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The Tree Whisperer

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Adam was definitely not listening intently. At least, not to what Mr Watkins was droning on about at the front of the class. It was literacy again, and for the fifth time that week Adam had no idea what the bristly old man was going on about. The man’s bushy, white mustache bounced around his face like an excited Scots terrier. Adam smiled as he imagined him taking it for walks in the local park. Imagination had always been Adam’s greatest strength. He could turn the simple and mundane into the new, the creative and exciting. He tuned back in long enough to hear phrases like key parts of sentences and you need to know and immediately tuned back out again. He’d faced up to the fact long ago. Literacy, and writing in general just weren’t his thing. He sighed. Neither was the majority of what he learned in school, he reflected. He enjoyed the more hands-on side of school or finding out about the world in science or geography, but in here wasn’t where he wanted to be. He felt like a prisoner within these four walls, held here against his will by a walrus of a jailor.

He cast his gaze around the classroom, decked out with its myriad of colourful displays and exciting technology. But that was maybe part of the problem. Something about those bright colours and shiny technology really didn’t fascinate him. It was all so artificial, man-made, boring. His attention instead wandered to the wide bay window to his left and he allowed his gaze to wander out over the school grounds. Like the sun appearing from behind the clouds on a grey day, a smile crept across his face. Out there was where he wanted to be. Out there in the wild unknown, where his imagination could run unchecked. He could see the rows of thin ash trees cast long, slender shadows over the dark green, metal fence from the nearby park, like silent sentinels watching over the playground. A thick bush of white crested bamboo stuck out of the grassy bank next to the playground. It was a favourite place of Adam’s, like a towering, green maze where he could just lose himself. Past the bamboo maze and the squat, blue activity shed, a grassy blank sloped down to a wide, green field where two old goal posts stood against the wind and rain. Adam liked to imagine they stood there staring at eachother when people weren’t watching. After that, the grass sloped down and out onto a bare, stony pond area, banked by wooden stakes and a ramshackle old gate; the only way in or out. Adam sighed deeply. Out there was where he wished he could be. Out there, where he could feel the wind whip at his hair, chase his friends or climb the trees, listen to the breeze and feel alive. Not like inside, and definitely not like in literacy.

He spotted a group of Foundation children with their teacher wandering down to the pond area in their wellies and coats. Well, all but one, who had managed to push his head through the hedge and appeared to be stuck there, his bright red waterproof trousers flailing like a fish on a line. Adam couldn’t help but smile. Why couldn’t Mr Watkins take them down to the pond for their literacy? Or even their science? He remembered suggesting it to him last term while they’d been learning about life cycles and living things. He’d spotted a clutch of frogspawn in the pond and excitedly informed Mr Watkins of his discovery. Although he’d sounded excited at the time, they’d never gone down to the pond. Nor had they even talked about it afterwards. He’d had to content himself with wandering down there after school to watch the tadpoles eat their way out of their jelly life jackets and explore their new watery home. Several weeks later, he’d been surprised to find they’d grown legs and were starting to kick their way around! He’d run home that day so excited, that his mum had asked what the matter was. When he’d quickly asked her if they had a book on frogs, she twigged immediately, though pointed him to the computer rather than the bookshelves.

“If I’d have known you were a frog man, I’d have bought you a wetsuit for your birthday!” she’d laughed as he typed away keenly on Google. He had no idea what she‘d meant, but enjoyed a fascinated evening digging through the ins and outs of frogs and their lifecycles. He’d learned more that day than an entire term of science, and had loved every minute of it. Why, he’d reflected afterwards, could their science not be so interesting at school? Why could they not go outdoors? Was it really that scary? Just what was he afraid of?

He’d asked Mr Watkins the following day and he’d spluttered a bit, gone a bit red in the face and hurried off to do some photocopying. Adam came to the conclusion that he must be allergic to the outdoors, or something like that. He never saw him outside, apart from when he was on duty. Come to think of it, he never saw him leave the school. Not even when he went home at the end of the day. Who knew? Maybe he lived in the classroom and slept in the cupboard, upside-down. Brilliant, a vampire teacher. Now that would really turn his face red! Adam made a note to share that thought with Shaena and Lex. This unlikely pair had been Adam’s best friends since foundation and had been inseparable since.

When with a group, Shaena was a shy, timid character. Often the last to suggest an idea or give her opinion. Like a small auburn-haired mouse. She had a pair of hazel brown eyes which sparkled when she smiled and was quite petite for her age. Shaena didn’t share Adam’s love of the outdoors, but did share his curiosity. It had been over the sand-pit in foundation when they’d first met. Adam had been eagerly digging away with a plastic spade when Shaena had walked up and begun to watch him.

‘What’cha doing?’ Shaena had asked, shyly. Grinning from ear to ear, Adam had replied, ‘Digging for buried treasure!’ He reconsidered. ‘Pirate treasure! Want to join me?’ he added, offering her the second spade. She took a small step back, planting her hands firmly in her pockets. ‘No, thank you! I don’t like getting my hands dirty.’ Adam peered back at her as if she’d just sprouted an extra arm out of her head. ‘Though I’d like to watch,’ Shaena replied quickly with a shy smile. Adam could see a gleam in her eyes as she looked at the sand and the spade. Almost like she could see was trying to work out where the treasure was buried. Adam smiled back, ‘Go on then,’ he grinned. ‘Where shall we dig?’ And that had been the start of their friendship. Shaena was the brains, he was the hands-on. And as for Lex, he was a different kettle of fish altogether.

Lex stood a whole head taller than Adam and had one of those laughs that you can hear half-way across the playground. Lex sported a shock of wiry ginger hair which clashed wildly with his emerald green eyes. Whether it was his height, or just his natural flare for everything, he had a knack for knowing everything about everything. Even when he didn’t really have a clue. Which was the case most times! What he lacked in actual knowledge, he more than made up for in his loud character, his love for life and his genuine interest in whatever was going on. On the day Adam met Shaena, Lex had arrived around break time and made a lasting impression on them both, as well as poor Miss Harrison, their teacher when he walked into the classroom and announced in a voice like a foghorn, ‘I’m here!’ They had all burst out laughing, and had taken quite a while to settle back down. From then on, they had been firm friends. Adam was the brains, Shaena the organizer the Lex the font of boundless energy, more than enough for all three of them.

As the bell mercifully rang for morning breaktime, Adam swung his chair under the table and caught Shaena’s eye as they headed out the door. Lex, of course, was already outside, being his normal loud self and thoroughly enjoying it. As they left the old school building, Adam smelled the breeze, breathed in the space and freedom of outside and let out a contented sigh, as if all his cares had melted from his shoulders. He also noticed how strangely strong the wind seemed to be that morning. The trees danced so crazily, they almost seemed to be alive. If they’d been people, he’d have said they looked very upset indeed.
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