"Nancy, over here!"
I hear a girl shouting. I look down and there is Sarah, the girl from Boston three years ago. I still remember the first day when she found me here, behind the castle, she was so homesick that she wept for a couple of hours under my cover. Since then, she often comes to me alone after dinner.
Today, I cannot see her face, but her curvy brown hair, for she leans her face against me. She takes a deep breath as if she is inhaling my fragrance. Or she is merely catching her breath? She then caresses me lovingly with her small hands, like how she always does when she needs comfort.
I look up and a girl about the same age runs towards me. She must be Nancy. I haven't seen her before, but I do remember some other girls mentioning her name. This girl has short blonde hair and I can clearly see her hazel eyes even from afar. The sweet smile on her face must have brightened up many people's day. For sure she has brightened mine. How can anyone not melt by her smile? She is so carefree and full of spirits.
"So what is it that you are going to tell me, Sarah?" This Nancy girl smiles to Sarah. She put her hands on her hips and pants heavily. But her smile never leaves her face.
"Oh Nancy. I cannot believe it happened. I cannot believe it! I am such a lucky girl." Sarah finally let go of me and grabs her friend's hands. She leads her closer to me and sit down by the big root of mine which is half exposed above the ground.
Sarah finally lifts her face up, probably looking at the leaves dancing in the light breeze. Her gaze is so dreamy that I am sure Nancy can tell that her thoughts are actually miles away from here.
"What is it? Tell me, Sarah! I have never seen you being so excited.". Nancy is definitely getting impatient. She let go of Sarah's hands and gently shakes her knees instead.
"Mrs. Cunningham just told me that I will be the Head Girl next year! Can you believe it Nancy? Me? Sarah the mousy girl? I can't wait to tell my mom. She will be so shocked. Haha, who wouldn't be? Even I was shocked when Mrs. Cunningham called me to her office this morning. I have never achieved this kind of honor, Nancy. I am always the one who needs protection and pampering in the family. My mom is so worried about me. You know, being too dependent and babyish? That's why she sent me miles away from home, giving me no choice but to be independent. I am so lucky. Just so lucky to have you be my best friend. You taught me how to conquer my shyness. You taught me...."
I turn my attention to Nancy. She hasn't say a word since Sarah broke the news. Where is her smile? She looks as if she is mollified by the news.
I look at Sarah again. Her smile just grows wider and wider, she speaks faster and faster. I doubt if she notices the silence around her. She is already thinking about next year, when she puts on that white blazer, sitting at the head table next to the Head Mother.
I am very happy for her. In the last three years, I suppose I am the only one who she had confided her fear and loneliness to. The time she spent with me has always been emotional. Having witness her growing from a timid girl into a young and caring lady, I am so proud of her.
Sadly, I can tell that Nancy doesn't really share the joy here. Though her smile returns, it is no longer the bright smile she had before. I have to give her credits that she manages her composure well. Her eyes still focus on Sarah, but her hands now clasp together. I guess I am the only one who sees her pain deep inside her eyes. She is really trying hard to not let her tears surface from behind the eyeballs.
I have a feeling that Nancy will be my next regular visitor from now on. These girls always come to me, or I wouldn't be called the Papa Tree.
Sure enough, I see Nancy a few more times by herself afterwards. She usually comes by before breakfast, when everyone else is still in slumber land. She doesn't come by very often, but she is no longer a stranger to me.
Today, she walks briskly to me and climbs up one of my branches. She hides herself behind my thick foliage as if she finds refuge in me. She doesn't talk. She just sits on the branch, quietly swings her dangling feet.
Has she made peace with herself that she is not going to be the head girl next year? No one needs to be a genius to figure that out. How sad it will be if this little "Head Girl" thing comes in between the friendship she shares with Sarah.
Will she know that being the Head Girl or not, it doesn't change how worthy she is? How beautiful she is? I wish I can speak and let her know how much she is loved.
The early summer breeze is now caressing her face. Please. Let her know that the white blazer means nothing.
"Papa Tree. May I call you that? Sarah has been calling you that, you know?"
I smile. She finally opens up.
"Ah. This is so stupid! Why am I speaking to a tree?" She half laughed at herself, then lapses back into her silence.
I know she has more to say and I can only continue to support her in my quietness. Only when she can feel my presence, she will let me know what is bothering her.
"Papa Tree. I think I am jealous of Sarah." She speaks so softly that only I can hear it.
"Is it wrong to be jealous of her? I can't believe she takes my spot under my nose."
Is that a tear drop trickling down her cheeks?
"When I first met her, she was so shy and helpless. I was doing the right thing to befriend with her, so she could fit nicely here. So how on earth can she pay back my good deeds by taking my life dream away?!" Nancy angrily wipes the tears away with the back of her hand.
"I work so hard to be perfect in everything I do. Ever since I came here in Grade Seven, I dreamt of being the Head Girl. I am never late to class, my uniform is always clean. My kilt is always just an inch above my knees. My marks are always above ninety. I am friendly to everyone, and I try my best to cheer up everyone. So how come they pick her and not me? I am even the athlete of the year. How perfect are these people asking me to be?" She sobs louder, though it is too early to have anyone hearing it.
"This is so unfair."
Her painful tears finally land on one of my leaves. Hot and desperate tears. Does anyone else understand her pain? Feels her sorrow? Or do others only resent her pursuit in perfection? Does that make her sinful? Will people forgive her being self-pity? I hope her friend Sarah can forgive her. More importantly, continue loving her. I can only hope that Sarah won't give up on her. Nancy was by her side when she needed someone. It is now her turn to be Nancy's crutches when her dream is completely shattered.
"Papa Tree, Sarah is still my best friend. I love her very much. But I just can't be the same with her anymore. Whenever I see her now, I can only imagine how she will look in the white blazer. It really hurts."
The white blazer. One day, it will be soiled and ends up in a thrifty store. My girl, look beyond that white blazer and think of the many other colorful things you will experience in your life.
How long will it take for Nancy to heal her wound? A wound inflicted on her by her very own desire. Desires like a serpent which deceives us from knowing the truth. The truth is, Sarah is just being given a chance to get out of her shell. A chance to practice her courage in pursuing her own dreams. She needs this more than Nancy. And it may seem Nancy has been dealt with a bad card this time, but it's her chance to learn coping with imperfection. Imperfection is who we are.
Look at my branches. Look at my trunk. It is the odd twists and the uneven bark that makes me a strong tree with a character.
One of a kind. That alone makes me worthy and beautiful.