As the first students fill the campus with conversations and laughter, Bob stands outside, facing the library. He likes standing there, quietly absorbing his surroundings. The past months had been like a dream, the campus completely empty, apart from the odd PhD-student mid-mental breakdown. During these months, Bob would feel most at peace.
Of course he had known that their return had been inevitable. Year after year, they kept coming back. Some stayed only for two or three years, but other faces had already appeared for eight years in a row. But then that was nothing compared to Bob. Bob had already been standing there for decades, ever since he was just a single branch reaching out from the soil. Now, his many branches extended proudly into the sky, providing students shelter from the brutal Tilburg sun, or, more likely, the pouring rain.
In the beginning, he was happy to share his grandeur with the students, who were so poorly equipped to battle the elements themselves. He would keep them under his branches like a proud mama bird. But then came that one dreadful day….
It had been a sunny day in August. A blonde, innocent looking girl approached Bob, seeking relief from the Tilburg heat. Just another helpless student, Bob thought, until he saw what she was carrying with her. “UNIVERS”, he read on the remains of his uncle Jimmy, who was once a proud birch. Now, he had a witty comic printed on his backside. As the girl was coming closer, she stuck her nose into Jimmy’s carcass and said to her fellow student: “Don’t you just love that smell?” Bob was horrified. He wanted to pick her up with his branches and scream at her, but he couldn’t, because trees can do no such thing. All he could do was watch the girl sit down at his roots and browse through the colourfully printed scraps of uncle Jimmy.
Three weeks later, his school friend Diane followed. Another three weeks later his old neighbour mr. Simmons. They all had that same title printed on their forehead: “UNIVERS”. Each and every time, Bob waited anxiously to see which of his friends and family would appear in front of him. He had come to despise the students he once loved and cared for and would anxiously await those summer months, where they would leave Bob and his family alone. As he watched the return of the students on this warm summer day, he knew that soon, the cadavers of his loved ones would once again be paraded in front of him.
But nothing happened. Not on the first day, not on the second. On friday, Bob started becoming nervous. Perhaps they were planning something bigger, or maybe Bob’s turn had finally come. On Monday, Bob kept an even closer eye on the students, afraid of what they might do to him. But again, nothing happened. As one student sat down beneath his branches, Bob spotted a strange instrument in his hand. It seemed to make noises and its display showed movement and colour. Just as Bob was inspecting the gadget carefully, he saw that one word appear. Small as it was, Bob could clearly make out what is read. Univers. Could it be…. Had they been replaced? Had the humans found something other than trees to slaughter for their own entertainment?
Bob felt like lifting his branches high up in the sky and praising this “Univers” for sparing him and his loved ones. Finally, an end had come to this carnage. Bob wanted to dance with joy. Of course, he didn’t. Bob was just a tree. A very, very happy tree.