The Greatest Loss
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
The squirrel dashed through the fallen leaves, making them rustle ever so slightly. It would have been impossible to hear that if I hadn’t been paying such close attention to the little greyish-brown creature, the likes of which I had been so well acquainted with over the past few years. In the blink of an eye, it had covered the distance between the veranda and the guava tree, climbed it, and disappeared from my sight. Seeing the squirrel had stirred memories of hot summer afternoons, kind eyes, and a gentle smile directed at me, full of love and affection.
The daydream was cut short by a hand that was placed on my shoulder—my father’s. “I must’ve called for you at least ten times. Where have you been lost, these days?”
“I am sorry, baba. I was thinking about my homework.”
“Well, I think you should go for a little walk. It will be good for you.” Ever since my grandmother died, I have not been able to enjoy the outdoors as much as I used to. But, because of my father’s insistence, I decided to go to the park. It was a ten-minute walk from my house, one that grandma and I used to take every day. It was our own little ritual; me coming back from school, eating lunch in a hurry, and setting out with her, hand in hand, to the big, neighborhood park. There, in the very far end, stood a banyan tree that was more than a hundred years old. After taking a couple of rounds in the park in contemplative silence, tired of walking, we used to take shelter under the huge, umbrella-like tree, its shade providing some much-needed relief.
I must have been five or six years old when, on one of our excursions, I first made this observation. Looking up to my grandma, who, in my opinion, was the wisest person in the whole world, I said, “Why are there so many birds on this tree Dadi? The others have only a few. Is this one special?”
She had then told me how birds preferred to live in big, ancient trees. The thick branches protected them from danger and they could even feed on the fruits that grew on them. I was amazed to find that, about ten species of birds could coexist on one banyan tree.
The tree is their home.
That was ten years ago. Since then, we have spent countless days sitting under its shade, the song of the cuckoo bird, and the occasional cawing of crows providing a background score to our endless conversations. The stories she told, of days gone by, seemed to have embedded themselves in the sturdy bark of the tree, just like they had in my heart. It was not long before it had become my home too.
But this did not last forever. My grandmother had become sick, and her death was fast approaching. I vividly remember our last walk together. She had been too frail to say anything and had appeared to me to be conscious of only the soft breeze kissing her wrinkled face, the song of birds, and the movement of leaves. That night, she died peacefully in her sleep.
I soon reached the park, this time all alone. I walked along the path that led to the tree. But when I reached the spot, all I could find was a sign that read, “This area has been cleared for the installment of a children’s play area.” I stood there for a while, holding back my tears. The tree was gone, its residents never came back, and my grandmother became an abstract memory.