River Elmhurst ran as fast as he could, past towering grey buildings, houses that could offer no comfort, laughing children whose jubilation he could not comprehend and tall grasses which he stared to disappear into. He was well hidden from unpredictable vehicles and inquisitive passer-bys who were probably non existent in that deserted place. He was concealed by the grass, like a dark secret, from the harshness of the world and most importantly, from Albion Caligo and his foul gang.
River lay there, in the never ending sea of tall grass. He closed his tired eyes and drifted into the realm of sleep. A cool breeze ruffled his brown hair gently, and smoothed out the rough lines of distress on his forehead. He looked content.
Perched on a distant tree, a raven let out a loud, raucous cry. River woke up shaking. A tear rolled down his sunken cheeks and once the first tear managed to break free, the rest followed in an unimpaired stream. "It was just a dream", he told himself in a futile attempt to soothe himself as he soon realised that all that he dreamt of was in fact, a reenactment of his waking life.
The dream continued to haunt him for the rest of the day, as he walked past luminous streams, meadows who adorned themselves with wild flowers and through thick foliages of green, luxuriant vegetation.
River's dream was determined. It was full of zest and ardor to torment its dreamer. Flashes of the dream zoomed past River's mind.
Albion Caligo and his group of friends were standing over him. Each of them were holding onto a metal rod of some sort. They poked him with it and joked about him; about how scrawny and gawky he was, how he would never be as big and as cool as anyone of them and about how much of a loner he was.
That part of the dream faded away as a new fragment drifted into view. This one was about his mother; the only friend that he ever had. It was about misfortune, darkness, grief and death. It was about how he had lost the only one who had loved him.
The last part showed him running past buildings, people and tall grass. It was about how blue-eyed River Elmhurst, a ten year old orphan, who had no friends to call his own, decides to run away from what he had known as, "the world".
There it stood, tall and mighty, with its cascading branches and elongated leaves which formed a canopy-like structure over it. It was a weeping willow tree which stood amidst the woodland of white, unadorned birch trees. River walked towards it with curiosity.
He reached out to touch its leaves, then it's bark followed by its branches. He had never seen anything like it before. He started to become aware of how suitable a "hide out " location this willow would be, with its branches and leaves which resembled curtains that would shield him from Albion Caligo, his gang and "the world".
There was a river nearby which curved gently around the forest. It sprung over rocks and flickered like glitter on the surface. Rivers are the soul of the forest, some say, and this one was sublime.
River scooped a hand through the water and quenched his thirst. The life blood of the forest now ran through his bloodstreams. He made his way back to the willow tree and leaned back against it as the sweet fragrance of the woods drifted to his nostrils. Nature energised him with its wonders. The friskiness in a child, which was buried deep inside him, started to awaken and come alive. He decided that introducing himself to an old willow tree would be a good idea and so, he did it.
"They call me River", he said showily as he marched around the tree, with arms on his hips. "And I'm no big cheese. But I really love your home and...I'd like to be your friend", he uttered, now in a rather soft and friendly voice.
The wind blew and the willow tree swayed in accordance to the direction of the light breeze. River took that as a sign of acceptance, and hence, a new friendship was formed.
Transitioning many summer hungering springs, heat quenching summers, falling leaves of autumns and frosty winters, the bond between the friends grew and fused.
River found himself returning to the calming company of the willow tree every other day. He would nestle in it's branches, in mutual silence which spoke depths. They were many days too when the willow swayed it's branches approvingly listening to many of River's monologues. He would babble on about his relishes; about the various nuts and wild berries that appealed to his taste buds while he smeared some squashed berry extract onto the tree, allowing his companion to sample the sweetness of the hips.
The willow became River's custodian of secrets, anxieties, doubts and fears. Sometimes River would get reminded of his late mother, or of horrid Albion Caligo. His burning eyes would have no control over each translucent trickle of grief. When that happened, the willow would weep along, shedding its tear-shaped leaves onto the forest floor.
When the skies were dark and gloomy, and the clouds were in a haste to release its fury, the willow tree was river's sanctuary. It sheltered him from the merciless weather.
The tree accepted River without any judgement. It shielded him from the grimness of the world. The willow was River's only listener. It was the soother of his pains and the friend that he could not find amongst the crowd of humankind.
Eighteen years went by in a blink. Life's order ensured River to fall in love. He went away in hopes of a joyous matrimony and in search for a stable job which was vital for the new union. Days became months that turned to years and River had not visited his confidant.
An estranged marriage, strained his career and pockets and emptied his soul. He was left with nothing at all. Happiness was a hallucinatory. Melancholy held him captive and his heart was made into a burrow of misery.
He passed by familiar structures and landscape as he walked aimlessly. He was subconsciously walking towards the woodland where he had spent most of his days in. Passing by streams and meadows, nature was already working it's magic on him. There was a sudden explosion of green and River felt his body tingle with exhilaration. His eyes widened and breath deepened.
He spotted a willow tree in the heart of the forest. It swayed in the wind with its majesty.