The award winning story of the The 16th Elmbridge literary competition 2020-2021
The Dum is a small round, red, fruit that looks like a cherry. The Dum tree is tall, though not too tall for children to climb, it has a strong trunk and branches that stretch out in a wide circumference forming a shady umbrella to sit under and enjoythose glorious bright red balls of sweetness.
In centuries past, Dum trees were plentiful, they grew on all the hot dry islands, dotted over, what is now called the Caribbean Sea. The islanders were proud of their trees and nurtured them along with the mango tree, the sugar apple, the soursop, the cashew nut, and the avocado tree. All trees the great tree god Dryad had blessed them with.
The gods sat among the clouds and looked down at the earth and smiled. Dryad was himself pleased and boasted “The human folk love my plants and treat them with great respect. That honours me and I will continue to reward them with a great harvest.
For centuries, the islanders treasured their trees. Each year after the rainy season, having quenched its thirst, the Dum tree would burst with tiny green buds. Over time as the land dried and the sun became stronger the green buds would slowly turn orange and then to red. When the berries were at their richest brightest red the leaves on the tree would quiver and shake. everyone believed the trees were singing and dancing, because the leaves rustled gently, even though there was no breeze. The music of the leaves calling softly for the children to come enjoy the harvest. Children responded eagerly climbing the trees, bouncing on the branches knocking the fruit to the ground, a shower of bright red gems. Laughing and dancing the children gorged on the honey sweet fruit until they could eat no more. They would sit full bellied in the shade and doze, their lips, and fingers red with the juice of the fruit.
One day strangers came from a land a long way off across the seas. They came in large boats that sailed on the seas with the help of strong stiff fabric thatcaught in the wind. The islanders had only ever seen small fishing boats, which weremanoeuvred across the water with the aid of oars and paddles.
The islanders welcomed the strangers and invited them to feast on the islands produce. The newcomers were fed roasted breadfruit and boiled yam with fish and the delicious black pineapples were marinated in golden rum.
When the strangers heard the Dum, tree sing and saw the leaves dance and the fruit fall, they were so impressed they wanted them. At first, they took the seeds of the fruit and tried to grow trees in their homeland. They were not successful. Then they tried taking the harvested fruit, but the journey across the seas was too long and the fruit perished. Eventually the strangers were so keen to have the singing trees they came in large numbers and physically dug up the saplings, wrapping theroot-ball in damp hessian sacks. The strangers took so many there were almost none left to start a new crop in years that followed.
Locals were appalled at the destruction of their beautiful Dum trees. They fought with the strangers, but they were unable to compete with the fire balls that flew from the big ships, destroying acres and acres of land. The damage to the homes and fields was too great. The islanders watched with tears in their eyes and pain in their heart as the big ships raised their sails and disappeared into the distance.
The great god Dryad also wept as he watched the islanders try to repair the damage and to reseed their land. Although Dryad was a god his power to interfere with human behaviour was limited. It was written in the clouds that no god should personally intervene in mankind’s behaviour. They were only to have power over the weather the crops and the harvest and even those powers were limited by the terrain and make-up of the different parts of the world.
Unfortunately, the strangers from the far-off land returned time and time again destroying various crops as they tried to establish trees in their distant homeland. Eventually the Dum trees diminished. The children stopped listening for the music of the tree and no longer ran to feast when the tree called to them.
Dryad was heart-broken the Dum tree had become less important, less part of the yearly joy for the children. The fruit still grew and went from green to orange and then red. The Dum fruit had been replaced, in the desires of the children, by manufactured sweets from foreign lands. Boiled and coloured sugar wrapped in wax paper had rather quickly replaced the joy of the ripe red fruit.
There were so few Dum trees left the islanders decided to grow sugar caneinstead. It was more profitable. The cane was harvested and sent with the strangers to be processed into sugar, to make the sweets that had replaced the Dum.
Dryad cried as he declared the Dum tree would remain silent until the day when the islanders remembered the joy the tree gave them and would nurture it once more. So sadly, the few Dum trees that were left stopped singing and the leaves stopped dancing.
The great tree god tried occasionally to invite the children back, but the lure of sugar-based candy was too strong, and the ruby red fruit fell in a shower of red tears from the trees and was swept up and fed to pigs or rotted where it landed.
The great god Dryad sat, sadly, in the clouds and watched the children scramble for bon bons, candies, sweeties but not Dums.
That is why the gods mourn and the Dum tree no longer sings.