I had seen that old lady sitting out by the big oak tree for a few weeks. It was odd to say the least because I had never seen her with anyone else. No friends of husband.
Some days she brought food and had a picnic on the bit of grass surrounding the roots. Other days, she people watched or gazed at the clouds, but she was always alone and seemed slightly detached and sullen.
I don’t know what made me so interested. Perhaps it was her contrary existence to everything else around her. The big oak was on a small patch of land in the middle of the city. A beautiful last effort to keep a bit of green among the concrete, asphalt, and metal.
No one else seemed to pay her any attention. Some days she’d get looks when she brought food but otherwise, no one bothered this old lady. Eventually she stopped bringing food and gazing at the clouds; she just sat there, her back against the tree, staring out at nothing.
I’m not sure what compelled me, but I stopped one morning and spoke to her.
“Excuse me,” I said, making her look up with faded eyes. “But why do you always sit by this tree?”
The old lady smiled. “Because it is a very old friend.”
I definitely didn’t understand.
“You know this tree?”
“For eons,” she said, then place a hand against its trunk and gave it a smile only meant for people you love. “They might tear this tree down soon.”
She shrugged. “Why anything?”
I could see how people wouldn’t want such a large tree in the middle of the city but I thought it was nice. I said my goodbyes and went to work.
On my way home the old lady would usually be gone, but after a week, I had begun to see her in the evening as well. The morning rush of workers blew by her and the evening rush did the same as well.
Every day this lady sat by her favorite tree. Her friend as she called it. I admired her dedication.
One morning it rained. Usually she would not be there, I think it was too cold for her, but this time I saw her, sitting right where she normally sat, gazing out at nothing.
This was the second time I stopped to speak to her. I had my umbrella with me and shielded her with it though the oak did most of that for us.
“Good morning. Isn’t it a bit too cold out today?”
But she didn’t reply. I knelt down and saw her glassy eyes were unfocused. I wrinkled my nose. She smelled funny, slightly sweet.
I didn’t even know her name. I touched her shoulder gently and she slumped over like a sack of rocks. I gasped and scrambled back.
She had been dead. I didn’t know for how long, but no one had noticed a thing. I couldn’t believe it.
It took twenty minutes for the coroner to come and get her. I watched her sheet covered body be put in the back of their van.
“Did you know her?”
“Not really,” I said. “I’ve spoken to her before though. Do you know her name?”
The coroner shook their head. “A Jane Doe.”
And then they drove away.
For the next few weeks, the tree stood alone. I felt like something was missing and would stop on my way back from work to smoke under the tree.
This went on for another week until one morning I saw nothing but a bare patch of land. No tree in sight and three construction workers preparing cement. I stopped, mouth agape.
“What happened to the oak here?” I asked
“City got rid of it.”
“Dug it up during the night. We’ll put a bike post right here,” he said.
I didn’t say anything more. No one else seemed to notice the change. The world had continued to move on.
I chose a new route to work from that day on. I couldn’t bear to look at the empty space where that big oak and the old lady, used to be.