4 A farewell
They come with their axes and charts at noon. They lift their arms and hack until my lower body breaks, causing me to fall over. I cry in agony while the loggers separate the twigs from my trunk.
I lose everything, my hill, my roots, my peaceful life. I long to stand in the sand again with my mutilated feet. I long to stay, I saw enough of the world already when I waged war in all four wind-directions. Everything I knew has probably perished into ruins already. I long to stay on my silent hill, do you hear me, strong loggers? I have no wish to travel, I have no wish to see how the world has changed without me ruling it.
I, who has been begging for information about the world to anyone who passed, now feels a longing to return to my hill, my little kingdom.
They don't concern themselves with my wishes. They haul me on a chart and bring me to the burying grounds, where they drop me between the yellow grass. In the distance, I can still my hill. And the village, if I look the other way. I never saw it before, but it is exactly as I imagined: small and poorly kept.
Around me, the ground smells burnt and soon, I believe, I will as well. In who's burial fire will I die once my body has withered and I'm dry enough to burn? I won't die, not yet, the saps in my veins will get me through the night but my metamorphose is complete: I have changed from an olive tree into firewood.
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Will I die again? The images of last time are clear, even after all those centuries, I still quiver at the thought. I remember how cold the floor had felt on my cheek as I slumped down, choking in my own blood, my head between the legs of my throne. Had it been the food? The wine? Or had the poison made its way into my body through another medium? There never came any pain, not once, just numbness, but as I lay there, surrounded by my generals and courtisans, I did wish it would hurt. Oh, how I wished it would start hurting! It would have provided a wonderful distraction from the fact that nobody had blinked, nobody had shouted, nobody had cheered. They had waited and watched with satisfied faces how I, their monarch, perished.
Dogs sniffle and spread their legs high to piss on me. This is, I believe, one of my last nights. Will I reincarnate again? Will I become human again? Part of me wishes it, part of me does not.
In the morning, I am cut to size in a workplace in the village. Again those axes, the chafing, the filing of my skin, the excruciating pain. It takes a long time before I've calmed down enough to look around me. Throughout the morning, countless trees join me, chopped bodies piling up on the woodworker's floor. I don't care about my fellow trees, they never cared about me either, otherwise, they would say something. Aren't they merely wood, without a personality bound to them?
It takes another day before we are brought back to the burial grounds, where a crowd awaits. A woman, who, in tears, falls on her knees, is helped back up. Some children complain and are told to be silent while a cart is pushed through the gathered mob.
Then I see her, with her cold eyes closed and her old skin turned grey. Her plait is adorned with beads, draped around her left shoulder. Her hands are folded under her sagged breasts. Behind the chart, a handsome man with the same chin and nose follows the procession.
'Are you proud of yourself? Letting the woman who carried you in her womb think you are dead! You truly are your father's son, only the breed of a rapist would be so cruel! How many half-brothers and sisters do you have, I wonder! Those soldiers, how many children have they made during their raids in the villages, in between wars, when they grew bored and were consumed by lust. If only you had been here, instead of leaving without returning, perhaps Mia would still be alive, and I wouldn't be needed as firewood!'
He must have inherited his fathers' ears because no matter how I cry out, he doesn't turn towards me. Mia! Dear Mia, what now? I beg towards the god of olive trees - who my mind conveniently makes up on the spot - to take me away from here. My pleas are answered with silence. The longer I beg, the more I understand no divinity will come to help me, silence is something they excel in.
The wooden bodies of the other trees are heavy, I crack and moan under their weight. Then she is laid upon us. Would you recognise me, Mia, even now that my branches are torn from me? Her hand has dropped when they moved her, it now rests on my bark.
Smoke rises and I realise the wood under me has already been lit. Soon enough it will reach me. Her son mourns only a few steps from us, he looks as if he wants to pull her out of the fire. You stupid boy, don't act as if you are sad when you neglected her! Why did you let her believe you were dead?
I hear him crying, shouting out to his mothers' divinities and angels.
'Did you get what you wanted, handsome man?'
When the fire reaches me, I no longer think about him or his mother. My thoughts are reserved for my pain - I don't die that day - though the pain makes me wish I would.
Once the fire is finished, I stay behind, a leftover chip between the ashes, where my conscience clings onto. A young woman, a priestess, looks at me. Bending down on her knees, she wraps the remnants of the fire in colourful garments, tossing me and several other chips out. The night falls and the day comes, and I remain, lying on the blackened ground.
Who cuts down a tree, saws it in pieces and then puts it on fire, ends with a piece of wood that can no longer be called a tree nor a piece of a tree, nor a plank or a splinter, but simply a piece of wood. A chip. A charred piece of leftover bark, at least a big one. My skin has turned black, my edges crumble when touched, why am I still here? Alive? Why would a chip need a conscience?
This is a new metamorphose. My second. I'm a big piece of bark. A big piece of bark with a tormented memory. A big piece of bark collector takes me with him. As a big piece of bark, I live on.