Sign, the Tree of the Village

By Hasina Raoufi

What bad weather! I wish I could sleep at home but I have to do my work because it is my job and I need to feed my family. How happy you are, you don’t need to work and don’t have responsibility.

The shepherd of the village was talking with Sign. He said these sentences while sighing and shaking his head: Ahhh…I am going, Sign. Bye.

As he moved away, the sound of his voice faded.

Sign was a tree near a village so the people living there called her Sign, a sign of arriving home. In fact, Sign was placed between two villages, but she was the entrance to only one of them.

Sign used to hear from the people of both villages. Sometimes she was shade for new passengers, those walking or passing by. Sign sometimes fed these people with her walnuts. Sometimes her branches were a safe place for children to swing and sometimes she was a sign for elders to not be lost. But hearing people confide in her was her favorite role. Sign enjoyed these conversations, people of different ages came and spoke with Sign, they believed in Sign as a dear friend and a protector of the village. Sign knew that more relationships brought more responsibilities and she worried about the villagers.

That day the wind didn’t give her branches rest. Sign thought about the shepherd. This wind might annoy him!

Sign had a world of memories from different generations that gave her another view of life. She knew humans so well that she knew that people with world knowledge through travels, studying books, using others’ experiences and thinking deeply may be changing on the inside but they don’t always know how to show it on the outside; sometimes they don’t want to try. Most people don’t have time or patience for being better toward others, or even toward themselves.

But Sign never judged anyone. She knew people are likely to judge others and that most of the time, this judgment is unjust. For example, she knew that the mad man of the village was not as mad as people thought. He just wanted to forget the memories of his family that he lost in the last flood. Staying alive was not his choice but surviving in this way was his last option.

Sign was also witness to other people’s stories. She witnessed a good tailor from another village who cried beside Sign because a thief from his village had stolen all his properties and killed his only son. Sign was witness to how anger changed the good man, who later set fire to four homes and killed innocent people for revenge. Sign saw that the killer of the tailor’s son was in court when the tailor was on trial. Sign knew that the killer of the tailor’s son did that because his wife was sick and he needed money for her and he had never wanted to kill anyone. Sign watched everything about them, and many others like them, and their decisions made Sign sure that there is no such thing as good or bad. People are good and bad at the same time, like the tailor who could not be good anymore.

Sign watched when a smart boy from the village grew up in front of her eyes. The boy tried hard to study more and know more and by the time could make a change to improve the lives in the village, nobody could understand him and didn’t want to help him. Maybe it was because they didn’t know enough, but this ignorance prevented them from living a life better. And the only one who received his good-bye was Sign. Because the boy left the village. Who knows how much time it will take until the village has someone like the boy again.

Sign knew that the rich men of the village were given the respect that the boy deserves.

Sign was the witness to the war between the two villages, when the greed of one of the villages ruined everything after long years of peace. She saw the tears on both sides, tears for their lost ones. Sign gave walnuts to children of both villages who lost their families to war. She gave her walnuts to both villages’ elders, who fought and survived. Sign knew their stories. Sign saw that the war ended without any result except setting both places back many years.

Sign was a witness to true love between a sweet couple from the two villages who had been separated by the war. Sign saw that every night they spoke with each other about the reason for war and what would happen and cried in each others’ hugs. Sign was a witness when the girl’s hair became white, lonely after the boy passed away in war.

Sign witnessed that the man who planted Sign and many other trees in his youth had few people at his funeral in his old age because he lacked belongings. Nobody knew or cared that the village owed its verdure to him. For the youth, he was just a poor old man whom they pitied, and only a few of the elders knew him enough to not judge. To Sign, this man was like a father and Sign knew that he deserved more.

During all these experiences, Sign couldn’t speak but sometimes wanted to scream. Couldn’t cry but sometimes wanted to whimper. Couldn’t smile but sometimes wanted to laugh. Couldn’t move but sometimes wanted to escape.

The only thing that was in her control was her walnuts. And she gave generously.

On that day that the shepherd went to the mountain, Sign was experiencing her one hundred and thirty-eighth autumn. She saw the shepherd’s parents’ life and also his grandparents’ and may she see the lives of his children, too. She thought the lives of humans and their emotions were complicated. It can be like a tree’s walnuts, sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter. Sign thought with herself: I wish I could speak to these people and tell them my knowledge from my long years of age. Tell them you are brave enough. You are beautiful enough because kindness still exists. You are amazing, because of everything you are, but the point you ignored is, you are the same. All men are the same as women and reverse, all elders are the same as youths and reverse, all the rich are the same as the poor and reverse. All of you are no different from each other, so do not ignore each other, do not fight, do not judge, accept changes.

Sign was just a tree near a village. But the people in the village needed a guide, so they called their tree a sign. Sign learned to be a guide, and it is not easy for guides to watch people who are lost.

6 October, 2023