A gusty wind presses against Ruby’s small body as she beats her wings above foamy waves that seem to stretch endlessly. The sun slides toward the horizon, shedding the last streams of gold across the undulating azure water. Ruby will need to perch somewhere before darkness falls and handicaps her. She has been flying south over the Gulf of Mexico for over 10 hours, and her wings are heavy with exhaustion.
Ruby spots a fishing boat bobbing atop the water in the near distance. She flies toward it and rests her feet on its high bow. Darkness filters through the ocean, and the night is quiet, save for the rhythmic waves. She misses the curved branch of her favorite mimosa tree, its pink, fluffy flower heads, and its sweet nectar. It is the winter spot that her family has flown to for generations. The thought that she would soon be home again sends a tingling rush of joy through her body.
The next morning, Ruby reaches the land. A warm breeze tickles her feathers as she soars with eagerness, her tiny but strong wings beating so fast that they look like a blur.
But when she arrives at her destination, the excitement fades out of her eyes. The woods with lush shrubs and wildflowers have been replaced by a construction site littered with rocks and debris. A bulldozer lumbers across, its blade digging into the earth and scooping out wet soil and tangled roots, which were piled in huge mounds. On the farther side of the site, steel structures are erected. Men in orange construction vests and helmets shove sand and gravel into a mixer with a barrel-shaped container that rotates with deafening noises. In the place where her favorite mimosa tree used to stand is a dumpster filled with trash and rotten wood.
A sense of loss engulfs Ruby. The landscape that used to boast her winter home now looks strange to her. The air that used to be clean and pure is now grimy with construction dust and exhaust fumes. The construction site and half-assembled buildings have erased every remnant of her home.
Ruby leaves the construction site and flies aimlessly over barren fields, crisscrossing streets, and rows of buildings, searching for a new home. Everywhere seems to send the message that she is not welcome here.
The dusky blue sky has turned into deep charcoal, the lowering clouds thicker than ever. The rain is approaching. Thunder roars in the distance. Ruby’s hope is waning, her heart mired in helplessness.
Then, as Ruby is flying by a small limestone house, she glimpses a potted flowering tree on the balcony. She draws closer, her eyes fixed on the pink, rounded flowers. It is a mimosa tree, her long-missed mimosa tree, although much shorter and skinnier than the ones she’d harbored before. She swirls around the mimosa tree, as if greeting an old friend with a cheery dance, sips nectar from its flowers, and lands on a bough sheltered under flowering branches. The rain starts to fall, and fat raindrops splash on the concrete and the feather-like leaves of the mimosa tree. But Ruby feels safe and warm in her new home.
The rain stops at night and a lemon wedge of moon hangs low in the velvet sky. From the balcony window, Ruby sees the flickering light inside the room. The figure of a girl looms into view. The girl seems to be reading a book under a table lamp. Ruby flinches, but she has nowhere else to go. She closes her eyes as drowsiness claims her.
Lucia wakes up earlier so she can check on her tree. Two months ago, when she passed by the construction site for the new shopping center and apartment complex, a seedling with pink flower heads caught her eye. Her mother told her it was a mimosa tree. Among all the broken trees, trampled flowers, and darkened mud, it was the only bright color brimming with life. She decided to take the seedling home and try to grow it.
She pruned the growing tips of the tree, brushed off the dust on the leaves, and set the plant into a large terracotta pot on her balcony, where sunlight was abundant during the day. The mimosa tree grew taller and stronger and bloomed in clusters of flowers. Lucia watered it every morning, admiring it.
Lucia walks onto the balcony, the earthy scent of dirt mingled with the fragrance of mimosa flowers hanging in the air. Among the leaves and flowers still damp from the rain last night, she notices a small drop of red. What’s that? Lucia stoops and shifts her angle to get a better view. This time, she makes out a ruby-throated hummingbird—the size of her thumb—sleeping on a branch, eyes closed, feathers fluffed.
She beams at the sight of her tiny visitor. She remembers reading somewhere that the mimosa tree is a hummingbird’s favorite tree. Lucia watches the bird quietly, her heart buoyed with joy. Her lips whisper softly, “Welcome home.”
Written by Allison Xu