The Leaf Plucker

People like to read stories with a happy ending. But that is about the books. In real life, our stories have no ending, no beginning either. Every day brings a new story, every hour brings a new twist to the story. We all hope that someday, life will settle down, it will slow down and we will enjoy the things that matter to us the most. I hoped that too. Before I moved to the mountains, I dreamt about it for as long as I remember. I always wanted to live on a mountain. The greenery of the mountains always had a calling for me. The countless trees, the stream of water passing between the two mountains, or a distant village in a valley, the sight promised itself to be worth cherishing every day.

I cannot recall my time before I arrived to live in the mountains. There is only one memory that flashes sometimes before my eyes. It is a memory of chaos. A memory of the colour gray. Gray walls, gray sky, gray people, gray smoke. I think it was a city, a big city with lots of noise. Anyway, my present is not chaotic at all or grayish. It is green. The line of trees at the mountain has thinned, but there is still a line, a green line of trees that reminds that spring has arrived. The trees are blossoming with new life. In a few weeks, the trees will be laden with fruits and the leaves will shine with a fresh growth of leaves. That’s when I will get work.

Like everything else in mountains, work also has a season, at least for me. My husband works throughout the year. His job is different. I work only during the summers, when the forests are green and so are the tea gardens on the mountains. I am a leaf plucker. Every year, before I start working in the tea gardens, I walk into the forests, sometimes with other women, alone at the other times. I pluck leaves for people who take it to the cities. They say many people buy leaves in the cities. The leaves are not available in the city anymore, and if they are, they are of no use to them. I understand what they mean. Trees need water and sunlight. The water in the mountains is fresh. The only water the city soil has is the spits and urines of the masses. I hear the air is so dirty that it can make anyone sick over time. No wonder I see people coming to mountains in flocks every summer. Nobody likes it in the cities. If it were possible for them, they would all move to the mountains. But I believe mountains don’t like to see so many people.

My husband makes money when the people from the cities come to the mountains. He provides them wood, he is a wood cutter. He sells them wood to burn, to cook their food, to keep their huts warm to go through the night. Sometimes I think of my husband as a bad man. The thin line of trees on the mountains is because of people like him. He cuts trees and it leaves the mountains naked. It’s because of him that I get to pluck less leaves every year. I believe plucking leaves is better than cutting trees. Leaves grow back themselves, trees don’t. I don’t tell him anything. It is his job. He says he wants to go to the city. He says he wants to work in a factory so he can earn more money. But I don’t understand what for? We don’t have any children to educate or marry off. I cannot become a mother. There is a story about that. I won’t share it with anyone ever, it makes me sad.

I tell him he doesn’t need to go to the city. He knows I won’t let him go to the city. We are good here. We have a home on the mountainside. I cannot define the look in his eyes when he looks at the sun rising through the mountains every morning. Does he feel good that he is among the lucky people who can enjoy such a view every day? Or does he feel sad looking at the barren crowns of the mountains which he created with his axe? He thinks his axe is giving away. He sharpens it everyday and even then it does not cut deep enough. When my husband realized it, he changed the way he worked. He did not cut many trees at the same spot, he could not. He did not cut trees without need. He began to cut branches because a tree can always grow a new branch, just like leaves. This way, he thinks he is helping the mountain to grow back. He thinks wearing off of his axe is a good omen. Every time it rains, the water in the stream turns red, the mud of the mountain flows into it. Rains are making the mountains hollow. It feels good to me when he tells me all this. He keeps no secrets from me.

A woman’s heart is different. No man can ever know a secret once a woman decides to keep it locked forever in her heart. I have many such secrets. Actually, there is a story about that as well. This one makes me happy. When I got married and came to the mountains with him, he was a mere stranger to me. I didn’t even know his full name. On the very first morning in this new place, I fell in love with someone and I do not regret it to this day. This love has kept me going for all these years. This love has made me go through the mental agony of knowing that I cannot be a mother, ever. He says he doesn’t care about it at all. He doesn’t care that I am married to a wood cutter. He accepts me every morning and lets me go every evening. Sometimes, I do not meet him for months but he waits patiently. He does not feel bad that we have to stay away. He does not say anything at all. I wish one day he will speak to me, directly. But then I have never heard a mountain speaking to a woman.

I am in love with the mountain and everything it possesses. Its trees, its shrubs, its herbs, its flowers, its fruits, its thorns, its mud, I want to feel it all. That is why I run towards the mountain as soon as the spring arrives. I know its only six months or so and once again I will have to wait, for another six months, for another spring. The mountain doesn’t mind it. But I am afraid six months is a long time. A lot of things will change in another six months. My husband’s axe will fall on many more trees and the mountain will further lose its beauty. The next time I visit there, many of the trees I pluck leaves from won’t be there at all.

I am a leaf plucker hopelessly in love with the mountains and during the nights, when my husband is asleep, I dull his axe.

To be continued…

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