The toll of the last few days was showing on her. As Bir entered the coffee shop, the reporter turned and gave her a small smile. He stood up immediately once he saw how disheveled Bir appeared. Her coat was buttoned awkwardly and her winter hat was askew. The usual bright and bubbly girl, as seen in the pictures, was haggared looking – dark circles under the eyes, glassy from lack of sleep and her fair skin looked ghostly.
Despite all of this, Bir smiled at him as she removed her hat, shaking off some of the excess snow. It was a full ear-to-ear grin that set his heart racing. I’m sure she has no difficulty getting dates, he thought to himself. Feeling a stirring within and suddenly uncomfortable by this onset of attractiveness, he coughed.
He took her coat and they shook hands. It was then that he realized she was shaking.
“Hi Bir, nice to see you again. Are you cold?”
“Hey Jeff. No, I’m fine. Don’t look at me like that. Really, I’m fine. I will have a green tea though.”
He waved and the barista came over to take their order.
“Two green teas please.”
“Add two of those Macadamia nut cookies, will you?”
They smiled awkwardly now, both still standing in front of the little round table.
So, Bir sat, followed by Jeff. He wasn’t sure what she thought of him after all that had transpired. She cleared her throat, shifting in her chair.
“How come it took you this long to call?” she asked.
Jeff raised his eyebrows, not expecting to be the one interviewed.
“Mmm, well…,” he began. “I honestly thought the story was over. I thought you were arrested and that was that.”
Now her eyebrows were up and Jeff could feel that he better get on with it. She then nodded and chuckled.
“Oh my god! Is this a date?” she exclaimed loudly. There were only a few other people in the coffee shop but, they all turned to look at her. “This isn’t a story at all!” she went on.
He felt himself go a bit red, even though she wouldn’t be able to tell with his dark skin.
His brown eyes met hers.
Bir took him in then: kind, strong jaw, nice full lips, gorgeous dark eyes, nice head of trim, curly dark hair and caramel – half African American mixed with what, she couldn’t tell. Certainly a nice combination of cultures to create a man of this attractiveness!
She was flattered he had asked her out but had truly thought this was an interview.
“Jeff, she began. Despite being flattered, I’m disappointed. I thought you wanted to know more.”
“Ok, Bir. The story has been turned inside and out. What more can be added? People are a little sick of it, don’t you think?”
He cringed internally when he saw the hurt look on her lovely oval-shaped face.
“Well, ok then, Bir.” He continued. “Is there more, something I’ve missed?”
“Yeah,” she shook her hair and it seemed to come alive, the brown locks bouncing with a slight draft coming through the shop. It had to be an illusion, a trick. She had a smattering of freckles that ran along the length of her long, thin nose. Jeff wanted to kiss her badly.
She was so passionate, such an activist. She had balls to do what she did.
Bir pulled out a business card.
“I’ve been busy.”
Just then, the teas arrived, steaming hot.
She wrapped her long, slender fingers around her cup. He bit into a cookie, winking at her.
“Doesn’t surprise me a bit,” he replied.
He picked up her card.
Tree for Tree, Contact Robirta (Bir) at (416) Tree4Yu
“What’s this?” he inquired.
“Well, I know, it’s simple enough,” she said. “Read the back.”
So he did.
The picture startled him though. It was the same one that had been in all the local papers. His paper, The Informed Citizen, had it on the first page, full page. This was just small, on the back of a business card. Yet, it still took his breath away.
Bir was part of a tree advocacy group that promoted saving trees through activism. Bir believed that she was a birch tree and could communicate with other birches. She understood how the trees felt.
Her group, Tree for Tree, noticed the popular winter-themed greenery planters, those with their cut-off birch trees, and branches of evergreens and berries were everywhere in front of stores, businesses and friends houses. They decided to do something about it.
Likening the birch trees to people, Bir felt that the cut-up sections of birch trees with leaves missing akin to a person missing body parts: head, arms etc.
So late one night, Tree For Tree stole store mannequins, took off their heads and arms, placed them in the middles of some outdoor store planters in the place of the birch tree branch middles.
The picture on the card was of one such planter with the headless mannequin. This one though was also naked and fake blood had been poured around the neck where the head would have been attached.
Under Bir’s picture of the headless mannequin planter it read: save a tree, save a life. Plant a tree, stop the slaughter of innocent life…
Jeff just stared at Bir in disbelief. She was a maniac.
“Is this for real?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’ve been passing them out and so far, no one has called about buying trees. Is it too much?”
Jeff searched Bir’s face for a smirk or twinkle in the eye. Some glimmer of an expression to indicate that this was a joke. Bir’s face remained serious.
“Bir, he began again…” but, he felt so uncertain about what to say next. He was dying to find out what she thought. Is she for real?! Is she going to run out of here if I ask the wrong question? Jeff needed an angle here. So he made a decision. He had to really believe in her or at least do a good job at faking it. This woman really is a nut job. This was going from potential date to one crazy news story.
“Bir,” he began again,…” Jeff then opened up his video recording app on his IPhone to begin recording their conversation. He forced himself to make a neutral face.
“When did you know you were a tree?”
“It was the summer of 1980,” she began. “I was at my family cottage. Do you know the area north of Kingston at all?”
“Mmm…mmm,” Jeff nodded.
“Well, our cottage is just outside of Perth and it is just beautiful up there.”
“Uh huh,” Jeff gave an encouraging nod to Bir to continue.
“So many trees…of all kinds are up there. Anyway, that summer, I had my first experience as a tree.”
“Your first experience as a tree,” Jeff repeated. His eyebrows popped up. He couldn’t help his reaction.
“Yeah. I was five years old and this birch tree spoke to me.”
“A birch tree spoke to you.”
“Yeah, you know, Jeff, you don’t need to repeat everything back to me. Don’t you believe me?”
“I’m just listening, Bir.” He said. “Go on.”
“What did the tree say to you? How did you communicate?”
“Well, it was more of an overwhelming feeling, rather than words.”
She then started making this low humming sound which turned into whistling. Her hair came alive as before and her skin started to take on an unnaturally shiny glow. Inside his head, Jeff was thinking, Wow, she is one good actress. I want to believe that she is really a tree.
“Tell me more, Bir.”
“Well, the feeling evolved, Jeff. The trees don’t literally speak to me in English. It’s tree-speak so to speak. I can feel what the trees are saying to me and sometimes it is just so strong.”
“Can you hear…er…I mean feel them now?”
“No. I need to be close to a tree.”
Jeff’s eyes spotted a small Christmas tree in a planter on a table not far from them. He got up and ran to get it. Cleaning aside their plates of cookies, he placed the tree on their table. He looked pointedly at Bir.
“Ok, here’s a tree.”
Bir smirked at him.
He kept pointing and said, “So talk.”
She didn’t say anything for a few moments, so he spoke up.
“Well, Jeff, it’s just a baby…” she began.
“Yeah, so…you only talk to adult trees?”
“No,” she laughed then. “But it’s not a full-sized tree and like human kids, baby and child trees have a different way of communicating – they’re still learning how to communicate themselves.”
“Ok, well for the sake of it can you just try talking to this one? It’s looking rather blizzard-like out there now. I’d rather not walk around right outside looking for an adult-sized tree – unless of course you want to?”
“No, Jeff. You’re right.” She smiled at the little tree then, made that same whistling sound and Jeff stared at the little tree hoping for some little stirring or movement but there was nothing he could see.
Bir then raised her eyes up at him and said, “It needs water. He’s thirsty.”
“Oh, right.” Makes sense, he thought, rolling his eyes internally.
Bir waved at the barista and asked for some water for the tree.
As she watered the tree, she took on a mothering expression and gentle soothing noises escaped her throat.
She then looked sad and her eyes were watering as she spoke next.
“The tree is sad. It misses the forest, and its mother and father.”
“What do the others say?”
“Oh, so many of them that are planted in planters and outdoor containers say the same sorts of things.”
“That they miss the …wild?
“The forest, Jeff.”
“Right. What I meant.”
“What about the branches? Like in the planters that you…ahem…took?” He was glad he’d caught himself, he had almost said “stole.”
She looked dumb-founded.
“What do you think they’re going to say, Jeff?”
She shook her head in disbelief as he failed to answer her and then said, “They’re dead, they say nothing.”
“Oh right, my mistake.”
“Have you met any happy trees then? What do the ones not in ‘captivity’ say?”
“Oh, they are just glowing with happiness and radiate all around them. Some of them complain about being sunburnt.”
“Their leaves are browning from the sun in the summer time. Last summer was really hot, we didn’t get much rain.”
“Okay, so tell me about your business side then. What do you want?”
“I don’t want any more trees being cut down than necessary.
I think more trees need to be planted than cut down.”
“I agree with you Bir. But I have to be honest with you about the business card.”
“It’s creepy with that picture on the back.”
“Uh, okay. Continue”
“Most people want to save trees and would buy trees from you if you were a little less…harsh.”
“Ok, thanks Jeff. I appreciated the coffee and the cookie. Did you get your story?
“Look Bir, I like you and if I write it, you’re going to look crazy. Would you want that? People are not going to believe that you really are a tree or that you talk to trees.”
“Do you, Jeff? Believe in me?”
“I wish I did, Bir. I do.”
Bir got up then, angry. She pushed her chair in and grabbed her coat, threw it on and stormed out.
Jeff stared at the empty seat where Bir had sat.
Then he concentrated hard on the Christmas tree still on the table – in front of him.
“C’mon, talk to me little guy.”
And he felt nothing, nothing but sadness for Bir.