Since Michael Angelini landed in New York, his parents did not stop reminding him that yes, he was not in Italy anymore, but he still was Leonardo Da Vinci’s descendant. He did not have to come up with a new Mona Lisa, they said, but with something acceptable at least.
Michael was enrolled at the NY School of Art, and painting was his passion. He never painted anything good; his landscapes were fine ‘from the technical point of view,’ Professor Cracking said, however none of his canvas was selected for the yearly award.
Besides painting Michael did not have any other passion nor reason to live.
He slept longer then needed, but he never rested; harassed by the missing detail preventing his landscapes from being selected. ‘Something must be wrong with paintbrushes,’ he thought many times ignoring that the quest for the missing detail was swallowing him.
On that spring morning the path heading to the train station run faster than usual under his busy feet. A train was waiting for him.
“Yes, please?” The officer at the ticket counter asked. Michael did not know the answer. A billboard above the officer’s head advertised a place called FORESTLAND. “Forestland return, please” he said.
With a ticket flicking among his fingers he looked for the coach F; his seat was the 3A. The train was crowded, the coach F even more. A class was taken on a school trip and the teacher’s patience got lost long before the train departed. “Sit down Charles! This is not your seat, Julia! Consuelo, why are you leaning against the door? It is dangerous! Be quiet, all! Quiet,” the teacher yelled troubling all passengers boarded on the coach F.
To Forestland it took three stops. ‘I only hope they will get off at the next one,’ Michael thought; his right hand pressing on his right temple. He was tired; he did not get a good sleep since last spring one year ago, when his landscape was rejected, as his new one was rejected two weeks ago as well.
He felt ashamed. Twice he happened to think of putting an end to his life. Painting was his life, and if painting failed then his life failed too.
Before him, sitting at the 3C there was a young man about twenty. His head against the headrest, he was already sleeping when Michael reached his 3A. At first Michael envied him, how soundly he slept. But looking closer, that young man was ill; pale shades faded from his face and circles grew purple under his eyes. Looking much closer the young man’s arms were getting skinner and blackish by the time the first stop approached.
“Ticket, please,” the ticket collector shouted. The young man opened his eyes; that was the wrong moment to wake up. “Your ticket Sir,” the cute woman under the blue collector uniform smiled.
“It was in my pocket when I got on. I really… I must have lost it when…”-
“Your ID, please,” she said with no smile, typing on the electronic device hanging from her pocket.
“Uh, I held it together with the ticket,” the young man said in a low voice; on his face pale shades were growing whiter. Under the purple circles his eyes crossed Michael’s.
“So, you do not have any ticket nor any ID. Am I correct, Sir? Do you know what I am supposed to d—”
“Wait Madam, I know him. It is true, he lost his wallet. I will buy a ticket for him.” This is what came from Michael Angelini’s mouth.
The lady in the blue uniform moved on to the next row of passengers. The young man stared at him, “Hey you, we do not know each other, do we? Thank you very much for this, but do not expect from me to repay you back. No cash on me.”-
“Fine,” Michael replied. “Credit card will do,” he added.
“Credit what? Hey pal, better you forget about your money. I haven’t asked you for any favor,” the young man said in his low voice. Not too much strength came from his throat.
“I was joking. I do not want any money back. I hope Forestland is ok for you as a destination.” Michael said.
“Forest what? Mother, I’ve missed my stop!” The young man’s voice suddenly sounding stronger despite it was a whisper. He stood up making for the toilet room.
The school trip was still in the coach; the teacher’s warnings faded among childish songs and screams.
Michael’s eyes fell on the train window; the sky shone through the glass, like sparkling sea water under a golden sun floating on it. Factories and tower buildings had been replaced by trees; many of them. They looked as if dancing on some music played by the gentle wind, covering mountains slowly descending into hills. Those colors were from another world. No palette could reach the same result, Professor Cracking would agree.
“Do you really know him?”-
“Uh, what?” He managed to say.
The 3D passenger was there since Michael got on the train. But only now that she spoke to him, he noticed her. The educated-well-mannered girl type.
“Sorry to annoy you. I just wondered if you really know the guy,” she said blushing.
“Well, no, to be honest. Do you?”-
“At school we all know him. He pushes. Hospitalized several times.”-
“I am very sorry to hear that. I saw he was not feeling well. Do you think I should go knocking on the toilet door to see how he feels?”-
“He is getting a fix. He will be back. He was a bright guy before he started to treat him with that ugly thing. Our teacher says he lost himself,” she said. “You too to Forestland?” She asked.
‘He lost himself,’ Michael though. His eyes taken by the view fleeing through the train windows. Trees were running after hills; they were as green as if a fairy melted all shiniest green shades into magic sea water.
The kids were still singing but the song sounded different, almost pleasant.
“What do you mean by ‘he lost himself?’ By the way I’m Michael.”-
“Nice to meet you Michael. I’m Sue. The teacher says there is something missing. As if he is looking for something he cannot find. Something he got but somehow it was taken away from him. I personally believe that we all lost something. But we do not know what.”-
Michael always felt he was missing something; he called it the missing detail. But that was the first time he thought of losing instead of missing. Simply said, what he was looking for was already in himself. It fell asleep. All he had to do was to wake it up.
From the train window the trees doubled in size and quantity. Butterflies sparkled in the air painting it with blue and pink and golden colors. Michael had never seen a more beautiful landscape. That natural canvas seized the sense of unity and infinity at once, the way only art can do. That canvas had something… the detail… still the right word did not come through his mouth, but its image started to form in his mind.
“Yes, to Forestland. This is funny, Sue. I don’t know where this place is, even I’ve never heard about it. But I’m going there. So you do, I see from your ticket.”
Sue smiled, looking at the train window. A booklet peered from the front pocket of her jeans.
From his place Michael could see the handle turning and opening the toilet door. The young man made for his seat.
“All good, pal? Still thinking about your money, eh?” His voice sounded strong, fearless. “Look whom we have here. Just got on, eh?” He chuckled looking at Sue.
“Hi Kai, nice to see you. You too to Forestland?” Sue replied smiling at him.
“Since this pal of mine gave me a ticket for that place, I’m going. What is so special there, a heavy metal party?”
“Well, Kai -nice to meet you, I’m Michael, by the way- it might sound funny, but I do not know that place neither.”-
“Cool! Well I don’t have anything else to do today. A free rider trip doesn’t bother me. Just one thing: is the entrance free? You know, I’ve lost my wallet,” Kai chuckled again.
“Forestland is the freest place in the world,” Sue giggled.
A zipped pocket unlocked a backpack laying across the corridor line; it revealed dozens of green caps; they passed from the teacher’s nervous hands to the excited kids’ heads. Ten white capital letters run on the cotton fabric, reading one word: FORESTLAND.
To the place where everybody was heading to only one stop was left.
‘The freest place in the world,’ Michael thought. “What is that booklet about, Sue?” He asked pointing at the front pocket of her jeans.
“Poetry,” she said, then she paused to look at the view from the window again. Trees, flowers, and butterflies multiplied under her eyes beyond the glass. “I’m interested in Nature. Once school is over, I will go to University to study Natural Science. I want to become a scientist, an expert on biotic and abiotic components of natural ecosystems,” she went on, keeping her eyes on the window.
“Then why is that book about poetry? It has nothing to do with science,” Michael replied, his eyes moving to the outside view.
“This is what I thought until I saw Forestland,” she said. There was a time when I couldn’t sleep despite I was tired. Something hunted me day and night, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I felt as if something was missing from me and was trying to reach me again, but when it knocked on my doors it found them closed.”
Kai’s head laid against the headrest; his eyes closed. He was not sleeping, just pretending. He was listening. Too proud to admit the conversation had some interest for him. He knew what Sue was talking about; that sense of being hunted by something he felt as lost. Too much pressure from school, teachers, friends, family. Everybody expected him to be the best. But he lost. He lost something he had before. And he ended up looking for it in some miserable white powder first, and in ugly needles later. Still questing for the lost thing.
“If something is lost, then let’s go to the Lost and Found Office,” came from Kai’s mouth without even him opening his lips.
“That’s where we are going,” Sue whispered, her eyes still on the view from the window.
‘The train is reaching its destination. Please make sure you do not forget any belongings,’ the display at both sides of the coach read. A recorded female voice was reminding the same.
Equipped with their green caps, standing up from their seats the kids were getting more and more excited, while the teacher - one hand on his forehead - looked exhausted. All passengers’ eyes looked around, making sure nothing was left on the train, before their attention got caught by a billboard. It grew bigger and bigger while the train approached the stop. WELCOME TO FORESTLAND, it read in green letters.
“After you,” Michael told Sue. And to Kai as well. He was the last one to get off the coach, making sure he did leave something on it. That train came from a place ruled by skyscrapers, tower buildings, subways, cars, stinky smog, noise, a lot of noise. People’s head was full of that noise; a noise made of stats, graphs, data, trends, meetings, phones.
He got off the train. Sue and Kai on the sidewalk, waiting for him. They started the path leading to FORESTLAND. Together, as if they knew each other since ever. Sue was leading; it was not the first time. For her it had worked. It works for everybody.
Ahead puddles and mud unlike the urban walking path where high heels do not have nothing to fear, except the mental balance. On the green path Sue felt beautiful in her flat shoes.
From the ground a blanket of mist was stretching upwards. Rain started to fall from the sky, but none of them reached for any invisible umbrella. They just walked, facing specks of color floating in the mist. In Michael’s eyes the rain was acting like a spellbound paintbrush.
Water ran down their cheeks. They let the rain damping them. That was good. That shower healing from the noise felt just good.
“Here we are!” Sue exclaimed; her hair soaked.
The mist melted in a blue lake, revealing a forest in the distance. Trees sparkled under the sun. Dozens of green caps were chasing each other under the supervision of the teacher. He was not nervous anymore. Laughs and joy spread all around. No noise there, no pressure, no phones…
The kids run in a circle, around a tree.
Michael had already seen it. It was a long time before; he was a child leafing through a picture book when he first fell in love with painting. In his memories the oak tree was surrounded by kids, just as it was now; butterflies and birds sparkled like diamonds among brown oaknuts. Like locks of hair thousands of green leaves hung from its branches; they stretched downwards caressing whomsoever stepped by underneath. Now he was there, inside the live canvas; an oak twig among his fingers, he moved it in the air like a paintbrush, catching the detail.
The oak tree had woken up the lost detail inside him. The word came clear to his mind: it was feelings. The best technical work is nothing without feelings. Professor Cracking would agree.
Two steps behind Kai stared at the oak tree standing over its deep roots, silent. Yet it was telling him something. Those branches were strong, and still gentle. If something pushed on them, they would move around adjusting their position, applying flexibility; they would not break. Kai had found what he lost. What was missing in his life under the pressure of the noise was strength.
Sue knew Michael and Kai had found what they lost. For her the lost and found detail had been poetry, the soul’s voice that turns scientists into wizards.
Lost among noisy cities, feelings, strength and poetry were kept and preserved by the oak tree, like a treasure to be shared with people and souls approaching its crown.
Dark sounds faded around from another world; something was summoning the three of them, hammering and echoing into their minds. Ignoring that grey shadows were stretching over them -cast by tower buildings and skyscrapers from the city- Michael, Kai and Sue hold their hands.
They bowed to the oak which reconnected each of them to themselves; and connected them to the others.
They started to walk the path back. The dark sounds and grey shadows had managed to snatch those three lives from the rival Nature, they thought growing darker and greyer.
Michael, Kai and Sue made for the city. Behind their shoulders the oak tree shook its crown; oaknuts and leaves jingled among the branches. It was the ritual to summon all animals and plants from the forest; they were allured by the idea of driving away the urban dark sounds and grey shadows. And they always won.
Michael, Kai and Sue were back in the city.
They told everybody about the special Lost and Found Office in FORESTLAND. The story of the oak tree and its treasure could not remain unknown.
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Thanks for reading and commenting, Martin; I am glad you enjoyed it.