The old fir tree was still standing when I came back, but the ground nearby had been asphalted and used as the parking lot for a new, upscale-looking restaurant. Years ago this had been a dirt spot where the montagnards had usually gathered to spend the night when they had come to town to sell resinous pinewood and wild orchids collected from the remote forests tens of miles away. I wondered if they still came here, and if they did where would they spend the night?
These montagnards had been dirt-poor, illiterate and looked down by most townspeople, but they had had one thing they had not minded sharing with me: the warmth of their fire. For I had been homeless for some time, attending school in the morning, walking the streets or sitting in a park in the afternoon, and at night when the chill had descended I had always returned to the old fir tree, drawing comfort from the fire, trying to cope with what had been happening to me, glancing at the dark, silent and stoic faces in the flickering light. We had never talked, we had just shared the warmth against the ruthless cold surrounding us.
The montagnards were gone, surely they were no longer allowed to light any bonfire in the middle of this prosperous, gentrified neighborhood. I myself now looked well-fed and well-clad, quite at home with those fancy hotels and upscale restaurants.
Only the old fir tree remained and knew.