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A leaf wonders why it must eventually fall

Sometimes I look down at the forest floor below and I wonder what is out there. All my life, I have been sitting on the same branch, on the same tree, in the same forest. I have no idea of the world beyond. In my tree, I am part of a community, but in the outside world, all I am is a tiny leaf amongst millions of others. But soon, after staring at the darkness below, I feel a sense of dread slowly seep through me. It starts from the tip of my leaf and trickles down into my veins until I am forced to look away and hope that I never have to leave the warmth of my branch. But I know that that isn’t possible. It isn’t possible for any of us.

As a society, us leaves don’t have many rules. We have to provide food to the rest of the tree, and we have to be welcoming to any bird, insect, or animal that chooses to rest on our branches. Other than that, we mostly have the freedom to do what we wish. However, the community has one rule that we all have to follow. It is called the Fall.

Every one of us, at some point in our lives, has to fall. They leave it up to us to decide when we are ready, but this rule is nonnegotiable. When we were young leaves, we never took this rule seriously. It was something in the far-off future that we didn’t have to think about. We would spend our days filled with innocent delight, wishing we could fly with the birds and run with the animals, and our nights staring at the stars shimmering like silver dust in the dark sky. We would remain on our branches, never thinking that a day would come when we would have to leave them.

But as we grew older and matured, we started to understand the importance of this rule and knew that someday we would have to leave. I have watched all the other leaves on my branch fall. Some dropped fast, gaining speed as they fell. For some, the wind took over and they were swept away. Some never even made it to the ground. But all of them were ready. I could see it in the color of their skin, the way the edges of their leaves curled up in apprehension. I could see it in the way their veins pulsed with energy. I’ve watched each one of them on their journey. I’ve observed the way they drop into the abyss of darkness, into a chasm of the unknown, almost fearlessly. I watched until they faded into tiny specks like paint on a canvas and disappeared into a whole new world. Each time, I felt a sense of loss. Loss of a friend to another community and loss of the opportunity to join them.

The sun rises and sets each day, and the moon dances its way in and out each night, but somehow, I am never ready to fall.

The sun rises and sets each day, and the moon dances its way in and out each night, but somehow, I am never ready to fall. The frosty cold of winter morphs into the pleasant warmth of spring. But I am not ready. The scorching heat seeps in as spring turns into summer. But I am still not ready. Even autumn passes and I am surrounded by other falling leaves. But I remain tethered to my branch, unable to move. I see younger leaves falling happily through the air, laughing with glee as they reach the ground. I see the older leaves jumping gracefully off the branch, gently fluttering toward the ground. But I continue to wait. I can feel the judging eyes of the other leaves in my community piercing through me, trying to cut me apart with their stares, wondering why I haven’t fallen yet.

I have come close to being ready many a time. I have teetered toward the edge of the precipice. But something has always stopped me. Maybe it was fear. A fear that consumes me. It engulfs my body like a gigantic wave at sea and takes away the last pinch of courage I had. How can I jump without knowing what’s below? Some nights, while I stare at the moon shining like a light bulb in the midst of darkness, I wonder why the community even has this rule. Why are we being forced to fall?

Soon the days seemed to merge into each other, forming a monotonous routine. I stopped waking up every day wondering whether today would be the day that I was finally ready. That littlest dash of hope that added the tiniest tinge of color into an otherwise grey sky began to fade as each day passed. I was ready to succumb to my unfortunate fate. I was ready to give up.

And then, suddenly, I heard it. I heard the noise that changed my life. It was a garish, barbaric noise that made me tense in my branch. Suddenly I felt uneasy. The sound became clearer as I heard steps approaching. I dared not look in the direction, as if looking away would help me pretend it wasn’t there. Loud, harsh words in a strange language that was so different from the gentle whispering of the trees reverberated all around. It was as if the forest had become still. The birds had stopped their melodious tunes in warning. The squirrels scuttled away to hide. For a few moments, there was silence, like the calm before a storm.

And then I heard the dreaded noise. The noise of an axe. I anxiously waited for the pulse until I realized it wasn’t my tree. A guilty sense of relief surged through me. The whole forest seemed to be waiting. However, nothing could prepare me for what happened next. A clean swish of the axe. The tree collapsed. A flurry of sounds and emotions ambushed me. I heard birds squawking indignantly. I heard insects chattering worriedly. But the worst sound of all was the leaves. Millions of leaves falling. Their usual gentle whispering turned into desperate shivers of anguish. The guttural sounds swirled around me. Hundreds of emotions engulfed me—pain, guilt, and fear. But the most powerful emotion I felt was anger.

Sparks of fury raged inside me. Fury against those barbaric creatures that drove hundreds of birds and animals from their homes, who destroyed millions of innocent leaves whose time hadn’t yet come. In that moment, I finally understood the reason for the rule of my community. They wanted to protect us. They wanted to give us a choice, to give us a chance to be ready when we fall— unlike these poor leaves. My anger slowly dissolved, and I felt a strange sense of peace and tranquility. What I had seen earlier as an empty void of uncertainty suddenly changed into an inviting world of opportunities. I took a deep breath and released myself, and in that moment all I could think of was that finally I could fly with the birds.

A single leaf gracefully fluttered to the ground.

Ananya Nigam
Ananya Nigam, 13
Gurugram, India

Claire Lu
Claire Lu, 13
Portola Valley, CA