Searching for Pine Cones

Forests are shit! Too many trees, everywhere, making it impossible to see what might be hiding. Hasan once lived in forests; during the war in his former native country. He learnt to hate forests. He would never have come here of his own free will. But then there was that letter from school. An invitation to a parents’ evening, that much was clear. But not the next sentence: “Bring things from the woods with you to make advent decorations.” Which is when Hasan decided to ask a friend for some advice.

“It means you need to go and collect some pine cones”, said the man, himself an immigrant, but in Switzerland for longer than Hasan. Pine cones?! Hasan could barely believe his ears. He’s a man, he retorted heatedly, not a child you send off to the woods to play! Where’s the dignity in that? But his friend insisted: “Parents’ evenings are important. If you turn up with empty hands, the teacher will think that you’re not interested, which would be bad for your son!”
Which is why Hasan is now stomping through the woods at Altberg, where he has, purely by chance, ended up. His children have refused to go with him. His wife too; she’s afraid of the woods. Having left the city along the back roads, he drives through village after village until he finally finds both a wood and somewhere to park. But to his dismay, the woods are full of people on this late autumn afternoon and he has to go some way, quite a way – across meadows and then up to the tree covered ridge with the tower. Hasan constantly looks around himself, checking whether anybody is there to witness what he is about to do, yet time and again he comes across people out walking, some with dogs, some without. The evening starts to draw in before he finally dares to bend down under a couple of spruce trees, hastily grabbing something from the ground and stuffing it into his coat pocket before scurrying off. Thank goodness nobody saw him! These days, people call the police for less than seeing somebody behaving suspiciously on a woodland path. How embarrassing it would be for Hasan to have to explain his haul. Pine cones! My God.

Once back home, he wraps them up sevenfold in newspaper and ties the package up with string. Takes it the following day, tucked under his coat, to the parents’ evening at the school. But as he stands in his son’s classroom and watches the other mothers and fathers carefully laying out colourful autumn leaves, sprigs of holly, and pine branches, he shamefacedly pushes his pine cones towards the rest. There – a feeling of goodwill rolls over him! Friendly looks, nods from all sides. Even the teacher smiles. Hasan lowers his head. No one present is aware of the deep emotions he feels right then at that moment.
“What a world!” he tells his friend later. “Who can understand it? Once, I fought for a free Kosovo with a weapon in my hand, yet now I play with pine cones.” – “You are integrating, my dear friend”, answers the other and pats him on his shoulder. “You are integrating.”