Once upon a time, when I was a little seed, I dreamed that I could see the Sun. I dreamed about what it would feel like when her beautiful rays would cover all of my leaves in a pretty golden light. I remember the first day I felt the Sun: it felt like her warm hands were holding me tightly. But before I could feel more, Nelsinho,1 my little gardener, planted me firmly into the ground. He said to me, “Alcance em direção à luz do sol, meu amigo, para ser a árvore maior de Kaki!”2 A “kaki” is another name for the Brazilian persimmon tree that grows tall and full of delicious fruit. They are sweet and tasty. Nelsinho gave me the nickname Kaki, and he was my best friend.
In the beginning, I looked like every other seed in my little gardener’s bag: I was brown and tiny. Until one day, Nelsinho brought me out into the light. For one breathless moment, I could feel the Sun. But then suddenly that feeling was gone as Nelsinho’s small hands placed me into the dirt and buried me deeper into the earth. I cried out to my gardener, scared of what was happening around me, but he laughed and patted more dirt onto my head. He said to me, “Se eu não planta, você não vai crescer!”3 And so, with each passing day, I pushed my way outside of my shell, twisting my roots deep into the damp earth. It felt good and cool, but it was still very dark. I missed how the sunlight had felt.
It was not the same for Nelsinho, who lived above the ground. Our little town was below the mountain, a few miles away from the capital city, Rio de Janeiro. The Sun blazed hotly in the sky here, which could be bad for tiny seeds like me who are trying to grow. But my little gardener loved me and everyday he would walk up to the mountain spring and collect cool water in his mother’s clay jug for me to drink. She had painted beautiful Toucan birds all around it, reminding Nelsinho of his trips to the River.
Even though he was only eleven years old, Nelsinho always made time to look after me, for his father was a gardener, too, and taught him how to care for the trees. He would come in the morning and water me just before noon time. He liked to sit on the back of his heels, watching my little patch of dirt to make sure that I was ok.
I couldn’t feel the sunlight just yet but I really wanted to. My brothers in the spaces next to me had already begun to sprout. But not me. I was still twining my roots into the earth when my brothers’ heads began to shoot up out of the ground. I could hear them say together, “Surpreenda! Esta luz do sol sente-se tão bom!”4 I was sad. When would it be my turn to feel the sunlight?
Weeks went by. I felt like I would never feel the Sun again. But one day, after Nelsinho had watered me, something changed. I opened my eyes for the very first time. “É tão brilhante!”5 I shouted, feeling the sunlight on my tiny head. Nelsinho laughed with delight, clapping his hands together. Finally I could feel the Sun again! I saw my brothers around me, they were so tall already! And here was I, still so small. I stuck my face up and out, determined to grow tall and full of fruit, soaking in the Sun’s warm rays right down to the tips of my curly roots.
Months went by. The Sun felt good on my head and tiny green leaves began to sprout around under me. Nelsinho was growing, too. He had long arms and legs and his voice had grown deeper. The people of the town who walked along the field joked and said that he was becoming an “adolescente”6 and I wondered if I could be one, too. I saw the townspeople go, watching the men’s dark-colored bombachas7 float up in the breeze. But still Nelsinho came and watered me every day. He would wipe his cotton sleeves across his brow and sit cross-legged beside me, watching the cool water soak into the soil. I shook my leaves as hard as I could, trying to grow taller, like my older brothers. Yet, he would smile and say to me, “Alcance em direção à luz do sol, Kaki, para ser a árvore maior!”8
My brothers continued to grow bigger and stronger with every passing month. They soared over top of me, their deep green leaves shining in the sun. But I was still small and starting to hunch in the middle.
I began to worry when Nelsinho came to see me one day. He looked at my leaves and the branches around my trunk. He could see my proud brothers growing taller around me. He did not look too happy. Nelsinho told me, “Ah, Kaki pobre. Suas licenças são tão pequenas e seus ramos são torcidos. Eu ameixa seca suas licenças dos irmãos de modo que possa alcançar em direção à luz do sol.”9 He hung his head and sighed. I couldn’t understand it. Why was I growing… twisted? My other brothers were tall and lean and their white flowers were already beginning to bud. But my trunk was gnarled and my branches were braided like pieces of heavy brown rope. I cried out to them, but my brothers ignored me, soaking in the light of the Sun and singing with delight as their flowers budded and bloomed around them. So, I shook my leaves as hard as I could, trying to grow taller. “Não preocupe-se10, Kaki,” Nelsinho said, “Alcance em direção à luz do sol!”11 I did my best, raising my head tall, just like my brothers, toward the bright sunlight.
Years went by. My brothers almost completely blocked the sunlight from me. I grew even more stunted, my trunk crooked and gnarled. Still, Nelsinho would walk to the mountain spring, collect the water in his mother’s old clay jug, and bring it to me. He let me drink, touching the smooth knots on my trunk and face. His hands were stronger and he looked older. The people who walked along the edge of the field talked seriously to one another, saying, “Nelsinho está crescendo em um bom moço.”12 I wondered what the people said about me with my gnarled roots and twisted face. So, I looked up at Nelsinho, but he only looked sad when he felt my smooth yet rough bark. I saw how he looked at my brothers, then hopefully at me. I didn’t want to let him down.
Yet, as we grew, people would come to the persimmon orchard to see my brothers. My brothers were very beautiful. Their leaves were full and green and the sunlight danced all over them. White flowers grew in large clusters on their branches and the little girls would come and pick them to place in each other’s braids. Nelsinho was very tall, just like my brothers. His face was so tan and full of life. As he mulched the ground around us, he would sing the harvest time song:
“Belo belo são as árvores,
Como a luz do sol senta-se em cima de suas folhas.
Observar e o espera para a fruta crescer,
Debaixo de suas sucursais nós esperamos embaixo.
A fruta que você suporta é tão saboroso e doce,
E amadurece rapidamente no calor quente de verão.”13
I watched the muscles move in his arms and legs; they looked like the knots and cords that twisted along my trunk. I wondered if my muscles were as strong as Nelsinho’s. The girls from the village began to notice the change in Nelsinho’s appearance. They would watch him the orchard; their beaded necklaces clacking together as they giggled and laughed along the edge of the field saying, “Ah, olhar para ele! O marido de uma multa que ele iria fazer!”14 They would run away when Nelsinho smiled at them, their colorful shawls billowing out behind them. Sometimes, a pretty girl from the village would place flowers at his feet while he slept under my wilting branches. She was very beautiful, too.
More years went by. Tiny white flowers grew on some of my branches. “Olhar! A fruta cresce,”15 Nelsinho said to the girl— who was now a young woman—whose name was Dorcelina. I shook my branches and my tiny white flowers fell into her dark brown hair. She giggled and smiled up at me, “Obrigado16, Kaki!” she said. I beamed with pride.
In the meantime, my brothers bore baskets and baskets of bright orange and yellow persimmons. Nelsinho would give them to Dorcelina and they would eat together, lying against my trunk during the hot afternoons. Now, Nelsinho would take her up to the mountain spring and together they would collect the water there for me in his mother’s clay jug. They sat beneath my limbs, tracing the deep knots and grooves along my bark, touching the tiny pieces of fruit that grew on my twisted branches. But my fruit was not ready yet. The sunlight weaved its way through my leaves while Nelsinho and Dorcelina slept.
Months went by. Harvest time was coming and the people of the village came to collect the persimmons. Many gathered around me. One woman even said, “Que feio.”17 But I didn’t mind. I knew that I was just as good of a persimmon tree as my brothers, just as Nelsinho said I was. I was bearing fruit, too! But no one would come to pick the persimmons that grew on my branches. They would point at my twisted trunk saying, “As outras árvores bloquearam sua luz do sol e cresceu torcido. Olhe como o tronco espirala. Seus ramos são pequenos como sua fruta.”18 I hung my limbs low to the ground. I wished that Nelsinho was here.
And just as the last of the townspeople passed me, Nelsinho came with Dorcelina. They ran toward me, carrying brightly colored baskets in their arms. Dorcelina sang the harvest time song and Nelsinho prepared the ladder underneath me. “Hurra, vêm selecionar minha fruta!”19 I shouted, shaking my leaves with delight. The people gathered around me, watching the boy, now a man, climb the wooden ladder. He carefully picked the fruit from my limbs, and handed them down to the girl. They laughed and sang together as the people watched them pick the fruit from the twisted tree.
“Você não pode comer essa fruta! A árvore é torcida e a fruta seguramente provará mau,”20 the people said. But Nelsinho took out his pocket knife anyway. He cut two pieces of the bright orange persimmon fruit and gave one half to Dorcelina and saved one for himself. They each took a big bite, smiling as they did so. “Ah, delicioso! Isto é a melhor fruta em todo o pomar!”21 they exclaimed. The people looked at each other confused. Nelsinho called them closer, “Por favor, amigos, vêm tentaesta fruta surpreendente.”22 They went to him and took the pieces of persimmon he offered. They tasted the fruit, carefully at first. But then they began to ask for more, saying, “O Ah, sim, sim. Isto é a melhor fruta nós jamais provamos! Como surpreenda esta árvore é!”23
Nelsinho and Dorcelina smiled up at me, tracing the knots and grooves along my trunk and face.
Years went by. The people of the village came to the orchard every harvest time. Even though my brothers still grew taller than me, they picked the fruit off of my limbs first. The people would laugh and sing under my hanging branches, lying against my twisted trunk to enjoy my delicious persimmons together. I shook my leaves with pride.
I could see my little gardener walking through the orchard. He was much older now: small lines had formed around his eyes and mouth, but his body was tall and straight, his face full of life. He was no longer Nelsinho, the people of the town called him Nelson, now—what a man he had become! He came toward me, walking through the orchard with Dorcelina and a small girl. She was their daughter, Anna Maria. She wore white flowers in her hair, like her mother did long ago. They stood beside me with brightly colored baskets in their arms. Little Anna Maria ran her hands along the knots and grooves of my face, asking, “A Mamãe, Papai, esta árvore é torcido e menor que o outros. Mas ainda dá frutos.”24 Nelsinho bent down to her and smiled. He looked up at me and said, “Mesmo a árvore torcida cresce em direção à luz e dá frutos.”25
NOTES1 Little Nelson
2 “Reach toward the sunlight, my friend, to be the greatest Kaki tree!” (Portuguese)
3“If I do not plant you, you will not grow!”
4 “Wow! This sunlight feels so good!”
5 “It is so bright!”
7 Baggy trousers of the Gauchos
8 “Reach in direction of the sunlight, Kaki, to be the biggest tree!”
9 “Oh, poor Kaki. Your leaves are so small and your branches are twisted. I must prune your brothers’ leaves so that you can reach toward the sunlight.”
10 “Do not worry”
11“Reach in the direction of the light!”
12 “Nelsinho is growing into a fine young man.”
13 “Beautiful beautiful are the trees,/As the sunlight sits atop their leaves./Watching and waiting for the fruit to grow,/Beneath your branches we wait below./The fruit you bear so tasty and sweet,/Ripens quickly in the hot summer heat.”
14 “Oh, look at him! What a fine husband he would make!”
15 “Look! The fruit is growing”
16 “Thank you”
17 “How ugly”
18 “The other trees have blocked its sunlight and it has grown twisted. Look at how the trunk spirals. Its branches are small like its fruit.”
19 “Hooray, they are coming to pick my fruit!”
20 “You cannot eat that fruit! The tree is twisted and the fruit will surely taste bad”
21 “Ah, delicious! This is the best fruit in all of the orchard!”
22 “Please, friends, come try this amazing fruit.”
23 “Ah, yes, yes. This is the best fruit we have ever tasted! How amazing this tree is!”
24 “Mama, Papa, this tree is twisted and smaller than the others. But still it bears fruit.”
25 “Even the stunted tree grows toward the light and bears fruit.”
26 The End
Born August 6, 1987, my cousin Stephen suffered from multiple birth defects, specifically cerebral palsy. He wasn’t like “normal” children; he couldn’t walk or perform many basic skills of coordination like other kids his age could. Doctors estimated that he wouldn’t make it to his 5th birthday.
Today, Stephen is a 22-year old successful college student, studying at a local community college in Marietta, Georgia. He’s currently enrolled in a great scholarship program working toward a Business major and hopes to graduate within the next two years.
The story I wrote, “The Kaki Tree,” is a tribute to Stephen. I chose to write this piece as a child’s fairy tale, which emulates my cousin’s struggle for self-confidence and self-worth. I wanted to show my readers how, even if you are handicapped—mentally, physically, or both—you’re still a vital member of our society and can make a beautiful difference in this world.
I also highlighted a piece of my own childhood through the use of the Portuguese language. My father is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and he would speak Portuguese to my sister and me when we were younger. I researched the language itself, as well as some of the cultural aspects of Brazil, particularly with the Brazilian persimmon tree, the Kaki. I wanted to connect Stephen’s disability with the beauty of the Kaki tree; as I continued my research, I fell across a photo of a specific Kaki that had grown rather twisted with many knots projecting out of the tree’s trunk. However, that Kaki was still able to produce delicious persimmon fruits, which helped spark the overall idea for my story. I wanted to reflect a different kind of moral, for kids who aren’t quite “normal” and are maybe having trouble fitting into the world because of their disability. With my story, I want to show them that even a stunted tree can still bear fruit. I hope to inspire other children, who, like my cousin, grow toward the light with beauty and hope, despite their handicaps.
Kathleen DeSouza is originally from Vienna, Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech in the Fall of 2009. She completed her degree in English, under the concentrations of both Professional and Creative Writing. She currently works as a graphics designer and Tasting Room Associate for Casanel Vineyards in Leesburg, Virginia. Her short story reflects years of research on Brazilian culture and language, as well as on the structure of fairytale. She dedicated this particular piece to her cousin, Stephen Herring, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Kathleen chose to write this piece as a child’s fairy tale, which emulates her cousin’s struggle for self-confidence and self-worth. She wanted to show her audience how, even if you are disabled—mentally, physically, or both— you’re still a vital member of our society and can make a beautiful difference in this world. Along with Stephen, Kathleen would like to thank both Professors Nikki Giovanni and Robin Allnutt for helping with the guidance and revisions of this piece. She would also like to thank her father, Nelson DeSouza, for giving her the Brazilian background she needed to creatively enhance this story.