IT WAS recess and I was walking from the classrooms when I heard the unmistakable rattling of a chainsaw. The sound came from the direction of the head teacher’s house.
The tree fellers were here and the ancient, wrinkled mango tree was coming down.
Arriving at the scene, I saw a group of local men assisting the chainsaw operator.
There had been much controversy in the months and years leading up this moment.
I knew the old mango tree near the head teacher’s house had been judged and found wanting. Its ancient memories would soon be forever erased.
Crowded on one side were straight faced teachers, excited students and others locals had never before seen.
Everyone was focused on the operator as he occasionally revved the chainsaw to gain traction into the thick trunk of the age old tree.
The teachers’ spouses and children had been told to keep their distance and I saw them lined up along the deputy head teacher’s flower garden.
There had been rumours and theories whispered of a supernatural and hidden realm around the ancient mango tree.
Night security guards occasionally said they had caught glimpses of shadowy silhouettes moving in a flickering glow beneath the tree.
They always saw this from afar and, upon investigation, no one ever found any evidence.
Some teachers told of late night encounters on their way to their houses; of silent whispers, hushed laughter and dry coughs emitting from the tree.
Once, the head teacher’s wife had a night terror where she saw herself being dragged by grotesque shadows from her bed to the tree.
She said a huge bonfire was burning and she had heard the distinct sounds of kundu and singsing throbbing from inside the tree.
She escaped this terror by screaming and flaying her arms and legs in bed, waking up everyone in the house.
But there were a few skeptics to such hysteria.
The deputy head teacher said the scaremongers were delusional and bringing their village mentality into the school. He would bring this up at the next staff meeting, he said.
Another teacher foretold that this was a sign that the last days were approaching and that teachers would need to repent their sins.
Male teachers have been regularly drinking on weekends and socialising too much with the local community, he said. This had to stop to bring back integrity to the school.
As the chainsaw cut into the tree, people said they would miss the juicy mangoes that ripened and hung from the tired branches during each year’s mango season.
The children of the head teacher said that finally their daily chores of sweeping, raking and collecting fallen mango leaves would be no more.
It seemed everyone had a different story of the old mango tree.
It took some time to cut down the tree and the chainsaw continuously strained against the wood as the teeth tore their way into its belly. The operator’s veins stuck out from his thin arms as he strained with the saw.
The men holding the rope tied to the upper trunk of the tree were now on standby to pull the tree away from the head teacher’s house.
Some students and teachers stepped in to assist.
A teacher came with his axe to help but the axe handle broke.
Grim-faced spectators nodded and eyed each other, contemplating the tree’s malevolence even to its end.
Then, suddenly, the tree heaved momentarily.
A cyclone of gasps and shrieks erupted from the onlookers,
With a strong heave and masculine grunts, the old mango tree came tumbling down, well away from the head teacher’s house.
It fell to the ground with a thunderous crash. Its fall shook the earth and all the trees and houses around.
The sound of splintering branches and swirling leaves filled the air. A thin layer of dust swirled around.
My heart leaped for a moment as I thought I heard the old mango tree sigh its last breath.
A few birds scuttled into the air from nearby trees, not wanting to be around.
And for a few seconds the onlookers’ din and excitement hushed.
dear old mango tree/
you are cursed no more/