This fella here, at that top of the page – the big hunk of wood with sparkly eyes – he’s my father. I haven’t see him in a very long time, but I carry his picture everywhere, to remind me of my roots.
My name’s Chestnut. And yes I am a Chestnut. I was born in the forest, sprouted out of one of my father’s fingers. Those first years were tough. I watched all 7894 of my brothers and sisters either devoured by deer and rodents, pecked apart by birds, or trampled and crushed by visiting humans. Some of my brothers and sisters did make it beneath the soil. I know they did. But I can’t tell you if they ever made it out of the ground. I left the forest behind before any of that happened.
It just wasn’t for me, a tree’s life. I know it’s what I’m supposed to do, to sprout up and grow, produce kids of my own, so our family can grow with us. But I hate the dark and I hate getting dirty. I didn’t want to go under there. Arrest me.
When I told my father the news, well I don’t think he was listening at all. I spoke for fifteen minutes about why a tree’s life just wasn’t for me, opening up my heart to him, the log that gave me life. But when I was finished speaking, and waiting for a response, I noticed his pupils were all starry again, which meant he’d been at the old mushrooms as always. He was staring at a ball of foil so intently, as if it was a hunk of gold. He looked so happy, so I took the picture, to always remember my father, but also to remember why I left.
It hasn’t been easy, this wild ride. It took me a few months to make it to the nearest city, since I am of course, very, very small. I tried to persuade a badger to give me a ride, but he was having family troubles of his own and couldn’t take me. So I had to settle for Armande, the hedgehog, which you can probably imagine, was not a comfortable ride. Luckily my ass is hard as stone, and I even made a little saddle out of some moss, a combination of old man’s beard and generic, regular green moss, whatever it’s called. (I always hated forestry lessons. My father wasn’t the liveliest of teachers)
But anyways, Armande, the moss saddle and I journeyed together for over two months. We crossed roads and fields, hid from dogs, horses and cows, and finally parted ways, so that Armande could return to his wife. Sadly, my dear friend never made it back to her. It sounds like an old cliché, but I guess cliché’s exist for a reason. A minivan turned him into a pricklesome soup in front of my very eyes, as I waved to him from atop a fence post. I felt like giving up after that, but if Armande taught me one thing, it was to keep on hoggin’.
So I did.
I made it to the city by catching a ride with a lovely family of humans. At a petrol station I hopped in their car when they left the door open and stole a lift, without them ever knowing. They sang and played ‘I spy’ for the entire journey into the city. I was full of life and excitement, ready to try my hand at anything!
I could hear the rumble of traffic all around, the horns, the voices. It was all too much and as soon as I could, I popped out of the car and into the street, through the open car window. Leaping from the window I screamed, “Freedom!” Because I had done what no chestnut ever had. I’d broken the cycle.
When I rolled to the safety of the pavement, away from the terrifying vehicles that surrounded me, it was the air that hit me. I don’t know if we chestnuts aren’t built for city air, or if it was just the shock of all the grey towers forcing me down, but I immediately began to suffocate. I backed up against a steel fence and it was cold on my hard little shell. All the excitement deflated from within me. I flattened out, and began to think, that maybe, I’d been a complete fool.
Then I heard a scream. It froze me up, and I spun to face it, expecting to see a traffic accident, or a robbery. But what I saw almost killed me, there and then. A man with a Machete was standing over a bleeding body. He had dark skin and white eyes, dead white, no sparkle like my dad’s. A woman begged him to stop but there in the street, he sliced at another man, hacking him to the ground. I’m afraid of the dark, so imagine how this made me feel. If I was a human or animal I would have pissed and shit myself there and then, on the spot. Luckily chestnuts don’t do that sort of thing, so I rolled away, screaming, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”
I didn’t stop rolling or screaming until I found a drain, that led into some dark passages below the streets. I dropped down. It was dark and wet, filthy. I sat in a puddle and cried. I’d left the forest to escape the underground I’d have to sprout from, yet here I was in the dark, and in the city I’d so foolishly thought would make my dreams come true, even the surface was a disaster, grey and angry, deadly and dangerous.
Sirens wailed along the roads, more screaming and shouting shook my little heart as I peered up hopelessly. And suddenly it all made sense, why my father just sat there on the leafy earth, munching on his mushrooms. At least there he was surrounded by green, within a world formed by his own mind’s eye. There in the forest I could have grown up into the wind, conversed with hawks and sparrows, smiled at the sun, and created my own reality around me, with the magic the forest provides.
But I was a coward. I was afraid of the dark. Afraid of my fate. And now, here in the city, I will die alone in that same dark, because there is nothing here. Not even a breath of air.