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Japanese Maple Tree Story

Japanese Maple Tree, a short story by Zahra Pedram Jafari
Japanese Maple Tree Story by Zahra Pedram Jafari

It’s past midnight. I can’t sleep again. My heart is racing so fast, I can’t breathe and I feel a sharp pain in my chest. I sit up straight, cross both my hands on my chest and try to feel for my heart beat. My husband is moaning in his sleep, his breathing rhythm is so out of tune. It’s like he’s having another anxiety driven dream. I can’t take it anymore, I leave my bed and get out of the room whilst trying to breath in, hold and out slowly to calm myself.

I feel a sharp annoying pain again and press my right hand on my heart to grab it but instead I touch the softness of my blue night dress under my fingers. I pass by my daughters’ bedroom and, through the gap of the open door, silently look inside. They sleep like two angels on clouds. I might have miscalculated something. I brought them here to experience freedom, love, inclusiveness and life with all its beauty but instead they are experiencing loneliness, anxiety, fear and isolation.

They are here in the land of opportunities, wearing anything they want, eating and drinking anything they want, and can be anything they want but still something is missing.

It’s a gorgeous full moon night and I can see the small Japanese maple tree in the backyard through the window. It’s still so tiny, short and fragile. It was almost 5 years ago when Anna gave it to us. It was a seedling; small and delicate. Anna is a lovely woman, she is a second generation immigrant from European parents who fled the Second World War and settled in Australia. She was born here and married a nice Indian guy. She understands what it feels like to be excluded.

Our maple tree grows so slowly compared to other trees surrounding it. I don’t know much about gardening but I know the root of this tree is not used to the soil. Sometimes during winter, I watch it as it’s shaken wildly by the strong wind. It’s astonishing how it’s still managed survive and even slightly grows each year.  

It’s late, nearly 2 a.m., I must go to sleep to be able to go to work tomorrow morning. As I remember my reality, I feel a chilling breeze permeate my body. I have a mathematics diploma and engineering degree with an overall IELTS result of 6.5 but I’ve to work as a bank cashier for a manager who only finished high school but speaks English perfectly!

He told me yesterday that I am useless in front of all the staff and customers because I couldn’t win a customer over. I got pretty upset but didn’t know how to react and respond. It was unexpected and the way he said it, I wasn’t sure if this is the Australian way of joking around!

He usually gets surprised by me having an opinion or questioning him about a process. One time he told me: “Aren’t you from Iran? Don’t you do anything you are asked to over there?

Majority of Australians get their information about Iran from news and news channels always show the worst. My heart is beating way faster by rewinding these memories in my mind. I am not the type of a person to be ashamed of who I am and where I am coming from. I don’t change my name to fit in. I respect others and their beliefs but I don’t change to please them. Everybody tells me that I’ve to change if I want to fit in but I can’t, if I could change so easily then I would have never left my birth country.

My manager is an insecure, ignorant person. He is treating me even worse nowadays after he asked me to support him in his quarrel with one of our staff and told me: “I sometimes think I bully Fen.

 “I think sometimes you do!” I stupidly replied.

Fen is a Chinese hard working girl. She is not the most affectionate person I’ve met but the way our manager is treating her is unacceptable. They’ve created a toxic environment which I hate working in but I have to. My husband was a director of a very well-known company back in Iran with lots of qualifications and more than 20 years’ experience gained by only hard work and still he can’t find a job here. I guess he doesn’t fit in either!

I’ve to go to work and I’ve to force myself to sleep now, I can’t afford to make a mistake tomorrow. I don’t want my manager to blame me in front of customers. I grab a mug and pour water for myself to take Propranolol. This small red pill will make my heart beat slower and help me relax. I go back to my bed, among fluffy white sheets, lie down next to my husband and close my eyes, after all tomorrow is another day!

My daughter is already fully dressed and ready, standing next to my bed and calling my name softly. “Mom, wake up. It is 6:30″. I open my eyes with force.Don’t worry. I am awake.” I say.

I put my uniform on, wear a light makeup, using straightener to force my smooth hair to behave, and have a quick breakfast while listening to Dolly Parton song:

Tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
Yawn and stretch and try to come to life

Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumping
out on the street, the traffic starts jumping
with folks like me on the job from 9 to 5

Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living
Barely getting by, it’s all taking and no giving
They just use your mind, and they never give you credit
 enough to drive you crazy if you let it …..

How good she is describing me.” I am thinking. It is 7:30. We’ve to leave the house to drop off my daughter at school and get to work to start another unpleasant, demanding day at the branch.

I am at the end of authority link in our small branch. I’ve noticed everyone would like to act as a manager whenever they find a chance. I am eager to learn and I don’t mind letting them fulfill this desire of theirs through me if I could get something out of it but this is not always the case. I hate to be treated like a dumb person just because I am not a native English speaker or I am not familiar with slangs and culture.

It’s 9 and I’ve settled behind my desk ready for customers to walk in. My fellow colleague is sitting a bit further, in front of the other cashier, at the other end of the counter behind glass.

Emma is a conservative Christian who is against homosexuals. She doesn’t approve it because she was lesbian once and she is married to a man now so she believes this is just a choice. I’ve my own opinion about the matter. I don’t care what people’s religion or sexual preferences are as long as they have humanity and ethics, the rest are personal. I really like Andrew Barr and admire his excellent work as ACT chief minister and voted for him but I hate a young colleague I worked with at Myer who was by accident gay as well. I’ve to confess he diluted my judgment about gays for a while!  

Emma seems open minded enough to discuss sensitive subjects with but I know she isn’t always happy to hear my answers and most probably she believes I am a lost soul needing direction.

How was your weekend?” Emma asks.

She, just like most of people around here, knows only one answer to this question and is not interested in stories involving emotions except happiness and control. I filter all boring and painful stuff as usual. “Pretty good, how was yours?” I say

Really well, I went with David for kayak riding outside Canberra.” She says.

I don’t ask her about location because I wouldn’t know it anyways. I am sure even her direction and explanation wouldn’t help me to recognise the place. I’d most probably embarrass myself if I try to show any interest in something I don’t have any experience of and she will look at me like a poor uneducated middle easterner. Instead I talk about an article I’ve read recently.

I read this article about the high figures the Royal family spends on jewelry. Many people are hungry and suffering around the world. Have you noticed hardworking people like us who are already paying their ridiculous percentage of taxes, can’t even go shopping without being harassed by big chain retailers and pharmacies to donate for this cause and that?, while the Royal family whose numbers grow every year are commissioning and wearing jewelries to prove what exactly? I’ve always been wondering where these funds are coming from? What is the role of The Royal family except entertaining, causing scandal and spending the nations’ money?” I say.

She suddenly changes color and looks at me suspiciously. Thankfully a regular customer interrupts us with his deposit slip and a bag of money to deposit. She ignores me, shifts her attention to the customer, smiles and asks him about his day while processing his request. A couple of minutes passes while we both get busy serving customers attentively. I could feel the tension under her fake smile. Eventually it gets quiet again. She sorts out the money, closes till and looks at me coldly.

As an Australian citizen she is our Queen, our head of state. The Queen has demonstrated incredible duty and loyalty to what she was called to by God. She is an incredible woman of strength, faith and sustains many in the face of hardship and loss. She has tirelessly given of herself for the needs of others irrespective of her own personal circumstances ever since being crowned Queen. She is the epitome of service, humility and selflessness. She is to be honored. She gives enormous amounts of her money, her time away to charities and organizations promoting youth, supporting military families who have experienced loss and a great deal more. During Covid she has been a constant strength and support to the people of Britain, who have experienced great loss of life. The line of the royal family extends as far back as the Roman Empire. She and many members of the immediate royal family and extended family work tirelessly giving of their time and commitment to various organizations. In fact second only to the Queen is the Princess Royal-Anne who works exhaustively for charities serving the poor and destitute, who would otherwise not exist. The Royal family generates a very substantial income from their own business endeavors to reduce the money coming from the public purse. Please do your research before making disparaging statements about a nation’s head of state you’ve been privileged to call your home. The British people are inextricably tied to the monarchy, it’s inherent of who they are as a nation. Australia is a nation with its own identity. But we exist only because of the infamous individual exploration talents of the British Empire.”

I’m shocked, looking at her in surprise. This is not the first time I was told how blessed I am to live in a good house here in Australia. They don’t know anything about me, they don’t know how was the quality of my life before moving to Australia, why and how I am here, but then I am coming from Iran so I am definitely blessed to be here!

I didn’t leave my country out of fear for my life, I didn’t leave because I was hungry and struggled financially. I suddenly remember the green demonstration in 2009 when a relatively friendly protest turned into a bloody war zoon in the streets of Tehran.

Nobody would like to hear opinions against theirs no matter where you live. Freedom is just an ambiguous word and one’s freedom may be in confrontation with someone else’s.” I think.

I feel all the blood of my body suddenly gather on my face. I can imagine my face like a cartoon character; red with steams coming out of the ears. I feel my heart beating faster than ever. I can’t make a sound out of my mouth, my voice is cracked like I am suffocating and don’t have enough air to breath. This is not the first time I am being treated like shit just for having an opinion and I am sure it wouldn’t be the last.

I stand up, looking at Emma and say: ” wow Emma this is aggressive…calm down. First of all this country is also privileged to have me as a skilled migrant coming here with lots of money and needed skill. Secondly, you are a migrant yourself and this country belongs to Aboriginals originally so you don’t have the right to tell me that I am privileged to be here as though you own this country. Third, you can love your Queen I don’t and if you were mature enough to respect my opinion you wouldn’t get so aggressive about it since I am not the only one who has raised an argument against the Royal family. Arguments vary from the inequality and hierarchy in society brought upon by their system, improper use of the taxpayers money and etc. I can raise many examples for these, however, I prefer not to get into it here as I don’t believe you’d listen either way which is fine by me but I am allowed to share my opinion and I should also remind you that as an academic who has read many books about the history of the British empire and monarchy for many years I’ve done my research and just because my opinion is against yours it does not give you the right to disrespect it so aggressively.”

My manager comes out of his office hearing our voices, looking at me surprisingly. I could see from the corner of my eyes a customer approaches him and hear her asking “what is wrong with her.” And he says:” She is always like this.”

I can’t take it anymore. I grab my bag from the locker at the back room. Slam the door and leave the branch while I am yelling “you guys are unbelievable!”

I am feeling sick and my eyes are filled with tears. I breathe deeply, walking towards the bathrooms, ignore people’s stares and enter one of the cubicles, sitting on the toilet and break to tears. My brain is in an endless race with my heart, “I’ve to call my husband…., I am not going back to that shithole … but how can we manage…..we put all our money to build the house… husband doesn’t have a job… I can’t ….I am not going back…” I am thinking.

A couple of minutes pass like hours and no one even cares to ask if I am okay. I call my husband and ask him to pick me up. I wipe off my tears and move back to the branch. I’ve to close the till and pass over all my duties and passcodes to another staff to be able to leave this place of torture. I am not feeling well but I gather all my energy and concentrate to finish the job without any help and mistake. I leave the branch without engaging with anyone.

Their judgmental stares is like a laser beam burning my skin.

That night after having a seductive injection at the doctor office, I sit in front of TV watching movies purposelessly when I see the ad for a writing competition. I am a good writer in my mother tongue and have always enjoyed dueling with words on paper. It might be time to pursue this forgotten desire. It’s time to write and organise these scrambled thoughts which are burning me from within. It could calm me down and give me a purpose to survive for.

On the way to my room, I glance at the maple tree in the garden through the window. It’s struggling to fight the wind and I’m imagining its roots growing deeper and deeper into the soil. “This tree will make it.” I think.

I grab my laptop, sitting in my bed leaning back and write “Japanese Maple Tree

Japanese Maple Tree Story enters SBS Competition

2 thoughts on “Japanese Maple Tree Story

  1. Japanese maple tree is struggling to find the wind but its root is growing deeper and deeper. You will grow your root too, deeper and deeper. Wonderful story. I felt this story can be a trigger to start to speak up of our silent inner shouts. The thoughts which are usually ignored and by stopping talking about them then we may cause to have our depression, anxiety or stress. Speak up!

    1. 🌺🌺🌺

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