The Last Leaf

Today is a Sunday smack bang in the middle of the most confusing October that I have ever experienced.  I grew up with September hailing the start of the new school year, and the start of autumn with rainy days, winds blowing the ever-changing leaves off their sturdy branches, winds that would make walking difficult and at times would take your breath away.  Dark nights creeping forward.  The heating going on, curtains being closed and a primal instinct that would kick in, of wanting to curl up in front of a fire with your loved ones, trying to keep cosy and warm,

This September and October have been mischievous and tricky.  You wake up feeling cold.  The house is cold.  The mornings are darker.  This all makes sense – after all, autumn is here.  You leave the house suitably and snugly dressed.  Yes, autumn is here.  And then, as the day progresses, and the temperature rises, the sun is out, the cold winds have disappeared – there is a mixture of gratitude, for the heat, sunshine and general well-being, and then a feeling of disarray – this is not how autumn was meant to play out!

Today though, it feels as though order has been restored – whether it is temporary or permanent, remains to be seen, but for now, everything is as it should be.  The rain is falling at a steady speed, the skies are suitable gloomy with grey, non-descript clouds and the wind is making the branches of the trees sway frantically in the wind.  And I am a passive observer, pleased to be indoors, pleased to be wearing warm clothes, and grateful to God for having shelter, warm food and the company of loved ones surrounding me.

As I look outside, net curtains slightly obscuring my view of the street in front of me,  I gaze at the young sapling that stands bravely, fighting all the elements, in front of our driveway.  It’s wiry frame only has a few golden, saffron leaves clinging onto its branches.  Every year, this tree grows a bit taller, the slender trunk thickens slightly, the branches become a tiny bit sturdier and I feel like a proud parent, watching this once tiny sapling, grow steadily and reach its adolescence.  My favourite part of the year has passed. It already revealed its fiery golden colours.  Now I wait.  I wait with infinite sadness, as the sapling loses its leaves.  Sometimes several, with a huge, angry gust of wind.  And sometimes gradual, as the leaves one by one, dance and drift merrily to their impending fate, to the loveless, concrete ground.

The tree reminds me of a film I watched a few years ago, and has stuck with me ever since.  ‘Lootera’, which translates to ‘predator’, someone who robs the innocent and unsuspecting, was based on a short story called ‘The Last Leaf’,  written by O Henry, an American writer, in 1907.  I’m sad to say that I haven’t read the story yet, but I will get around to it one day.

As the title suggests, ‘Lootera’ is about a man who charms his way into a family, with dishonourable intentions.  It is a period drama, set in Bengal in the early 1900’s.  The ‘hero’ captures the heart of the female protagonist and they fall in love.  Unpredictably though, the ‘hero’ does not change his ways, even though the audience are desperately willing him to.  He has a friend/accomplice who reminds him with strong words about what his mission is and the consequences of not carrying out the job correctly.  He lets everyone down – including the audience, who can’t quite believe that he would betray his love, and leaves, completing his mission, but leaving a trail of devastation as he departs.  A few years later, we discover that the family that was left behind are ruined, the heroine’s father has died, and she is dying of tuberculosis, living alone in a remote hill station, with her maid, who is both her carer and companion.  The hero is now a deadly fugitive, and forcibly seeks refuge in this remote house, without realising who the occupants are.  An angry, mistrustful reunion occurs, and there is the constant threat of the police.  In fear of their lives, the heroine and her maid reluctantly provide shelter to the fugitive, whereupon he discovers the extent of her illness, and realises that she is dying.  She tells him that she does not have long left, and that she will die when the last leaf on the trees outside the house drifts away.  Wracked with immense guilt, anger, sadness, and the loss of a love that could have been, he takes care of her and tries to bring some happiness back for her final days.  Her health does make some palpable improvements, but everyday as she looks outside, and realises that there is only one tree with a few leaves left, the rest have all disappeared.  Seeing that her health has improved, the outlaw decides that if he is going to survive, he needs to flee.  So, in the middle of the night, he takes his chance, and makes his escape – but is shot dead by a police blockade who have been waiting for him.  She wakes up the next morning and realises that he has gone.  Her eyes turn towards the tree with the last remaining leaf – and even though the wind is blowing fiercely, this last leaf is clinging on to the branch will all its might.  Suspiciously, she looks closely at the leaf, and realises with wide eyes – the leaf had been tied onto the tree so that it would not fall – and with happy tears in her eyes, she understands why…

I love that story.  I love that ending.  It breaks my heart that the two star crossed lovers could not be together at the end – and yet, I know that the story ended correctly.  Well, at least in my eyes it did.

I think this story will stay for me forever – it’s about treachery, love, devastation and ultimately redemption.  The ‘hero’ was fortunate that he had been able to make amends to the woman that he had wronged before he died.  The heroine knew that she had been loved after all, and although her heart had been broken, she received the closure that she needed as she healed.

It wasn’t a story that I read, it was a story that I watched, and although I’m a huge advocate of people reading, and spending time being lost in a book, I think the most important thing is hearing a story, and hearing about someone else’s life, and the effect that leaves upon you.  Sometimes, I wish we could go back to the days when people gathered around a campfire, snuggled up to one another and let their minds drift away whilst a village elder would narrate a story that might be new, or perhaps was heard many times before.  Because whether you read it, or watch it, or hear it – the story itself is the most important thing isn’t it?  Not the medium that it comes through.

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