A Man - A Tree - A Voice

A man sat under a tree to take shelter from the searing Sun. It was the middle of summer and it was the afternoon hour. Nothing alive could ignore the might of the Sun at that time of day. The man, who was crossing a dense forest, decided to take shelter under an ancient, beaten tree, with a canopy so vast that it even blocked the midday Sun. In the shade of that tree the man partook his lunch, simple offerings of rice and curd, for he was a poor traveler in search of work in a city far away. After the meager meal, his eyes sunk beneath a rising tide of drowsiness and he slowly nodded off to a deep slumber. After what seemed just an instant, he awoke to find the Sun far to the west. The man panicked to find twilight fast approaching. He had intended to rest just till the afternoon Sun lost its intensity, as he had many miles to cover in the forest. Traveling in the dark was dangerous, for these woods were notorious for man-eating tigers, ambushing jackals and poisonous cobras.

The dying rays of the Sun would still last for some time. He realized if he sprinted and sprinted with conviction, he might just make it to a safer place outside the dense forest. There was just a single road through the forest and he could not get lost. As the man was bundling up his things for the sprint, a deep voice spoke to him. 'Human, don't run into the forest now! You will never make it through before the night falls and the demons emerge. Stay here. This tree is blessed. It is the only safe spot in the whole forest. No man-eating tiger or many-headed cobra can touch you when you are under its protection.' The man was stunned to his spot by the voice. He looked hither and thither but could not see its source. He stared suspiciously at the tree, and cautiously approached it. He was a wily traveler, he shouted at the tree, 'What if this tree is not an agent of God but rather a tool of the devil? What if the devil that resides in this tree emerges at night to devour me? How can I trust this tree?'. The voice laughed. A deep, resonant laughter that can only be birthed by genuine mirth. The laughter rippled across the dense tree-tops until it stopped, instantly. 'You just spent many hours resting peacefully under this tree. Any devil in this tree could have easily devoured you while you were sleeping. The very fact that you are alive now proves that the tree is a source of divinity and not the tool of Shaitan!'.

This struck the man as a reasonable argument. He had indeed lost himself to an uncharacteristic slumber, but had emerged thoroughly nourished from it. But he was still not convinced. So in an even louder voice, he shouted , 'Demons cannot come out when the Sun is shining! Even a baby knows that. Only the Night bequeaths the fell.'. For a few minutes, the man waited for the voice to reply. But the only sounds he could hear were those of the birds rushing back to their aerie homes. Suddenly, the voice sprung to life, grander than before, like a rain of bricks all around him, 'The foolishness of man never fails to surprise me. Demons don't hide from the Sun. They shelter from it. You too sheltered from the midday Sun, but do you perish when you step under it for a moment? I pity your ignorance, but I want to help you. Go back to sleep. No animal or demon can touch you when embraced by the warmth of this ancient tree. Look around you, look at the birds flocking back to the arms of this tree just as a child runs back to her mother when the night arrives. Unlike you, the birds understand the magic of this tree and the wickedness that surround it. Stay here. Stay alive.', the voice started to fade as soon as it had spoken.

The man was bewildered. In all his travels, he had never come across such a magical voice or such a strange predicament. Every inch of his reasoning advised him to run towards the safety of the forest periphery. Should he heed a strange voice of unknown origin or the wisdom that he had earned over many years? And what if, despite running headstrong into the forest, he is unable to reach the periphery before nightfall? What will he do? Where will he take shelter from the children of the night? In that case, wouldn't he be better off trusting the voice and this ancient tree?

As the man was contemplating, he heard a screech above him. As he looked up, he saw a hawk, her wings ablaze swooping down towards him. With the dying Sun behind her, she swung down, ushering darkness towards me, like a heavy curtain unleashed from its hinges. Her feathery edges shone red from the last rays of the Sun as her razor talons ripped into his eyes. The man screamed as he fell to the ground, his hands clutching his empty, bleeding eyes. Copious salty tears he shed for his lost eyes and finally, in a voice, mocking with scorn and venom, he called out, 'Whatever happened to the ancient tree? You said it will protect me, but even before the night has arisen, it has let me fall into eternal darkness. Answer me!'. There was no reply. The man struggled to his feet and in his dark disorientation swiveled from side to side. He screamed out his anger, 'ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME you wise voice! If humans are ignorant, how could the omniscient you, let this befall upon me? ANSWER ME!'

A few moments later, just as the man readied his lungs for yet another gut-wrenching demand, the voice answered him with unnatural calmness, 'This is indeed a magical tree. Ancient and wise. It could have protected you from the malice of tigers and the mischief of cobras. But even magic and wisdom cannot contend with the hawks of destiny.'

The man screamed out in agony as he fell to his knees, tears and blood flowing down his face as the Sun finally went to sleep.

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