My edges felt wet even though just a moment ago they were dry; now I couldn’t keep myself from shaking. Just seconds ago I had been still, on a branch, looking out and over the city street. People crowded below me, shuffling along. Some of them were loud as they spoke to those next to them; others walked along quietly, some kind of white bud pushed into their ears.
These people, I thought, they are so odd; and so different from myself. They are always carrying things: bags slung across their shoulders or dangling from their wrists; briefcases that always seem to be full; cups with a green mermaid painted on the side. Coffee, I think I have heard them say. The children always seem to look angry or sad, very rarely do I see any smiling. I pick up on these words while I sit on my tree and listen; I hope I don’t seem rude for eaves dropping but being a leaf, I don’t really have much else to distract me.
It is autumn, which is my favorite time of year. A lot of the leaves on my tree wouldn’t agree, saying that fall is treacherous; it is the time where the wind rustles us about, threatening being released to the ground. But I have lived a long time. I have fallen from trees and I somehow always end up back on one again.
I’m not sure how it happens; but last year about this time I fell from a large Oak near a body of water, and here I am on a Maple in a bustling metropolitan. That’s something that I don’t think people know about us: we are recycled. Those leaves that you see on the street, or on the windshields of cars, the wind always picks them up and takes them back where they belong.
I have a few first cousins and a third on this tree with me; but most of them are new family. Adaptation is something we are accustomed too.
But I don’t mind the danger of autumn, because my skin glows a brilliant red and people stop to admire my beauty. I decided quite a few seasons ago that I would rather fall with radiance than sit dully on the tree I first sprouted.
I have learned a lot from all the places I have grown. I have been in backyards and parks, next to grocery stores and on college campuses. There was one stint where I was in a dark forest; I was pleased that I fell rather quickly, because it was quite lonely.
Over on Hawthorne Ave. my tree was a hickory in the front yard of a young family. My stem stuck there for nearly three years; I watched while a cunning little boy named Reid grew from diapers to school age, and his little sister named Adele learned to walk. There was a swing tied to the hickory, above my branch, where the children would play for hours. Midway through my third autumn on Hawthorne, Adele plucked me from my branch to admire my new orange color. She scrunched up her little face and ran her fingers over my spine before discarding me onto the damp ground.
That, was the best way I have gone so far.
Of all the different places I have occupied, and all the variety of people I have seen, I still have not made a lick of sense out of them.
I have seen light people, dark people, in between people; I have seen young people and old people; I have seen sad people and happy people.
But really, they all seem the same. The oddest part is that they don’t seem to see it.
Most of them walk quickly, their expressions painted with worry. Some of them look angry when a passerby brushes their shoulder, sometimes the person who caused the bump doesn’t say anything at all. It’s like each one of them is walking all alone. I wonder how they don’t see all the people right next to them. I have thought before that maybe, only I can see all of them, and they can only see themselves. Once, I asked the leaves around me if they saw all the people walking by, and they said they could; so maybe only leaves can see.
I want to tell all the people that walk underneath my trees that I have been in many different places and seen many different things, and that days pass by quickly in between one autumn and the next; time is fleeting.
But I don’t think they can hear me, because once I tried to tell them this. I screamed. I pushed sound out through every edge of me; but none of them stopped or noticed. So instead, I just started hoping that maybe someone of their own kind will learn the things I know, and tell the rest of them.
I am shaking hard now and I can feel my stem splitting from the branch where I have been perched since spring time. In a whirl, I am lifted and I spin in circles towards the pavement; the sky is a brilliant blue above me.
But before I can land, I feel a soft hand wrap around my stem. A man in a charcoal grey suit, wearing a serious expression seems to have noticed my descent. He looks down at me, ignoring his mermaid cup. He studies my colors, and I am glad that on this tree I have taken on a perfect shape. A smile spreads across his face as he releases me.
I spin and spin, until I land on the pavement. As he walks away, I can see that the smile has reached his eyes.
That, I think to myself, was a great way to go.