The Old Woman and the Tree

Once upon a time an old woman moved into a new house.  She wasn’t a very nice woman.  She was rude and unfriendly and didn’t have any friends.  Her new neighbours soon gave up trying to be kind to her, as she was just mean and nasty in return.

In the garden of the woman’s house, there was a little tree.  It didn’t look very nice – the leaves were blotchy, there were branches broken off and there was ivy growing up the trunk.  The old woman had never cared for anyone in her life, but there was little point being rude to a tree.  So she pulled off the ivy.  She pruned off the broken branches, leaving just two spindly little ones.  She watered it every day with old tea and tealeaves from her teapot.

The little tree started to look a bit healthier.  That summer, just one apple appeared on one of the branches.  “Ah – it’s an apple tree,” said the old woman.  When it was ripe, she picked the apple and ate it.  It was delicious.

Later that day, the old woman went to post a letter.  On her way she passed her next-door neighbour, and, before she knew what she was doing, she said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Brown.  Isn’t it a lovely day.  You’re looking very well today.”  It was hard to say which woman was more surprised, but both of them went on their way feeling happier.

A week later, the old woman saw a pear on the other branch of the little tree.  “How odd,” she said to herself.  “Perhaps it’s a pear tree after all.”  As the pear looked nice and ripe, she picked it and ate it.  It was just right – not too hard, not too soft, but sweet and juicy.

Later that day, the old woman went to the bank.  She didn’t like going to the bank, and, as usual, there was a long queue.  Normally, she became very irritated in a long queue and made lots of impatient comments and sighed loudly and so on.    But today, she just didn’t feel like doing that.  To her surprise, she found herself humming a little tune, and thinking about the other people in the queue and the bank clerks behind the counter who were looking hassled.  When it was her turn and the clerk said, “Sorry to keep you waiting,” the old woman just said, “That’s alright.  You’re very busy today.”  Then she went home still humming and feeling quite happy.

A week later, the old woman noticed a banana growing on the little tree.  “Now, that is very odd,” she thought to herself.   She looked a little closer and it seemed to her that the little tree was a slightly different shape.  Its two branches looked thicker, somehow, and not so grey.  And it was definitely a banana – nice and yellow and ready to eat.  So she ate it and it was delicious.

Later that day, the old woman was going out to the shops when she saw a pigeon on the pavement and the pigeon didn’t fly away.  “It looks like its wing is broken,” said the old woman, and so it was.  Now, the old woman didn’t like animals and, in particular, she didn’t like pigeons.  But, to her surprise, she found herself gently picking up the pigeon, putting it into her shopping basket and, rather than turn left to the shops, she turned right and took the pigeon to the vet.  The vet put a splint on the pigeon’s broken wing, and told the old woman how she could care for it while it got better.  And that’s what she did, without a single grumble.  She felt sad when the pigeon was better and flew away, but deep down she felt a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.

Well, all that summer and autumn, the little tree kept producing a different fruit every week.  A nectarine, then an orange, then a grapefruit, then a plum, then a grape.  By the time the old woman picked a lemon in October, she thought that the little tree was looking almost human.  She knew that she was changing, too, with every fruit she ate from the little tree.  She was becoming more loving, more patient, kinder, gentler, peaceful – she was becoming a better person and, for the first time in her life, she felt happy.

But one morning, the old woman looked out of her window and the little tree had gone.  “Oh no!” she cried.  “My lovely little tree!” and she burst into tears.

Just then there was a knock on her back door.  The old woman opened the door and there stood a boy.  He looked strangely familiar, dirty and, frankly, a little mossy.  “Hello,” he said.  “I wonder if you could please spare me something to eat.  I feel like I haven’t eaten for ages”.  “Of course,” said the old woman, and, drying her eyes on her apron, sat the boy at the table and gave him breakfast.  The boy told the old woman that he didn’t have a family or a home.  The old woman said, “You can live with me.”

So he did, and they lived happily ever after – the old woman who used to be mean and nasty and the boy who used to be a tree – two people who had both made each other human.

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