(Dedicated to cherry trees everywhere)
Once upon a time there was a young man who lived in the hot, arid deserts of the exotic east. He was a handsome, intelligent youth, well loved by his people and ambitious for a successful career. As he felt boyhood slipping away and the weight of manhood pressing more and more heavily upon his shoulders, he began to consider how he could best fulfill his dream of becoming an important, useful person. He decided at last that the answer lay in traveling away from home.
"I must journey to the far-away green lands where scholars and teachers congregate," he told his family and friends. "I will listen and learn from them. I will acquire knowledge, God Willing; and when I am a learned man then I will come back to my people and be of use to you."
"A wise decision!" cheered his friends.
"What a smart boy I have!" gloated his mother.
"What an important man my son will be!" speculated his father with satisfaction.
"What a handsome brother we have!" cried his sisters, which remark obviously had no bearing on his announcement and might have made bystanders wonder if they had been listening to him. However, no one was listening to them.
So the young man of the harsh barren desert left his home seated on the back of his camel whose nose he pointed northwards. The camel, following its nose, swayed towards the lush, green lands of the scholars while the attractive youth sat on top eating dates from the saddlebags which his mother had crammed full in maternal apprehension.
Of course he had plenty of silver and gold coins, too, enabling him to pay for a hot dinner of lamb and rice at the first big town he arrived at. He also had a sharp curved dagger with which he could easily defend those coins. After all, he was no sissy.
At last the young man reached the temperate lands of the North and, no matter which direction he turned his head, he saw shady green trees, smooth moist lawns and profuse shrubbery. His nose breathed in the heady aroma of leaves, rich earth, and the delicate perfume of flowers and ripening fruits.
Before he had encountered a single scholar he felt justified in the choice he had made. In the following days he visited several schools, colleges and circles of erudite men, masters of all imaginable sciences. It was not long before he had chosen a particular science in which he hoped to acquire expertise, as well as sundry other subjects he believed essential to one bound on becoming a truly educated and useful person.
Perhaps this young man from the harsh desert was happiest of all when he took refuge under a certain cherry tree, spreading his cloak in her shade, there reposing to read books of science and philosophy until his eyelids closed gently over the tired orbs and he could snooze away an hour under the caressing branches. He had not picked that tree with any particular care, all trees seeming at first wondrously the same to him. Once chosen, however, a cool place to study, it soon became habitual for him to make his way, everyday, to the same lovely cherry tree which he thought of as his own private sanctuary where he could exercise and improve his mind.
The cherry tree did not have any special response initially. Other individuals had, from time to time, reclined in the seclusion of her shade, so it was nothing unusual to her. Yet finally she too began to acquire the habit of his sitting under her spreading limbs, and eventually every day found her, at a certain hour, awaiting his arrival with impatience and longing. The other trees envied her this dark, handsome companion. Their envy made her all the more anxious to produce the sweetest white blossoms with which to perfume the air, and the reddest, richest cherries for the young man to pick and refresh himself with as he pored over his books, all so that he should not be tempted to sit under any other tree.
Time passed and the young man became greatly altered. He grew a beard, succeeded in his studies, and spoke knowledgeably of science and philosophy. He became a useful person. All the while he continued to visit the cherry tree and sit under her branches every day. When the weather turned bitterly cold, he used to pass by her on his way to or from the circles of scholars of which he was now one, if only to pat her encouragingly on the trunk. He knew that, come spring, her twigs would again be crowned with blossoms white as newly fallen snow.
Time continued passing and the young man realized that duty called him back to his desert home. He was glad to go except for one thing: he hated to leave the cherry tree. His heart was sore at the thought that he would never see her again. All of a sudden (thanks to these years of meticulously training his brain in the paths of logic) he hit upon a plan. He would take the cherry tree with him!
He apprised her of the plan. With the gracious, if somewhat patronizing courtesy of a scholar, he waited for her to agree.
"Is it so very hot?" she asked timidly.
"I would be lying if I pretended otherwise," he answered gravely, adding, "yet for love, some sacrifices must be made."
"Quite so!" she concurred, her spirit quavering appreciatively inside her trunk. She paused, reflecting on the difficult, yet inviting future he offered her.
"And are there no other trees at all in your homeland?" she asked piteously.
The young man chuckled. "I didn't mean to paint so bleak a picture!" he said. "Why, there are indeed eucalyptus, cypress and nut trees as well as the date palms and pomegranate trees!"
This information bolstered the cherry tree considerably. She had never seen any region but her own, never having been transplanted in all her sprouted days; now she imagined that if other trees could live in the land of her beloved, then surely she could do the same.
"Take me with you!" she cried.
This time the young man hesitated, having second thoughts, and perhaps stricken by conscience at the hardships awaiting his bonny tree. Moreover, he had just pictured in his mind the strange figure he would make, riding into his village with a cherry tree strapped to his camel. People might jeer at him.
"It could be too hard for you" he faltered.
The cherry tree's limbs bowed ever so slightly in nervous apprehension. "You must take me! I cannot relinquish our uplifting spiritual relationship! You must, must take me with you. Please?"
"All right," surrendered the young man.
So he took her, roots carefully bound in a good measure of their own soil, wound all up in strips of cotton. He tied the tree to the side of his very large camel; the eyes and nostrils of which widened as it felt the bizarre cargo, with the leaves tickling its posterior. Every so often along the way the young man nourished the roots of the cherry tree with water. All things considered, the first part of the journey was not so difficult at all.
By degrees, however, the weather grew less temperate. The sun scorched by day and the sky enveloped all below in cold desuetude at nightfall. They were approaching the heart of the desert. The cherry tree, giddy with the camel's ponderous tread and the merciless rays of the sun, wondered if their journey would ever come to an end.
It did, for all that, and on the very day of its termination the young man planted his cherry tree in the midst of a date palm garden owned by his father. There were not a few raised eyebrows and half-concealed whispers from his family and neighbors as he did so. He wisely chose to ignore them. People perhaps murmured to each other in the privacy of their dwellings that the young man had brought back queer habits, the cherry tree not being the least among these, yet they didn't say so before his face. When he began to demonstrate his knowledge and usefulness to them, they even stopped begrudging him his odd ways, for he was of great use to one and all, a tremendously appreciated asset to the community.
The cherry tree did not thrive. She lived, that is true, but she lost her sheen. Although the young man watered her regularly, sat under her branches and even read to her, she could not give him what he wanted. Her leaves dried and crinkled under the sun. Blossoms refused to bud on her twigs. Her limbs became thin and meagerly adorned, like the thinning hair atop a very elderly woman.
It was enough to break her heart, for she was young. She tried with all her might to regain her loveliness. She stretched her aching roots into the rocky dry recesses of the earth. She drank the water he brought her, but found the earth stingy, sucking the water away from her greedily, and refusing to yield up the minerals she needed. While the date palms about her stood proudly in health, she lived on in a sickly, waning manner
The young man was patient and worked diligently to supply her needs. After awhile he began to grow testy with her, feeling that she was not giving it her best shot.
"You haven't produced any of the fragrant white blossoms that you used to have, since we got back! Not to mention cherries," he continued, "I look like a fool talking about cherries to my family all the time, and here you can't even give us one apiece."
"I'm trying!" she protested beseechingly. "Give me a chance! It's much different here than I expected, but I am doing my best."
"Are you?" he demanded in exasperation. "I don't think I believe you. The date palms are growing enormous quantities of sweet dates, the nut trees haven't had a better year than this one, and the pomegranates are producing enough fruit to supply the whole peninsula!"
"I could do the same if I were back home," she replied jealously. "My metabolism is different than theirs. They function best in these desert conditions, while I function best in a cool climate."
"There's something in what you say," he conceded, "yet to be brutally frank, anyone and everyone can function comfortably in your native climate. Only a superior plant can stand the rigors of the desert." The young man turned his eyes, musing, over the tall, sturdy date palms. "I suppose I never appreciated them enough," he said, half to himself.
The cherry tree was overwhelmed with envy and shook her sickly branches in a rage. "Don't you appreciate what I've endured, for your sake?" she shrieked.
The young man's brow darkened. "Ungrateful wretch!" he spat. "Where is your gratitude? Who has slaved over you but me?"
The cherry tree was instantly contrite, fearful of losing his love. "I do appreciate all you've done!" she wailed.
"If you do, then start showing it by growing some blossoms and cherries! You might work on your color, too, " he said in a hard voice, adding as he walked away, "That is, if you ever want me to sit under your branches again!"
It was no use. The poor cherry tree died before another season passed. The young man gave a last, sorrowful look at the lifeless body before he chopped it down.
"Alas, alas, " he repeated over and over again. The memory of the cherry tree's fragrant flowers, her red, jewel-like cherries, her satiny leaves, which used to rustle in the evening breeze all refocused in his mind. She had answered something in his spirit that the date palms, pomegranates, lotus nut and gishta trees could not. His soul called out for a cherry tree.
"Ah well," he thought, brightening. "Perhaps I can get another one."
Julia Simpson was born and raised in California. She studied French for two years in Switzerland and came back to California to get her Bachelor's in French at a special international language school, and subsequently her Master's in English literature at San Diego State University. She came to Saudi Arabia after meeting her husband at college, and she has two boys by him. This will be her last year in Saudi Arabia as she plans- God Willing - to return permanently to California with her two children in the summer of 2000. As a professional writer she has published four children's books with American Trust Publications. she has written professionally for many local publications over the years, including the Saudi Broadcasting System, the English language newspapers in this country, and other publications in London and the USA. She is a Sufi Muslim and she hopes in some way or other her work will demonstrate a different and gentler picture of Islam than what people are normally exposed to.