On the first day...
...two Acacia trees stand alone in the middle of a great plain, one old, and one young. The elder tree is named Gamue, which roughly translates to Tale-Teller, given by the local tribe of chimpanzees for his great number of stories shared as they pick his seeds. The younger has no name yet, as he is little more than a sprout and has done no deed to earn a title.
The sprout, only ten moon cycles old, wonders how he came to be.
“Are you my father?” he asks Gamue.
In his old, rusted wind voice, Gamue says, “Perhaps, perhaps not. It does not matter who has birthed you little sprout, we are all children and parents at some point in time.”
“Where are all the other trees?” the sprout asks, feeling the emptiness of the great plain in his roots. “Are we the only ones?”
There is great ache in Gamue’s voice. “We are Acacia trees, little sprout, the loneliest of them all. I’ve been alone in this plain for over a hundred moon cycles. You are but the second tree I have ever encountered.”
“What happened to the first?”
“She died.” Gamue’s leaves bristle. “Her name was Touna.”
“Was she your mother?” The little sprout asks.
“I do not know, but as I said, it matters not.”
The trees stand in silence as a chimp from the Morrow tribe wanders toward them. She bows before them, and climbs up into Gamue’s branches to find food, doing her best to avoid his sharp thorns.
“And what is your name, child of the Morrow tribe?” Gamue asks.
“Matya,” the chimp replies. “My parents have told me about you, elder tree. Do you remember Nato and Risa?”
“I do indeed, Matya.” Gamue sighs. “I told them the tale of the skeleton who wandered the desert and thirsted for water and the chimp who cursed the sun and was doomed to live the rest of his days with burning flesh.”
“Then you truly are the tale teller,” Matya says with awe. “Do you have a tale for me?”
“How old are you, Matya?”
“Thirteen moon cycles.”
“Then I shall tell you the tale of the four ants.”
The little sprout listens intently as Gamue recited the tale of the four ants, and their quest to win the heart of the moon. He is saddened to hear none of the ants survive, each struck down by their own malice, greed, and mistrust, the moon destined to be alone for another eternity.
“Thank you, elder,” Matya says as she climbs down Gamue’s trunk. “I shall tell my children of this tale.”
The chimp wanders into the heart of the great plain, back to her tribe.
“That was a sad tale,” the little sprout observes.
“When you are older,” Gamue murmurs, “you will realize all tales are sad.”
The little sprout doubts this, but remains quiet.
Twenty years later...
...the two trees are having an argument.
“You cannot possibly believe that,” the little sprout says. He is no longer a little sprout, but now a young tree with branches of his own, though Gamue still takes great pleasure in calling him ‘little sprout’. “How could you say that happiness is not guaranteed?”
Gamue, older than ever, groans and clicks his branches as he responds to the brash youth. “Life is long, little sprout, and hard. It often makes its own choices, giving out riches in abundance to those who do not deserve it, while starving the just. We live in a world where an Acacia tree can be born many winds away from others of his own kind, doomed to be in the company of an ignorant youth for the rest of his life, and all because he had the temerity to be planted.”
The youth boils in anger. “I wish I had a monkey’s arms, so I could snap your branches off one by one.”
“But you do not have a monkey’s arms,” Gamue laments with a lace of sarcasm. “All you have is the impotent branches of a little sprout.”
“Stop calling me that! I am not a little sprout. I am a fully grown tree, already thirty moon cycles old.”
“Ah, that explains your sage wisdom.”
The sprout huffs. “I hope you fall over and die.”
“I enjoy baiting you too much to do that just yet.”
The two trees shake at each other in frustration, so focused on their little feud they do not notice a young chimp wander up to their trunks.
“Good day,” the boy monkey says timidly, shielding his eyes from the bright sun, “I hope I am not interrupting your conversation.”
“At last!” The young tree exclaims. “Someone who is not rotting at their trunk. Good day young chimp, what is your name?”
“I am Boku, of the Morrow tribe, child of Matya and Soono.” He peers with narrow eyes at the sprout. “Are you Gamue?”
The elder tree laughs haughtily. “He, Gamue? Young Boku, can you not see I am clearly the elder, and the wiser?”
“I suppose,” Boku says, much to the little sprout’s amusement. “Is it alright if I pick seeds from one of your branches?”
“From whose branches shall I pick my seeds?”
There is a long silence. This situation has never occurred before. Until now, the little sprout had no branches to be picked, but now they are ripe, ready to be plucked. It is his turn, he thinks to himself, his turn to be the tale-teller.
“Please,” says the little sprout, “climb onto my branches. I have many fresh seeds for you.”
Boku looks to old Gamue, who says nothing, and climbs up the sprout’s young, firm branches. As he feels around the myriad of small thorns, Boku asks the sprout, “What is your name?”
“I—I do not have a name yet,” the young tree responds shamefully. “But I will get one soon, just you wait. Have you found a good seed yet?”
“I have not. Do you have a tale for me as I look?”
The little sprout trembles with excitement, finally able to tell a story that is not so dreary and sad. Time to sway aside, Gamue.
“I have a tale,” the sprout says proudly. “I shall tell you the tale of the three chimps.
“There were once three starving chimps, brothers who loved each other dearly, but were in great hunger pains, out alone in the plains. The sun beat down on them as they searched for food and shelter, but the plains were flat, and barren, so they found nothing.
“As time went on, and the hunger grew, the brothers began to eye each other with suspicion, wondering if the other would try to kill and eat them. Arguments broke out by the hour, for little more than a stepped on toe, or even an ill glance.
“But just before the monkeys were about to exchange blows, fruit began to fall from the sky. Ripe berries and melons and seeds, hundreds of foodstuffs to eat. The brothers ate by the handful, and once sated, apologized to each other, and lived happily for many years to come.”
As soon as the tale is finished, Boku climbs off the sprout’s branches, empty-handed. “I do not understand, tree. Why did fruit suddenly fall from the sky?”
The sprout is taken aback. “So that they could live and be happy for the rest of their lives.”
“But that is not the way of things,” the young chimp says. “I’ve watched, helpless, as my own sister died of thirst in the last drought. She called my name many times in the night, but there was nothing I could do for her. She died in agony, only three moon cycles old. Your story brings me no comfort.” As he turns to leave, he gives the sprout one more look and says, “You say you have no name? I shall give you one. Yenne. It means ‘Liar’.
“Goodbye, Yenne,” Boku mutters, “I hope you have a more fruitful story for my children.”
Once the monkey is gone, Gamue bursts out laughing; laughing so hard it hurt his roots, seeds falling from his branches by the bundle. The little sprout, now named Yenne, lets out a humph and says nothing more.
“Yenne...” Gamue repeats as he calms down from his fit of laughter, “I think I like that name better than ‘little sprout’.”
And he laughs again.
One month later...
...Gamue awakens from his dream trance to the sound of quiet weeping. He realizes it is Yenne, who is doing his best to keep his leaf-cries silent, and failing miserably. With tired irritation, he addresses the now fully-grown Acacia tree.
“Why are you crying? Can you not see I am trying to dream?”
“I’m sorry,” the youth whispers, “It is just... I woke up tonight, and it was so quiet. Apart from your leaves and the wind, I hear nothing, and it frightened me.”
“It is only silence, nothing deadly. Go back to sleep.”
“I feel so alone, Gamue,” the little sprout says. “I hate the silence, the emptiness of these plains. The only thing around me are a few brambles and thickets off in the horizon, the only light coming from the stark and cold moon. This is an empty place.” He chokes on another sob. “It’s even worse that the only company I have is a tree who hates me.”
Of all the things Yenne has said over the past, it is perhaps this that surprises Gamue the most, and hurts him the most. The truth is, Gamue had never been so thankful as the day Yenne’s sprout curled up through the dirt. It had been many years since Touna, the pain of loneliness a deep scar etched in his bark, so when Yenne was born, it was as though Gamue was born anew. He enjoyed sharing his thoughts on life with the little sprout, and enjoyed teasing him, but did not realize, even after all these years, that the little sprout thought there was any hatred between them.
All of this Gamue wants to say to Yenne, but old habits are hard to replace, and his stubborn pride chokes back the words, so instead, in his tired, age-swept voice, all he says is,
“I don’t hate you.”
Yenne’s sobbing quiets down to a sniffle. Soon, his leaves stop rustling, and he returns to his dream trance, wherever that may be. Gamue sighs, and, unable to fall back into a trance, listens to the silence, glad he does not have to share it alone.
Fifteen years later...
...it is raining hard and fast. Yenne is laughing with joy. “How long has it been, Gamue, since water last fell from the sky?”
“Too many moons,” the elder tree says, enjoying the rain as much as the youth. “Drink up as much as you can, as it could be many more moons still before the next fall.”
As the trees feast under the drenched sky, a small figure appears on the horizon, running towards them with great speed. Gamue has never seen such a creature before, not one with such long legs and smooth, dark skin.
When creature is near, he kneels down until his forehead is pressed to the dirt. “Great trees,” he screams above the fury of the storm, “I beg of you, allow me to take shelter under your branches. I do not have any gifts with which to pay you, but I—”
“I have no need for gifts,” Gamue says, “though I cannot speak for my friend.”
“You do not need to give me anything, little one,” Yenne agrees. “Come and take shelter.”
The creature bows again with grace and runs under the trees’ branches, crouching between their trunks, shivering against the chill air. He jumps at the sound of clapping thunder in the distance, whispers and begs the sky to relent. Yenne feels sorry for the creature, knows what it means to be frightened and alone, so he talks to him as he would any other creature.
“What’s your name, little one?” Yenne asks.
“Bongani,” the creature replies in his peculiar voice. “And yours? I’d know the names of those who provide me with shelter.”
“I am Yenne, and this is my friend, Gamue. What happened to you?”
The creature buries his face in his hands with shame. “It is my name-day today. My chieftain ordered me to slay a lion and bring back its manhood to prove my worth, but I—the thunder, it drove the lions away, and the rain fell so hard I got lost. And now I am here, too far to find my way back.”
“I’m sure you’ll find your way back once the rain stops,” Yenne assures. “Gamue, why don’t you tell him one of your stories to pass the time?”
“Those stories are for the Morrow tribe, Yenne, not this stranger.”
The elder tree sighs and rustles his creaking branches. “So be it. How old are you, Bognani?”
“Fifteen moon cycles.”
“Is that old for your kind?” Yenne asks, confused.
The creature looks up at the tree. “The eldest in my tribe is sixty moon cycles.”
“I know a story,” Gamue says. “This is the tale of the sun’s daughter, and her love affair with the prince of the moon.”
Yenne listens as his elder tells the tale of the sun’s daughter, and her love affair with the prince of the moon. He is thrilled by the daughter’s tribulations, how neither the moon nor the sun approved of this union, and the war that broke out between night and day. He is sad to learn that in the midst of the war, the daughter is killed by a stray moon meteorite, and explodes into a million little pieces, scattered amongst the night sky, creating the stars. Captured by grief, the prince kills himself, his white blood giving the stars their ghostly glow.
Yenne is surprised to hear of the truce made between night and day, and their agreement to share the sky. It is not quite a happy ending, but more hopeful than any tale he heard Gamue tell.
“That was a wonderful story,” Bognani says once the tale is finished, his voice barely piercing the howl of the storm.
“I agree,” Yenne says. “It made me happy there was peace in the end. A nice change from your usual doom and gloom.”
Gamue found himself laughing at that. “How funny... I hadn’t noticed the difference until now.”
“Indeed. Could it possibly be that your bark is beginning to soften? And here I thought, after all these years, nothing would—”
Yenne’s sentence is cut off by a flash of light and a crack of thunder. His trunk is torn asunder by the sky bolt, his bark sent up in flames, and he crashes to the ground in an explosion of seeds and leaves, uprooted. The hairless creature, startled by the noise and fire, runs out into the rain, as far away as possible, as fast as he had arrived.
“Yenne?” Gamue screams over the torrential rains and sky groans, but the flattened tree does not respond. “Yenne... please say something.”
The little sprout says nothing.
Gamue watches in silence as his friend’s blackened bark cools under the water.
The next morning...
...after the storm clouds give way to a beaming sun and the sound of crickets and ants hard at work, a small chimp arrives.
“Hello, my name is Litu, a child of the Morrow tribe, daughter of Boku and Ranya.” When Gamue does not respond, the chimp looks over at the fallen tree, and then back at him. “Are you Yenne?”
The name alone makes him want to weep, but he spares the child of that sight. “No, that fallen tree is Yenne. The sky took him. I am Gamue.”
The little chimp looks disappointed. “My father, Boku, told me of Yenne’s story, and the happy tale he told, of the three brothers and the fruit from the sky. I was hoping he would tell me a happy tale as well, even if it is only a lie.”
“He’s dead, young Litu. There will be no happy tales today.”
“Do you know any happy tales?”
Gamue pauses, dwells on this question. He can still feel the space in the dirt where Yenne’s roots used to be, the warmth they radiated now replaced with cold, empty air. “There is no such thing as a happy tale,” he tells the chimp, “only sad tales.”
Litu scratches her head. “Why do you say that?”
“Because,” the old tree whispers sadly, “they all end.”