Back when we were fourth graders we used to have art class. They used to take us to a small room – no bigger than the janitor’s room – except all the walls were white. There was also a big white table in the center of the room.
They sat us in small white chairs and gave us big white sheets to draw on.
I remember that first day when the teacher came in. She was a fat lady who always had eye shadow on for no reason. She also wore a red scarf around her neck at all times. Anyway, the fat teacher came in and handed out the white sheets while introducing herself. I can’t recall her name but that may be because I haven’t bothered memorizing it in the first place.
She asked us to draw a tree. She wanted us to draw the tree the way we thought trees should look like.
I sat there and thought for a moment. I looked around and observed the other kids at work: one of them was chewing at his pencil, another was scribbling on his sheet, another one was drawing a building…
Then I got to drawing myself. I noticed the teacher coming and standing over me and watching my work. I kept working hard at the drawing. It was my first drawing and to tell you the truth, I never knew how I felt about art before that day. I had never come that close to it before.
Anyhow, I finished my drawing and revealed it proudly to my teacher.
‘What’s that?’ She asked.
‘That’s my tree.’
‘Where are its leaves?’
‘It doesn’t have any.’
I had drawn a tree with no leaves. It was just a trunk and a few branches coming out of it.
The teacher seemed concerned.
‘Why doesn’t it have any leaves?’ She asked.
‘Because leaves fall off,’ I said, ‘and the trees end up all naked and embarrassed.’
‘Yes, but they grow back again.’
‘I don’t think trees should lose anything. I don’t think they should be embarrassed like humans who have just lost their clothes. They should stand out and be comfortable at all times just like animals.’
The teacher looked increasingly concerned by my statements. She tried a faint smile but I could see those worry lines forming all over her face. She gave me an unconvincing nod and moved on to the other kids waiting to show off their work.
As I remember it, every single kid had drawn a tree with its leaves on. I was the only one who had a drawing of a naked tree. And yet, I was convinced by it. I didn’t think trees should be humiliated the way they were, even if it was for a short time of the year.
Humiliation was reserved for the human kind. It was reserved for that kid who came back home from school holding a bad grade on a math test. It was reserved for the wife who walked in on her husband and caught him with another woman in her bed. It was reserved for the politician who froze at a press conference and babbled his way through it while failing to explain why his country was at war and his people were dying.
In short, it was reserved for human beings.
But nature was made to transcend that feeling. Nature was made to rise above the corruption and hate and deception humans languished in. Nature was made to set the example.
And that’s why trees shouldn’t be made to be bothered by something trivial like nudity.
It was logical to me. It made sense in my mind. Still, as I watched my teacher show off my classmates’ various drawings of colorful trees with their leaves on, all but forgetting to parade my work to the class and explain my vision, I knew my turn would never come. I knew she was unconvinced by my work and frightened to exhibit it to the others. I looked in her eyes and saw fear eating them up. It was a fear I couldn’t understand. It was the same kind of fear I recognized in my mother’s eyes every time at the end of the month when the rent was due and we were short on the money.
It was a strange kind of fear particular to humans.
Trees don’t fear. They were cut down every day and still stood tall and proud. And now, without their leaves, they looked invincible to me. They looked truly fearless.
That was my first and only art class. After that the art teacher spoke to our principal and suggested I sit out art class and go to the gym instead. I already knew how I felt about gym: I hated it. So I spent my time in the corner of the gymnasium writing about trees. I wrote poems and stories about walking and talking trees. And in each one of those stories, the trees were leafless.
I still don’t know how I feel about art. I haven’t picked up a white sheet and drawn anything on it since that fateful first day of art class. Well, it’s never too late to do anything.
But, in retrospect, I think I’d much rather write anyway.