the love of his life, the source of all his strength didn’t see him till the end. Poor old Ryan felt deserted, alone. He spent his nights crying and apologizing to his children for being incompetent and asking them for help. His children were raised to be polite and decent people, they would never complain but deep down, Ryan knew that he had become a burden more than a father. Eventually, Ryan’s son, George, decided that his father needed a vacation more than anything. Something to fill his heart with joy and let him pass away a happy man, not confined to his weary bed. George and his sister, Maggie, worked day and night to gather the funds for their father’s spiritual trip and in a few months, Ryan was found seeing off his family for a trip to where it all started. Ryan Gallagher was finally coming home.
His hometown had changed so much over the years that Ryan found it hard to wrap his head around the hurried city life that they had adopted, even though Ryan lived the better part of his life living like that. Almost no traces of nature. After hiring a taxi, Ryan took a tour of the town. The massive buildings and smoke-filled air intimidated him as he felt no sense of connection or belonging with his old home! He pretended to enjoy this life, he tried his best to not make his companion think of him as just some senile old man but one could only take so much grief at once. He paid the driver handsomely to drop him off at the outskirts of the town, thinking that maybe things would be simpler over there. Oh, how wrong he was as he was greeted by nauseating noises coming from a construction site. Ryan could barely even move, he stood, frozen in horror as he watched the mammoth bulldozers tear down everything in its path to build something dull, unremarkable, something that would eventually pale in comparison to the beauty of all that had been sacrificed in the name of “development”. Ryan walked for hours on end, at a slow pace as his legs were giving out, not because of the exhaustion but because of how he had been robbed of his hometown by the mechanical maniacs. Ryan could feel his heart beating faster and faster. He didn’t care if he was going to die, all he knew was that he needed to finish his story where it first began. He ventured towards his old house, the tall buildings and the devilish automobiles did not matter to him as he followed his heart. After an hour of dragging himself around, he stood before the one thing that hadn’t quite changed. The house still broken, deserted, devoid of the warmth that homes have. No one bothered to employ men to tear the place down, a strong wind would’ve crumbled the place into dust. Ryan was relieved at the sight of something familiar even though the place went hand in hand with the darkest corner of his mind. Unfortunately, that would not be enough to aid the poor old man for what lied ahead of him wasn’t just pathetic but downright terrifying. Proving once and for all to him that the day and age of compassionate human beings like his late mother was gone. A myth in the modern world. Insignificant to today’s people. Like tears in the rain.
He wandered around aimlessly in the rubble of a building that once was. A building that replaced the fallen trees and his dear old friend. Ryan broke down in tears as he realized what was taken from him, his only connection to his mother, his friend, and subsequently, himself. The old man wept in solitude as the kids passing by ignored him and the adults had greater things to take care of. Everyone is attracted towards great things, but Ryan, he preferred the passing moments that he spent with the little ones. At this point, one has to ask themselves, do the little moments even matter? Do those moments of pure emotion in lives governed by monotony hold no importance? An hour had gone by, Ryan sat alone. The tears had stopped flowing but even the ground remains soft and fragile after rain. He mustered the energy to stand up. “I want to go home, mama. Take me home. Please.” He said weakly. He turned his back on the rubble and started walking once again but it didn’t take long for him to come to a stop as his eyes rolled onto something peculiar. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of it! He picked up the obscure object and held it gently in his palm. A tear rolled down his cheek and landed on his new companion. Through the cracks of his heart, slipped past a smile. Not just any fake smile hiding a great deal of pain, no. It was a genuine smile, signifying that no matter how terrifying the greater things may be, the smaller, the more delicate ones can always bring about a moment of joy. Ryan’s lips moved slowly as one heartfelt word escaped his tongue, “Home.” He set the object down on the ground and trod along, living up to his son’s expectations, ready to die a happy man. And on the cold and heartless rubble, rested a warm bamboo flower, bathing with a tear of joy. And here I was, thinking bamboos flowering was a bad omen.
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