Unbound Story Four: Soon Enough
Prompt: An Indian Tree
Suggested by Basha Vadher, selected South Asian Literature Festival
A cheerful man and a miserable man were dying together in a hospital ward.
Happy was the sort who if he bought chips then decided there wasn’t enough vinegar, could go into an entirely different chip shop further along the road and get a free sprinkle. Not through anything he said so much as the expression on his face.
Life always treated him this way.
You might know that feeling when you rock too far back on the legs of a chair, and you think you are going to fall, but you catch yourself just in time. That moment when you think you will fall, that is how Sad felt most of his life. Nothing really bad had ever happened to him, just a series of minor betrayals and disappointments. And so it was almost with a sense of self-justifying reiief that he had received the news of his “enhancement” invitation.
The men came to the hospital for “enhancement” at the “invitation” of the President. It did not go well. Infection set in.
The President came to visit. He stood between the beds two hands comforting each patient, his tail fondling Happy’s hair. Something about his expression, even in this weakened state, was just so endearing. Soon Sad was forgotten and the President had all hands and his tail plumping pillows, pulling up blankets and stroking the brow of Happy.
The two men could not talk and communicated by writing notes.
Once the President had gone the second man wrote to the first: “All my life, I think, you have had my happiness. You took it. I gave it.”
“It was you.”
It was a common superstition among the people that there was only so much happiness to go round. By being happy you were taking joy from others. Sadness could be an act of generosity. You were giving joy.
Happy did not believe the superstition but the Sad man did.
The doctor treating the two men had been born locally but his parents had come from a hot land in the East.
“In our old home,” he said, “people believe that if you dream of someone sitting in a tree, the health of the tree will predict if the person is going to have good or bad luck.”
“Who dreams of trees?” Sad wrote to Happy once the doctor was gone. Sad once planned to hang himself from a tree, but due to his negative outlook in childhood, had never mastered climbing one.
That night the happy man dreamt of the sad man sitting in a lush tree with jewel leaves and a straight trunk.
The sad man dreamt of the happy man in a gnarled leafless tree, seeping sap from fissures in its bark.
Happy enjoyed his life and and grew sadder as he contemplated its end. The sad man welcomed the approaching relief. He’d often longed for death. His mood improved.
Happy began to wonder if there was something in the superstition after all. This would put a great deal of guilt on his shoulders. His mood jolted down yet further.
And so as they each lay awake one night, Happy’s happiness fell and Sad’s happiness rose, until they were equal.
They both realised it, and wondered if they would now die – accounts reconciled between them. But it did not happen that day.