The tree in Nada's backyard drops its olives in Saleem's yard--so who gets the prized fruit?

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The stone house next door had stood empty for a long time. Saleem did not remember the familiy who owned it, for they had left before he was born

Saleem’s homeland of Lebanon had been torn by years of conflict among people of different religions. Some, like the Besharas, had moved away from homes where they had formerly lived in peace with their neighbors. Now, thank goodness, the Besharas were coming back. As Saleem watched them carrying in mattresses, cooking pots, and suitcases, he hoped they would have a boy about his age.

He also wondered about the large old olive tree in the Besharas’ yard. It produced the best olives in Lebanon, his mother always said as she put them in jars with lemon and hot pepper. Saleem’s family had enjoyed those olives for as long as he could remember. Would that change?

The Beshara family soon settled in their house. They were always polite to their neighbors, but they did not return the visits or the hospitable gifts such as fresh figs and plates of stuffed vine leaves. Saleem heard his parents say the Besharas still seemed uneasy. And what was more, they did not have a boy. They had a girl named Nada who wanted nothing to do with Saleem.

No one said anything about the fine old olive tree, and Saleem wondered when they would.

Soon the plump green olives started to ripen. They dropped to the ground and, as always, Saleem gathered them up.

One morning he noticed Nada leaning on the wall between their two yards. For a while she watched without saying anything. And then she did.

“Those are our olives. Ours!”

Saleem straightened up to face her. “They’re on our land.”

“Yes, but the tree is on our land,” Nada said. “It grows in our soil, its roots go under our house, it drinks our water. It has belonged to my family for a hundred years.”

Yes, as Saleem knew very well, the tree belonged to the Besharas. But it is the nature of olive trees, as they grow older, to twist into strange, contorted shapes. While the trunk of the Besharas’ tree stood firmly on their land, many of the large limbs stretched far over the wall. They dropped the best olives in Lebanon onto the property of Saleem’s family.

Saleem said, “All the time you were away, we took care of this tree. We pruned it and watered it. We have a right to the olives.”

“But now we’re back, and we’ll take care of it!” said Nada. “My father will see to it that we get the olives.”

Saleem dumped all the olives he had gathered on the ground and stalked away. For a few days the fruit went on dropping and simply lay there in the dust.

One night a fierce storm rolled over the mountains. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed. One terrible bolt seemed to shake the whole world. At daybreak Saleem rushed outside.

The olive tree was gone. Its beautiful silvery-green leaves were blown far and wide, and the tree lay in lumps and splinters, scattered over the yards of the two families. Nada and her family stood on their side of the wall, which had also been broken when the lightning struck. Saleem and his family stood on their side.

Everyone stared at what was left of the tree. Then, one by one, the grownups drifted sadly back into their houses.

Saleem remained, his large, dark eyes threatening to spill their tears. No more shade from the comforting branches with their softly whispering leaves...and no more olives. There was only one good thing left: plenty of firewood.

Then Saleem noticed Nada standing in the doorway of her kitchen. Slowly she came over to the broken wall.

“They always told me about this tree,” she said quietly. “I wondered if I would ever see it. It was so old and beautiful, they said, and gave such good olives. I thought this tree was really like my home, my parents’ and grandparents’ home that they nearly lost. And now it’s gone.”

Saleem wanted to say that it was the Besharas’ own fault that they’d nearly lost their home; they hadn’t had to leave. But what good would that do? Instead he looked once more around the wood-strewn yard, then turned back to Nada.

“Anyway,” he said, “you’ll be warm this winter.” He picked up a couple of large chunks of wood, stepped over the broken wall, and laid the wood in Nada’s yard.

Saleem made several more trips, carrying wood to Nada’s yard. Then he stopped short in surprise.

Nada was doing the same thing in Saleem’s yard.

All morning the two worked in silence, clearing the olive wood and stacking it against each other’s houses.

When at last Saleem went in for lunch, he found on the wooden chair by his door a little heap of olives, carefully salvaged from among the splinters and withering leaves.