Mittoo looked miserably at the tree he was about to cut. He had to do it, even though he had played under its shade when he was young. He lifted his axe and began hacking at the tree. His father had died when Mittoo was young and he had to work to feed his mother and himself. The first trade he learned was that of a woodcutter. They had managed on their own. Some years later, Mittoo’s mother had died.

Now he was getting along fairly well and lived in a small house. But he hated his life, and he knew that he’d sooner or later take up another trade.

When the tree had been chopped down, he heaved the logs onto the cart and dragged it toward the path leading to the market place. He usually sold his wood to a man named Mohanlal living in a back alley. Mittoo disliked him, but he was the one who employed him and gave him money. He went up to the back door and knocked. Mohanlal opened it.

“Ah, Mittoo, I believe you had a good haul today?” Mittoo nodded. “Good. Here’s your money,” Mohanlal said, handing him a wad of notes.

“By the way, I may not continue to be a woodcutter much longer,” Mittoo said lightly. “I thought that I should give you prior information about this.”

“What?” Mohanlal’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“I hate this life. I had played under one of those trees when I was a child. Every day I snuff out a life,” Mittoo said sadly. “I wish that I could just go back to being who I was.”

Mohanlal gave a harsh laugh and said, “Listen Mittoo, you have your own life, I have my own. We do what we need to do. How is it our problem whether those trees live or die? As long as it is honest work and we have money in our pockets, it is fine. Who cares about these trees, anyway?”

Mittoo stiffened. “I do.”

“Are you mad? What else will you do?” Mohanlal asked with disdain.

“I will do as I wish,” said Mittoo simply and walked back home.

Late that evening, Mittoo set out for the woods. Standing dark and tall, the trees looked intimidating. They seemed to shrink away from him. He paused in front of a tree that looked particularly aggressive. “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you,” he said soothingly. “See, I don’t even have my axe.”

A voice rumbled from deep within the tree. “But you’ve already hurt me, Mittoo the woodcutter. You have already killed many of my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If I wish, I could lift my roots and crush you here and now. It would avenge the deaths of my kind. But it is not in my hands to decide who lives and who dies.”

“I’m sorry,” Mittoo said and apologetically gazed up at the tree in wonder.

“Your apology will not bring back my family. Nevertheless I am grateful,” the tree replied.

“I never wish to do this. I became a woodcutter only because I had no choice,” Mittoo cried out desperately.

The tree was silent for a few moments. “You can come with us into our final retreat, in the depths of the earth. We cannot do this without the help of a human. If you will accompany us, then you will be forgiven.”

Mittoo remained silent. To go would mean leaving all that he knew in this world. He had heard much about the hidden retreat of the trees. He would finally be with the beings he loved the most.

“I will come.”

Two days later, news came that all the trees in the land had vanished. Nobody knew what to do. Wood prices began to soar and every scrap was bought at an enormous rate. Then word got around that a certain woodcutter had vanished along with the trees and in his house, a miracle had happened. People crowded around Mittoo’s house, trying to get a glimpse of the supposed miracle. Inside was a globe on top of which there was a single sapling. Beneath it was scribbled — “Who cares, Mohanlal?”

Sagnik Anupam, VI K, Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram, New Delhi

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