"All the World's a Stage"

As the last days of winter passed, animals woke from hibernation and flowers began to bloom. They all knew that spring had come again, and were ready to rejoice and celebrate new life.

The only exception to this was the circle of evergreen trees in the park at the edge of town, which were watching the deciduous tree intently. Their leaves, not quite so cheerful at the prospect, shook sadly as their neighbour broke dormancy.

Less than a fortnight later, green buds appeared, dotting its bare branches. Although the air was still, the evergreens shook involuntarily. They had seen this cycle repeat so many times.

And so is the birth of another doomed batch…

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Although we had never met our predecessors, we knew we wanted to grow up to be exactly like them.

Ever since we were old enough to work, the tree told us stories about previous generations of leaves. Instead of our green attire, they were clothed in beautiful fiery hues. We denied our jealousy, but our expressions betrayed us.

The tree saw this, and comforted us. It told us that we could turn into beautiful autumn leaves too, and become the park's centre of attention. However, this did not come unconditionally ? we had to work hard to fill our sugar quotas first. Only when we had stored enough food for the tree to last over winter would we finally be rewarded.

As the tree painted more and more pictures in our minds, our desires for an attractive appearance grew. We wanted nothing more than to become the next batch of autumn leaves. As a result, from the first moment we were exposed to sunlight, we photosynthesised as quickly as we could to build up the tree's sugar stores.

Our evergreen leaf neighbours constantly advised us against it.

"Is beauty really worth such hard work?" they often asked us. "You should balance work, play and rest. Your lives are boring."

Most of us ignored them, dismissing their comments as signs of envy. After all, they did not have the chance to be beautiful. They would not understand.

"The old tree's not telling you the whole truth! Don't you realise what would happen if you weren't needed over winter?"

At the back of our minds, I think we did have a vague idea. However, our thoughts were already skewed with images of ourselves, dressed in autumn colours. The idea was so appealing that the consequences paled in comparison.

Time flew. The end of spring was followed by the close of summer. With our workload, we never had the chance to slow life down and enjoy the passing time.

At first, we were too busy to notice the signs of a dying summer. Nevertheless, we did become aware of the increasingly shorter days. With the passing of each, we found it harder to fill our sugar quotas, although they had been lowered drastically since the summer solstice. Even when the outer leaves commented on the lower position of the sun in the sky, none of our minds registered the proximity of autumn.

We finally realised when the first of us felt their chlorophyll breaking down. Not long after, most of us could see orange tinges around the edges of our leaves. Even though we found ourselves changing colours much faster than expected, it still felt like an eternity waiting for our new coats to emerge completely.

Eventually, the painful wait was over. One morning, near the end of March, we woke to find that all spots of green had disappeared.

By this time, as the tree had promised, we had become the centre of attention at the park. Many animals had become much less active, flowers wilted, and the evergreen trees were just green, like any other time of the year. We were the only ones that had grown more aesthetically appealing with the onset of cold weather. For once in our lives, we enjoyed ourselves, taking pleasure in all the attention we were getting.

"See, the old tree was right!" we yelled at the evergreen leaves. "We worked hard and got our rewards, but you lazy lot have to keep working!"

The only reply we got was from one old leaf, which had whispered almost inaudibly, "You'll regret it."

We pretended we did not hear, and continued entertaining the visitors to the park.

However, at the height of our splendour, something unexpected happened. A light breeze was all it took for several of our siblings to realise that the tree was no longer holding onto them. As we watched them fall to the ground, we realised with horror that the same would eventually happen to us.

With that, we finally understood everything our neighbours had told us in our lifetime. The evergreen trees needed their leaves to continue making food in winter. On the other hand, our hard work had solved our tree's food problem over winter, and consequently, we would be useless. There was only one way to deal with useless things ? discard them.

And after being discarded, what were we but some forgotten organic material, to be broken down and reused?

Over the next few weeks, the tree steadily shed leaves. Hundreds of our siblings were carried away by the wind, their silent pleas for help unacknowledged. Those who had not yet fallen, including me, could feel the tree's hold weakening. It was only a matter of time before our turn came.

Luck was not on our side. The winds were growing stronger, and every day, it was a struggle to prevent being blown away. The evergreen leaves wore the same sorrowful expressions, but for the first time, we saw them as pitiful rather than jealous.

At that moment, I finally realised that gaining attention came with a cost. And even when that cost was paid, the spotlight had to move on eventually. Our moment of glory was nearing its finale.

Just then, another strong gust blew past. As if my siblings had heard my thoughts, we let go together.

As the wind died down a little, I smiled as I slowly drifted down to the ground. For a split second, just before the darkness closed in, I considered the possibilities if I had not jumped.

In the end, I was content with my decision. Although I could not see from the visitors' perspective, I was sure we had given them one of the most brilliant displays they had ever seen.

If ultimately, we had to fall, why not do so in a more magnificent manner?

-

-- Title credited to William Shakespeare


A/N: To keep a long story short - any reviews would be nice!