Land of Stone and Thyme Read-Along #1: The Tree by Ahmed Omar Shaheen

I’m going to say this piece is speculative, but it is ambiguous enough to defy simple genre categories. This piece of flash fiction is only a page long.

Like a mother, the tree had protected us, offering us refuge in its abundant, intertwining branches. And because the guardian of the gemeiz tree protected us too, we would throw stones at the bandits, and they could do nothing in return.

The Tree, Ahmed Omar Shaheen

A whole story contained in an extended ekphrasis of a gemeiz tree. Gemeiz is the Egyptian term for the sycomore fig, a tree that historically grew throughout most of Palestine and is used several times in the Bible, and Mishna as a valuable fruit crop, but also a geographic marker. It was also known as the Tree of Life in ancient Egypt.

Is is not made clear who the ‘guardian’ refers to. In Palestinian folklore, trees that are older than seventy can become inhabited by the spirits of saints. The transformation of the tree from a protector full of life and wholesomeness to one of decay, abandonment, and malice is performed by ‘branding’ it with hot irons after which the tree has a “new guardian” who is hostile to the them.

Together they tied a strong rope around the thick trunk of the tree and with red hot irons they branded it,

The Tree, Ahmed Omar Shaheen

Ahmed Omar Shaheen was born in 1940, in Jaffa, Palestine. He settled in Gaza after 1948. He is a novelist, critic, and compiler of encyclopedic dictionaries. His works include:

A House for Stoning, a House for Prayer 1989.
Situations, 1992.
Encyclopedia of Palestinian Men of Letters in the Twentieth Century 1992.

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