Tree Spirit at Midnight

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

It’s late at night, and the station is mostly empty. Quietly I busy myself sweeping up the trash commuters have left on the platform. It always irritates me how much stuff people leave behind – seriously, haven’t they learned how to clean up after themselves? It’s not like they’re children… but a lot of them sure act like it. Slightly annoyed as always, I put my headphones in, turn up some classical music, and quickly sweep my way through the train station.

By the time I’ve finished, most of the commuters have left. Actually, all but one. There’s a young woman standing by the wall. She’s carrying a backpack, and she has braided extensions in her hair, just like me. She looks a little lost, so I head towards her wondering if she needs help.

“Hello,” I call out politely as I turn my music off. “Are you okay?”

The woman looks at me. She doesn’t smile, but she seems a little relieved. “Hello,” she says. “I’m looking for something…”

“Did you lose something on the train?” I ask.

“No, nothing like that. I’m looking for a tree…”

I’m taken aback. “Sorry, you’re looking for a tree? Um… you’ll have to exit the station to do that, miss.”

She shakes her head. “No, no, I’m looking for this tree specifically.”

She extends her right hand to me, and I see that she’s carrying a small photograph. I take it, trying hard to keep a straight face. Out of all the interactions I’ve had with commuters, this one is definitely the strangest.

I look down at the picture, banking on the 1% chance that I might actually recognize this one specific tree, but of course I don’t. The photo is rather faded anyway, and I can’t tell anything from the background. I hand it back to the woman.

“Sorry,” I say. “I don’t recognize it.”

She seems disappointed. “This is the sixth station on the green line, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Somebody in the city said they thought it might be near the sixth station on the green line…”

For a second I wonder if she’s drunk or on drugs or something, but she seems perfectly in control of herself.

I scratch my head. “Um… okay… well, maybe it’s in a park near here and I just don’t remember seeing it.”

This cheers her up a little. “There’s a park near here? Do you have a map?”

“Sure. Give me one sec.”

I go over to the help desk on the other end of the platform. My colleague there is snoring away in his chair. Trying not to laugh, I bang my fist on the glass.

“MASA! Wake up.”

He jolts awake and looks at me, confused. “What?”

“Get this, there’s this woman who came here in the dead of night looking for a tree. And not just any tree, it’s this one specific tree that for some reason she has a picture of! Funny, right? Anyway, I don’t recognize it obviously, but I told her there’s a park nearby and she wants me to show it to her on a map, so gimme.”

He’s still too sleepy to really find anything amusing about this. He hands me a map, says in a small voice, “Don’t scare me like that, Haku,” and closes his eyes again.

I go back to the young woman, who’s waiting for me expectantly. “Here,” I say, opening the map for her. “This is the train station… and these are some parks, all these green patches.”

She takes the map from me. “Thank you for your help,” she says.

“No problem…”

The woman shoulders her backpack and starts to head for the exit, map and picture in hand. Suddenly curious, I call out after her.

“Hey, miss? Can I ask you something?”

She looks back at me. “Yeah?”

“What’s so special about that tree?”

She glances down at the faded photo. “My mother planted it. She’s dead now, but I heard the tree is still alive, so…”

I clamp my mouth shut. Oh…

“Thanks for your help,” she says again.

Then she leaves – quickly, before I can ask any more questions. I’m left alone in the otherwise empty station. I close my eyes for a moment, drinking in the silence, before I slowly make my way back to the help desk.

“Hey Masa, wake up, I have something to tell you…”

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