Ancient Egyptians called the sycamore the Tree of Life. They planted them near tombs, and they believed if you were buried in a sycamore wood coffin, you would be returned to the womb of the mother tree goddess.
I’m looking at a European sycamore of course, not really a sycamore at all. A maple. One of the last deciduous trees to shed its dead leaves in the autumn. The branch lumbers across the frame of the narrow, too high oblong window. One leaf remains, clinging to the very tip of the twig; five-pointed, brown with sparse spots of burnt orange, soggy from the showers today and its edges ragged and decaying. The overcast sky fills the window; so bright it’s almost white as the blanket of cloud is bleached by the sun straining behind.
It’s a different brightness in here, though; fluorescent strip lighting bouncing off peach walls. Too bright, as if they want us to feel uncomfortable. They want us to squirm in our seats as we wait for appointments due half an hour later than the scheduled time until we can’t take it anymore and leave. Especially women of a certain age, because what’s our excuse? We’re not hapless, penniless teenagers after all.
I look back to my lap to focus on the half-completed sudoku in the four-month-old copy of Coffee Break. I instinctively judge the previous reader in my head, wondering how on earth they couldn’t finish such an easy puzzle, but looking around the room I see women staring straight ahead, at the floor, at their clasped hands. None of them idly reading a magazine, all engrossed in their own internal dialogue. The tree waves at me out of the corner of my eye and my gaze is drawn again to the window.
The wind picks up suddenly and the branch raps gently against the glass. Taptap. Tap. The leaf sticks to the glass for a second before the branch snatches it away in another gust. I’m here, it seems to say. I’m not going anywhere.
I close my eyes and push my fingers against my eyelids, palms cradling my hot cheeks. Taptap. Taptap.
A gentle voice calls my name. A jolt of hot nausea stabs me in the stomach, and I inhale sharply as I look towards the nurse.I nod and set aside the magazine. Taptap. I take one last look at the window and the branch dances back into frame, this time leafless, swinging freely in the breeze. In my mind’s eye I see the leaf float to the ground and land softly, sinking into the damp soil to feed the tree’s roots. I exhale as slowly as I can and feel the sickness in my stomach abate ever so slightly as I walk towards the treatment room.