In spite of all our efforts, on day sixteen a man came to turn off the electricity supply.
‘Well that’s it,’ Eva said, ‘we did our best, but we can’t carry on.’
‘Just give me another day,’ Charlie begged.
He came up to the treehouse and waited for inspiration. ‘Like leaves on a tree,’ he said at length, ‘we’re all like leaves on a tree.’
His next idea was helped along by the government. Humans have things called governments. I think they are like sheepdogs which nose everybody onto certain paths, though they can also be like nasty guard dogs. The government had started putting up posters and sending out leaflets with slogans like, ‘Don’t do it alone,’ and ‘Energy - it’s for sharing,’ and there were pictures of group bake-ins, TV parties, and car sharing. Everyone in the pictures was smiling.
Charlie made his own leaflet and showed it to Eva.
‘Street Meet. Swap, Share and Save,’ she read. She looked questioningly at Charlie.
‘So you want to invite all the neighbours round here for a meeting, on Friday.’
‘Yes, so we can help each other survive.’ Eva raised her eyebrows. ‘That’s how it will be,’
Up till then I had seen about twenty humans up close. All at once there was another twenty.
The thing with humans is that, though they seem pretty much identical, if you look carefully you notice subtle differences. Trees are obviously different, with different numbers of branches in different arrangements, and trunks and roots which twist and fork in endless ways. You could never mistake one tree for another. Humans all have two arms, two legs, a head. It takes practice to tell them apart – then you notice little things like the cleft in Eva’s chin, and how Conal’s freckles run together. Eyes, though, are the giveaway; eyes are never alike.
Seeing all those new faces I’m afraid I got over-excited.
‘Look at that one,’ I said to Holly, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before.’
‘Like what?’ said Holly.
‘No hair at all - head like a potato.’
‘Hm,’ said Holly, and she went back to contemplating the clouds.
‘Oh look, there’s a brand new one. Look, look, look.’
‘Is that a human shoot?’ said Holly.
‘It’s called a baby,’ I said.
Eva actually frowned up at the window then, because I, in my eagerness, was blocking out the light.
Soon every chair and cushion was taken. Everyone joked about how bad things were. I watched closely as strangers knit into neighbours.
When the meeting was over Charlie had made a list of skills and surplus stuff that people were willing to swap. He also made a deal with Graham next door.
A long wire appeared. It came out of Graham’s window, tightened across my trunk, passed through our kitchen window and ran up to the washing machine. Eva flicked it on and sighed with relief as it started to churn. In return Eva handed a big box of fruit and veg over the hedge to Graham.
Eva seemed to try harder after that. She could see that everyone was
struggling and that they would have to help each other. Charlie was right; from
then on, that’s how it would be. And she had another reason for keeping going.
Animals have this padding on their branches: they call it fat, it’s protection
and a food store. Eva was losing hers and for some reason this seemed to
please her. ‘You should be worried,’ I said, ‘never know when you’re going to
need those fat stores,’ but she just stood in front of the long mirror and held
her loose jeans away from her flat stomach with a satisfied smile.
Charlie put a big red cross through day thirty and high-fived Eva.
He came to the window and looked at the garden. ‘See, I said I wouldn’t
desert you,’ I heard him think. He turned back to Eva.
‘Now, do you promise not to sell the Jungle?’
‘I can’t promise. But if things stay as they are and we get the power back on soon, then I think we’ll manage. Is that OK?’
During the experiment they had learned to live almost like trees I thought with satisfaction; they ate and drank and breathed and seemed content. Except for one thing.
Every morning they sat at the breakfast table listening. If the postman passed the door Eva looked relieved. If the letter box rattled, a light came into Charlie’s eyes but Eva’s face tightened. It wasn’t just bills she dreaded. I suspected it also had to do with that letter hidden under the bread bin. But it all came out soon enough.