art by Tais Teng
B is for Banyan Tree
by Tim Pratt, Jenn Reese, Heather Shaw, Greg van Eekhout
Jonas was eight when his best friend, Tabitha (Tabby, Tabs, or the Tabster for short) climbed up the Banyan tree and disappeared into its branches. The ancient tree had been the setting for many of their childhood adventures, spanning as it did several backyards in their neighborhood. Jonas's dad was the sort to arrange play dates, though most other parents on the island didn't bother, but Jonas was allowed to play in the backyard unimpeded, and so it was easy to climb up, and over, and find other children playing in the rambling, forking branches of the enormous tree with many trunks.
Tabby wasn't the type of girl his father thought he should be playing with. She'd lived her whole life on the island and went to the local school, which his father described in carefully neutral words in a tight voice as he justified Jonas' tutors. She was a bit older, though he was never sure how much--she always changed the subject when he asked, so eventually he just stopped bothering her about it. She was always dirty, her clothes had small rips from hours spent among the branches, and she didn't like talking to adults, but let her voice drop to a low murmur when they addressed her.
That day, the last day Jonas played with Tabs, they'd climbed further into the branches than they ever had before. The tree always seemed endless, with a lattice pattern of branches supported by numerous roots, making the whole thing feel less like a tree than a giant, organic jungle gym. He climbed over to her yard and dropped down to call for her. Tabby came running out of the house, a backpack strapped on. "I was hoping you'd come today! Let's play explorer today!"
They usually pretended the tree was a hospital (which was usually Tabitha's favorite game, as it meant playing doctor), or a school, or that the branches were horses or motorcycles or carnival games. Explorer was a new one, but Jonas let Tabby take the lead, as usual.
They set off, taking branches that led away from their yards, with Tabby narrating the safari, pretending giant birds were attacking them, joining a group of monkeys, riding elephants, and negotiating with tribespeople along the way. It was impossible to keep track of the path they'd taken, and as it got dark, Jonas began to worry about finding his way home in time.
"Silly! If we keep going this way, we'll get to the shortcut and we'll be back before you know it."