The Tree House
Karima Ait Oufela
© Copyright 2018 by Karima Ait OufelaX
She walked out the house towards the forest. Her mother was looking at her from the kitchen window, with sad eyes. She couldn’t help her daughter get out of her closed shell. She prayed for her and continued doing the dishes, absent-mindedly.
Sarah was very serious today. She didn’t smile back to the children who were playing hide- and- seek around her neighborhood. She didn’t wave to the elders who were sitting by their ancient houses. Sarah looked older today. Sarah looked older whenever she visited that tree house which was inside the pathless forest. Nobody could believe that she was just twenty-three years old. Her pale face made everyone guess she was thirty . Her face was full of sadness; her back was curved; her legs were so thin, her black hair was so long and heavy, her gray eyes made her look gorgeous and serious all the time. Her face was flawless, unlike her life. Her steps were steady. She was sure that she had taken her medicine. She never forgets to take it before going out to the forest. She made sure she wore her red shoes. The last gift her grandmother gave her before she had an accident on her way to her mountain house. It took her months to believe that her favorite lady was dead. She will never forget how happy she was listening to her grandmother’s stories, especially, the ones from her past. She was everything in her life. She doesn’t know why all her beloved ones left her by herself.
Sarah knew where she was heading. All the village inhabitants knew where she had been going every day at 2 P.M for the last five years. She had made a promise that she would see him in the forest at 2 P.M every day.
Since Yola left the town, she had become a very interesting subject to gossip about. Some people thought she was chased by ghosts, whereas others swore to God that they saw her flying over the forest trees. They were spreading a lot of rumors about her. They thought she was no longer the beautiful Sarah they knew, but the witch she had become. They were afraid of her. She had been through a lot of harassment. They had quit annoying her since she passed out when one of Yola’s old friends met her in the forest by the tree house. She thought it was Yola because he looked just like Yola. She screamed and fell on the ground. He wanted to make a joke of her, but they ended up at the hospital. Everyone blamed him. He was sorry. He begged her for forgiveness, but she said nothing. She was under the shock. Only then did her mother know that her daughter had a heart disease. She suffered a lot by watching her at the hospital. She had to take medicine for her whole life to stay alive. Her mother, Sophia, knew how desperate her daughter was. This was the reason; she watched her taking medicine every day before she left. Nobody dared to annoy Sarah. They felt sorry for her. Sophia would defend her whenever she got a chance.
“My daughter is not crazy. She has a clean heart. She…she was traumatized when Yola left the town and never appeared for years,” she said to a bunch of ladies at the market when she heard them backbiting about her daughter. Sophia was helpless; however, she protected her daughter as best as she could.
Sarah was fascinated by Yola. He was perfect. She can’t remember the first time she met him. Her mother told her that she was three years old when the family of Yola moved to Ako , from the south of the country. Since then Maria, the mother of Yola, and Sophia, the mother of Sarah have become best friends. Their houses were side by side; there was just a small garden that separated the two houses. Yola was four years older than Sarah. He used to protect her from bullies all the time. They went to the same school. She used to run after class to meet him. Their friends made jokes about them, but they didn’t care. She feels so safe and happy when he was around; that was more than enough for her. Spiritually, he took the place of her father whom she never saw.
At the age of 9, their curiosity grew further. They wanted to know more and see new things about the forest. Although they were warned not to go there, they ignored the warning. The first time she went with him was to discover the forest. The weather was perfect for adventures. They had started walking through the trees. No one could deny that Ako forest was the oldest in the country, which means trees were massive and old. She held his hand whenever she heard a weird sound coming from the forest. It was 3 P.M, and the vision was clear enough to see any danger on their way. She trusted him and followed him, silently. She always felt secure when he was around. He was thirteen years old, which made her feel like walking with her father or an elder brother that she never had.
“Yola! Go no further, “she begged after hearing a wolf sound.
“Don’t worry, you little chicken,” he said smiling at her.
“Sarah! Look! What a massive tree! Look!” He added with open mouth. Both of them were fascinated by what they had just seen.
“Yola … it is indeed a perfect tree. I think it is the mother of this forest. It looks so old and so big, ”Sarah said.
She didn’t know what kind of tree it was. They kept walking around it and tried to discover where its branches ended. Yola started climbing, and Sarah followed him with her eyes.
“Come on Sarah. Come up here.” He was excited.
“No! I can’t climb. I am fine here,” she replied looking at him with scared eyes.
“I know you are a chicken,” he said and continued jumping like a circus monkey on the tree. She was looking at him smiling and screaming, from time to time, to warn him. He brought joy to her life.
“I want to build a house on this tree,” he said while he sat on the biggest branch of that massive tree.
Sarah was tired of watching his circus show. Her neck hurt, and she started yawning and covering herself with the jacket that Yola had thrown before he started climbing.
“You will do what? She asked wearily.
“I will build a tree house.” He was staring away. His eyes were telling more than what his mouth confessed.
Now all that she wanted was to go back home before her mother noticed her absence. That night, they came back home late. Her mother was asleep. She knew that her daughter was safe when she was with Yola. She left dinner on the table with a note: “You ‘re late, wake me up when you are at home.” But Sarah didn’t wake her mother up. She knew that her mother must be tired. The job of a tailor needed a lot of concentration. Sarah wore the best of the dresses. She was happy and proud of her mother, even though she cried whenever she heard her mother complains. Sarah’s father had left them when she was three years old. She barely remembered his face. She begged her mother many times to show her some of his pictures, but every time the mother told her that she had burnt every single photo when he left. Fortunately that was when the family of Yola moved to town. A strong relationship connected the two families. Her mother was so happy to have the mother of Yola around. She had never hesitated to cry her heart out whenever she heard something about her husband. She was told that he had joined the military. It was the last time she heard about him. She was so busy sewing dresses. Sometimes, Sarah felt that her mother could sew her own heart when it would fall apart. Sophia sewed her daughter’s heart many times. Whenever Sarah saw Yola with a girl, she came back home crying.
“He is your best friend. Why are you seeking for more? All your friends are jealous of your friendship with him,” Sophia said wiping Sarah’s tears.
Sarah memorized those words by heart. Those words made her feel happy in the past. But as a seventeen- years –old girl, it was difficult to be persuaded.
The tree house was built then. She was eyed-wide when she saw it. Yola led her to their favorite tree after years. It was a real house on a tree.
“Unbelievable!” She exclaimed , looking up at that woody house.
“I know it needs a coat of paint. But it took me years to build it,” he said.
He took Sarah’s hand and helped her up. He made a very fine ladder for her. She smiled to herself thinking that he cared about her; he thought about her when he was building the house. She was correcting some ideas in her mind. She thought that their relationship was no longer that much strong. He became a perfect ladies man. She barely saw him alone. He was always surrounded by dozens of girls playing the guitar for them, thinking that he was the next Mick Jagger. But wait! He was thinking about her when he had built this house. She felt some butterflies in her stomach. He surely noticed that.
“Come on princess, climb,” he encouraged her.
He knew she couldn’t because she had acrophobia. But she swallowed her fear and finally reached the branch. She stepped into the house that was not more than six meters square. Yola started describing the house. “It is lovely and warm. It has four windows. Each window has a different view. The biggest one is on the west. You can watch the sunset perfectly from that window. The roof is made up of glass, so you may enjoy staring at moon and stars while you are sleeping on the bed. In the corner, there is a little sofa and besides it lots of books. On the other side, there is a bed covered with green sheets”. He was smiling looking at her scanning the house. She was amazed. The house was fantastic.
She didn’t want to feed his ego, so she said teasingly: “I don’t think they ever took much time to build a skyscraper, but it ‘s worth it.”
“I don’t know how I made it. I am amazed myself. Maybe this house will be a good memory,” he said.
She was confused. What does he mean by memory? “I don’t think you are dying so soon.” She intended to leave while he caught her arm and made her stay on the bed gently.
And he started: “Sarah Molal! I don’t think that you know how much I love you but I do.”
She opened her mouth to talk, but he hushed her with his fingers gently.
“Sarah you needn’t say a word. I know since I went to college we rarely talk. But, do you know why? It is because I don’t like who I became … My father made me attend that stupid science college. He wants me to be a copy of him. He ignored my dreams and my ambition. I want to be a singer; a rock star, someone who people go crazy when they see him. I fed up with this stupid town.”
Sarah was following him. She thought that he was happy. How she couldn’t notice that he was sad. They rarely talk. Maybe, that’s why.
“Sarah I want to run out of this freaking town with you.” He said squeezing her hand.
The first thing that jumped to her head was her mother. She couldn’t leave without her. That idea was so imaginary and impossible for her. She made her hand free from his sweating hands and started:
“Yola, calm down, please let me figure this out. Are you dropping out from college? I can’t imagine your father’s reaction after he hears this. He is the best doctor in the region. He wants you to be like him. Please, Yola! doesn't get drafted with your pink dreams.”
“You too Sarah? You too? I can’t believe it” he said.
He couldn’t believe that Sarah is against what he intended to do.
The warm summer breeze was making its way to that tree house, mixed with the smell of wood. The golden sunset light was sneaking to the room to swallow all their anger.
Yola was looking out of the window letting, for the first time, his tears to fall like a river. He found no one to understand what he was trying to do. He wanted to have a life where he was the hero and nobody else.
Sarah noticed that she was harsh on him. She cried too, silently. “Yola,” She called his name.
He turned around , waiting for what she had to say.
“Follow your dream. I will be here waiting for you.” Then she ran out of the house. She was crying all the way home.
She didn’t have dinner that night. She cried for hours. The love of her life was leaving forever. She was thinking what if she ran away from town with him, what would happen then? She cried whenever she thought of her mother’s reaction. She should have removed this idea from her head.
She got up from her bed that was full of sadness and sorrow. She walked to her mother’s room. It was dark. But a spotlight was on her mother’s face. The spotlight was silver. It was moonlight sneaking in, through the window. That made her mother look like an angel. She cried even harder seeing her asleep. She was tired because she had been sewing dresses all day, which she would not wear herself.
Silently, she sat down on the floor. Her mind was made up;she would convince Yola to stay in town. Then a noise from outside interrupted her thinking. She tried to make out who was talking. She recognized the voice of Yola. He was having a dispute with his father.
She ran out of the house Yola was there with his backpack, hugging his mom at the house door. His father was shouting with whatever came in his mouth. Yola manged to tell him everything before he was kicked out of the house. I knew. That’s what Yola wished.
“Yola, don’t leave,” She said helplessly.
“It’s too late, Sarah,” he replied while crying. She ran towards him, but he stopped her.
“Your mom needs you, Sarah,” he said pushing her away from him gently. He started his car ignoring his mother’s begging, his dad’s cursing, and Sarah’s crying.
“Mom! I will make it. Dad! I will make you proud. Sarah! wait for me, I will be back… You’d better be in your red dress and red shoes by the tree house at 2 P.M. I promise. I will meet you there, someday. Take care of our house. It is yours now,” he promised and drove away from their sight.
She was almost there. flashbacks were chasing her. She felt stupid. She gave him everything. She wanted to see him, but he didn’t even care about it.
“It is my birthday. Please! Be there,” She pleaded.
Her toes were frozen and her lips became whiter. She felt tired, looking at her yesterday’s footsteps traces and the day before yesterday in the pathway. Summer butterflies were flying around her. She smiled at them. She was not in the mood to run after one of them. She had the spirit of a child. She had an innocent heart but it was corrput. Today, she brought with her a notebook. She wanted to read what she wrote the night before. She wrote poems most of which were about Yola. She was finally there. She was looking around but there was no place where she could find him. She held her head high, staring at the tree.
“Why the hell have I been waiting for you for five years? Why didn’t you even bother to call? Why is your name still written on the tree house while mine is erased? I made my mother’s life hellish because of you. Why am I here? I didn’t go to college because of you. I stayed in this damned town for you, where everyone calls me insane. At least they faced me with the truth, not like you, coward. You are the chicken not me. I can’t climb, but I can keep a promise.” She was screaming at the top of her lungs. She knelt touching the wet soil with her fingers. For the first time she realized that he would never come back.
She visited the tree house for the last time. On each wall of the tree house, she had written a poem of Sarah Teasdale. From time to time she loved reading her poems in the tree house. She hoped that Yola would come someday, and read them.
“You took my empty dreams
And filled each and every one
With tenderness and nobleness,
The old empty dreams
Where my thoughts would thong
Are far too full of happiness
To even hold a song
Oh, the empty dreams were dim
And the empty dreams were wide,
They were sweet and shadowy houses
Where my thoughts could hide.”
She was crying while reading those lines. The rain started to fall. She began wondering where Yola could be at this very moment. Is he hearing the same rain sounds? Is he thinking of her? Is he happy without her?
A lot of questions needed answers. He is the only one who could answer those questions. She stood up, wiped her tears and ran home.
“Sarah honey! What’s wrong with you? “Her mother asked when Sarah got home that night soaked to the bones . It was torrential rain. The wind was beating the windows. The wind was blowing Sarah’s heart. Autumn was on the doors.
“Mom! He wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere. He made a joke about me. Mom! He promised he would be there. He promised, mom,” Sarah said crying and shaking.
“Honey! you caught a cold. Let me help you change your clothes. You are soaked, Honey!” Her mom was running to bring a towel and a warm pajama.
“Mom! No, I am leaving,” Sarah said stopping her mother.
“Leaving! To where?” She wondered.
“To the city where Yola must be messing around. Let me go, mom. Please! I want to find him and ask him why he left me, mom.” She was talking and packing her clothes at the same time.
Her mother was speechless. She followed her absent-mindedly, by helping her pack. She didn’t want her daughter to fade away in front of her eyes. That was a smart decision that Sarah made. She would let her go so that she would overcome the depressing period of her life.
Both of them were afraid to make eye contact with each other. They were afraid to change their minds.
“Honey! All I ‘ m wishing of is to see you happy,” She said hugging her after she made sure that she had packed all the necessary stuff, especially, her medicine.
“Will you make it, honey? You have never been to the city,” She wondered.
“I will make it, mom. I had made it in that damned forest for five year,” as she pu ton a warm coat on wet red dress.
“Wait till I book a ticket for you and …”
“Don’t … I will manage it. I saved up some money.”
She went out running. And for the first time in her life she had left her home. She left her mother. She left in her red shoes and red dress. She was running after a dream- an illusion. She finally got the courage to face it.
“Stop looking through that freaking window and get your back to work,” the manager yelled at Yola.
“You are lazy and worthless. Why did I even hire you?” he added.
Yola was still looking through that dirty glass window. He was tired of the manager's nagging.
“Are you deaf? Give me one more reason to fire you!” he said poking Yola on the shoulder.
“You! Listen! I am more qualified than you or even your boss. Stop talking to me like that. You make me sick,” Yola reacted finally pushing that fat body away from his side.
“Bla.Bla.Bla. you are nothing. If you are something as, you say, your dad won’t kick you out of the house.”
This was not the first time Yola’s manager mentioned his father. He was one of the patients that were taken care of by Yola’s father. He was fascinated by him. He was surprised when Yola called him for the first time for a job. Yola thought that he would be treated well by his father’s acquaintance. But, today, he regretted telling him the truth of what happened. Now he had to deal with that, every day. He had to swallow what he heard from him. This was the only job he could find after he was shocked by the fame world. He couldn’t make it, not because he was not talented but because he had a clean heart in this world where only dirty hearted people that can make it.
He was afraid to come back. He didn’t want to ruin everyone’s life, especially Sarah’s. He thought that she had forgotten about him. The city made him little appreciative of small things.
“Did the cat eat your tongue?” the angry manager added.
“No, sir! I think I need some days off,” Yola said. He meant it. For the first time, he felt that he missed home. He blamed himself for not checking on them over the phone. He wondering what was happening to him. He recalled when Sarah had told him not to get carried away by his pink dreams. His dreams became black as well as his heart. He thought it was time to go back to the place where he belonged . It was the right time to fix everything he missed.
After taking the permission, he dialed his mother’s phone number for the first time in five years. He didn’t know where to start nor what to tell her? The phone was ringing even before he pulled himself together. He didn’t want to wait for another second without hearing his mother’s voice. He missed her more than anything in the world. Her could smell her whenever he thinks of her. He missed the town and its nosy people; he missed Sarah.
“Hello!” said his mother on the phone.
He felt dizzy. He didn’t find any answer of why he had never called at home for the last five years.
“Mom! It’s me Yola,” he said with trepidation.
“Yola! My son.” She started crying.
“Mom! I wanna come home. I am coming today. Please! Hide my father’s shotgun.”
“Oh! your father is dead.”He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Was it a nightmare?
“Mom! When did this happen? Why did no one tell me?”
“Last year, son. I tried to contact you, but you left no clue for us. His last wish was to see you.”
“I am coming home today”
He ran out of the company and drove his car as fast as he could. The town was three hours away. He made it in two hours. When he reached the town, he slowed down. Everyone was watching him.
“Yes! It is Yola,” he heard them whisper.
Everyone looked annoyed and angry. Even the town dogs started barking at the car. He was at home, finally. He fought with the flashbacks that were sneaking in his mind. He knocked at the door. It was opened seconds later. He was expected. He couldn’t believe that his mother had grown old. The last years had left deep traces on her face. They spent the night crying and talking about the past. He slept blaming himself for what had happened.
Next morning, the clouds were much heavy. He woke up hearing the wind rattling the house windows. He was half asleep. He checked his watch. It was 10 a.m. He found breakfast by his bed; hot tea and biscuits. He smiled to himself because that was his favorite breakfast before he left. Maybe his mother is the only one who still thinks that Yola isn’t changed. He got up to close the window, but his eyes met the trees of the forest away, dancing with the wind.
“Sarah!” He whispered.
He ran out of the house and knocked on Sarah’s door. When Sophia saw him, she became speechless. She didn’t know what to say. He was there in front of her eyes whereas her daughter was lost somewhere in the city, looking for him. She squeezed his hands and started.
“Yola! You have no time to waste. If you still care , run for my daughter. She went yesterday to look for you in the city,” she cried.
He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Sarah Molal went to the city looking for him whereas he thought that she would have fallen in love with somebody and was engaged.
He started his car and drove as fast as he could. The rain started to pour on the buildings, skyscrapers, and careless city people. Nobody seemed to enjoy the view. Everyone seemed bengrossed in his own business. Yola was lost. He didn’t know where to look for her. He kept driving around the city all the day. He was thinking to himself that maybe he wouldn’t know her even if he saw her. He was thinking that she must be physically changed. Time had passed quickly. It was evening when he started asking at police stations and hospitals about her.
At midnight, he parked his car and started walking. The weather was so cold that he was afraid to freeze. He still remembered the moment when he left the town. He still remembered the way she was looking at him. All that she dreamed about was a tree house and a bees field. She dreamed about a green field full of butterflies and trees. She dreamed about having a family. He kept walking and walking for hours, aimlessly. He saw her face whenever he blinked. She was there with him, somehow. He would give everything to see her.
The rain was pouring on him. The streets were empty. He was the only one out there. He could hear the sound of his own footsteps. Suddenly, he saw a girl shaking and whispering to herself. He saw her throwing something from her bag. It was pills which Yola had no idea what they were for. The street was so narrow and dark. He kept walking towards her. It was Sarah. She had been looking for him for two days. She had lost hope of finding him. She got tired, and she stayed beside that wall. She was hungry, cold and depressed.
“Sarah,” he called her.
She held her head up. She thought that it was just daydreaming. She didn’t reply. He got closer and called her again. He hugged her warm her. Her clothes were wet. He wanted to help her to get up, but she refused.
“Stay here with me. I am afraid to get up and find out that I am daydreaming again. Stay here, right here.”
“Sarah! Your body is frozen; you should change your clothes and be somewhere else. Somewhere warm and cozy. “
“Really? You have just figured out that my body is frozen and I should change my clothes? I was feeling cold and walking to that forest in the same dress and shoes for five years, but no one cared then about me.”
He was shocked. He didn’t know what to say.
“Sarah. Let’s go”
“No, I found you so you should stay here with me.”
She put her head on his shoulder and kept quite. She didn’t take her medicine, and she had stayed for two days in the cold weather. She was happy and smiling that he was around. Her body became colder. Her heart was beating so fast that it stopped. Her soul finally left the body in peace. It left her where she belonged to.
Yola was asleep by her side. He was tired too. He was getting a rest from the past lost years. They looked like angels. He slept till the sunshine forced his eyes to open. It took him minutes to figure out where he was. He was there beside Sarah’s body. He woke her up, but she didn’t respond. He cried silently. He understood what had happened. She had gone. He saw her face for the first time in years. She was smiling. She was beautiful. She was flawless. She loved him, but she was dead.
Yola is now forty-five years old. He lives alone in that tree house. He painted it and re-wrote her name on it. He made Sarah’s dream come true. All that she wished for was a bee’s field. He had the biggest bees’ field in the region. People came to him to buy honey from other countries. It wasn’t just honey made by a bee; it was honey made in a forest named “Sarah Molal”. That forest was visited each year by girls from all over the world wearing red shoes and a red dress. He advised them to never leave who loves them for what they love.
Sarah was the symbol of love. She would never be forgotten. . .
I was born in Morocco and live there still. I graduated from university in 2017. I have my BA in English studies: Linguistics.