Sunday afternoon. We were out spotting trees, spotting tree-spotters and trying not to be spotted as tree spotters ourselves. “There’s one,” she muttered, looking the other way to disguise the fact of the sighting. I had to guess where to direct my glance.
I worked out that she meant to bring to my attention either the man on the other side of the road, or the tree in front of which he was standing. He was, rather determinedly, not looking at the tree. To an amateur this might have created the illusion that he was not a tree-spotter – but we knew that not actually looking at the tree was one of the oldest tricks in the tree-spotters book.
“We need to be careful,” I muttered, putting my foot up on a wall to tie my shoelaces, buying ourselves some time. The stakes were high – it was only one point for spotting a tree, but five for spotting a tree-spotter. On the other hand, there were twenty points on offer for spotting someone spotting a tree-spotter, which meant that if the man on the other side of the road turned the tables on us we could lose forty points between us.
“Lets phone in for the five,” she whispered. “He hasn’t even noticed us. Five easy points.” But I was not so sure. “We should play safe – just get the one point. We can’t afford to lose that many, not at the moment.”
Before we could make a decision we noticed that the man on the other side of the road had taken out his mobile telephone, a tiny plastic thing, and was dialling some number or other. We both knew which number it could be. “Run,” I whispered, and we walked away, mock-casually, trying as hard as we could to not look back.
We gave up on tree-spotting for the day and headed home to hide ourselves away. All night we waited up to see if the phone would ring, some counter in one of the offices calling up to tell us that we were forty points down.
The midnight deadline arrived slowly and passed calmly. In the seconds that followed we reflected in silence. “He was bluffing,” she said eventually. “He was just as scared as we were,” I pointed out. There would be other days for spotting trees and someone would have to win and someone would have to lose, but for the moment nothing had changed. “I’m tired,” I said. “Lets go to bed,” she said.