Chapter 1: The Tree

          I saw a tree, once.

          I was ten years old. We lived on the first floor of a tenement building—my mother, my father, and I. I could see it from my bedroom, which had a window into an alleyway. A little helicoptering seed had blown over the walls and into a dirt-filled crack between two concrete blocks.

It was scarcely big enough to be called a “tree” yet, but I knew what it was, because I had seen pictures of saplings, and the tough brown stem wasn’t like the blades of grass that poked up occasionally around the Settlement.

          Over three weeks I watched it sprout up. First the thin stem, then, slowly, a single leaf that uncurled hesitantly like a little tongue tasting the air.

          By the end of the third week, it was gone. I watched them remove it. They came with rubber gloves and spades.

          The next day I told my Educator about the tree. “What are they going to do with it?” I asked. I felt a bit sorry for the little plant, brave enough to try and grow out of doors.

          “They’ll take it to a conservatory,” she said.

          “What’s a conservatory?” I asked.

          “It’s a special place where plants are kept,” said the Educator.

          That piqued my interest. I hadn’t known that any plants were kept in the Settlement; I’d been told they were all dead for a long ways round, if any were even still alive on earth.

          I wanted to see a real tree, a live tree in full growth, like in books. I wanted to go to the conservatory. I decided I wanted to be a part of the plant removal crew when I grew up.

          I never did join the plant removal crew. Ultimately, it was a different path that led me back to the tree.

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