The tree house that built me: A story by Sanjukta Ghoshal

I was twelve, when my mother died, and  my father sent me to stay with my grandparents, here in Goa. What I loved the most about their bungalow was the big yard at the back, with an old beech tree by the fences. A half-built tree house sat snug amidst its branches. Grandpa told me, my great-grandfather had been building it for his elder son.

“But grandpa, you never told me you had a brother?” I asked.

Grandpa’s eyes looked sad, “He died at 8. He was a very naughty child. He fell from the beech tree itself, when my father was working on the tree house, and then, he never woke up. Father never completed the construction after that.”

I sighed, half sad for the child and half wishing the tree house was completed.

Within days, however, to my delight, I found grandpa marching towards the unfinished tree house, armed with plywood and tools. I chipped in, quickly learning things. Phew! A lot of science went into building my eight-by-eight-foot tree house.

It became my secret nook. On Sundays, I lazed on its floor, watching birds flock on my balcony. As days passed, I added more features to my den – a birdbath and potted plants.

On bad days, I would stay there for hours into the night. And ‘he’ would come, my little companion.

“You’ve made this place beautiful. I love it,” he would say, making me smile. I wasn’t afraid. I knew this was the naughty kid that wanted a treehouse for himself, just like me. He only came when I felt sad or missed my mother, or father.

One night, when I was sixteen, and at the mercy of my emotions, having had my heart broken, my little friend told me, “If you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll tell you a secret.”

I smiled, “Fine. Promise!”

“Find the hole in the trunk of this tree. There’s something in there for you.”

Next day, I had discovered this hole and bravely shoved my hand into it. I got bitten by ants but recovered a pair of black binoculars from there.

“Where did you get those?” Grandpa asked, when I showed him.

“From a friend.”

“Looks expensive. My brother had a pair, just like those. We never found them after he died.”

I never saw my little friend again. I carried the binoculars wherever I went, guarding them like a precious treasure. I watched the birds with them from my tree house. Not before long, Grandpa gifted me a field-guide. Soon I was able to tell the birds from one another, orioles, sun-birds, and many more. My lair became a retreat for the birds from the adjoining forests.

Today, I am twenty-eight, and a renowned ornithologist. As I leave for Italy to accept an award for my research, I bid a final adieu to my tree house: sure I built it up from skeletons to a beauty, but it was the tree house that really built me.