Once, there was a bird.
She had the most gorgeous feathers of many colours, unlike anything seen before. And when she would open her beak to sing, all the creatures in the forest where she lived would stop to listen to her beautiful voice.
At dawn she would sing to welcome in the morning. Her friends often joined in her song, feeling every bit as beautiful as she. She filled their days with happiness and joy as her heart was just as wonderful as her feathers and voice. She was loyal and kind and very wise, and dearly loved by those who knew her.
At night she would sing a lullaby and all the creatures of the forest would feel safe as they drifted off to sleep. They all knew they were free, and life was good.
Soon, a birdwatcher came through the forest. He was seemingly very appreciative of birds. He complimented them all on their feathers and fed them from his hands. He brought the tastiest treats for them and they began to look forward to his visits. His touch was gentle, his words sweet, and his smile pleasing.
One day when he was visiting, he saw the beautiful bird. As she sang he fixed his gaze upon her, and as he did so, she couldn’t help but blush a little. He was smiling in a way that made her feel not just beautiful, but perfect. As she finished her song, he beckoned her to come near.
“What a magnificent creature you are, just look at how gracefully you flew.” he swooned.
“Why thank you,” she replied, feeling her cheeks grow red again.
“And that voice! Will you sing for me another?”
She performed for him one more tune and he praised her in such a way that she had never been before. He made her feel so special.
“Can I tell you a secret?” he whispered quietly. She leaned her head in a bit closer with an inquisitive look, and he began, “These other birds here, they have told me how they’ve grown tired of your songs. But I don’t see what they’re talking about, because that was exquisite. They don’t see what I see in you.”
“Oh,” she said, taken aback, “I didn’t realise they felt that way! If only they’d have said…”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he continued, “of course they wouldn’t say so. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Say, would you be so kind as to grant me your company while I eat a meal this evening? I’m very lonely in my home all by myself and I can think of nothing better than to hear your melody while I dine.”
“Is-is it safe?” she asked.
“Of course!” he reassured her. “Such a treasure like you, I’d protect with my very last breath. I know how much the forest adores you. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Well I suppose so,” she began, “after all I’d hate for such a nice man like you to be lonely. Nobody should be lonely.”
“You go on ahead, my cottage is over there,” the man continued, “I’ll just gather some wood for the fire and will be right behind you.”
“Alright,” she agreed, “See you there.”
As she flew toward the cottage, the man approached the others. They asked why their friend had gone. “Oh it’s nothing,” he answered, “She was only a little tired of sharing her songs for today. She said she would rather sing alone. I’m sure she’ll be back in the morning. But I, on the other hand, would love to hear a harmony by such a good looking bunch. Sing for me, won’t you?”
When they finished the birdwatcher praised them, and made his apologies that his dinner would go cold if he stayed any longer. He said his goodbyes and turned to walk away, and as he did, the other birds were confused. They thought surely their friend loved them and was happy to share her songs, but she did fly off alone, and they knew the man to be trustworthy, so they believed him.
When the man arrived at the cottage, he looked so pleased to see the bird. “Thank you so much for offering your company tonight, my evening would have been so dull otherwise.” In his hand he held some branches. He placed them in the hearth and fanned the flames.
“It’s nothing, really,” the bird assured, and, seeing there was already a pile of sticks stacked nearby she chirped, “Oh, didn’t you know you already had sticks over there?”
“Silly bird, don’t you see those are not fit for a fire?” he laughed, “You had better leave such things to me. Now… I have been so looking forward to another of your songs, won’t you let me hear one?” He sat and poised himself with his hands under his chin, smiling intently, and motioned her to the windowsill, admiring, “What a beauty.”
She took her place by the window and began to sing as she tilted her beak upward and closed her eyes, trying hard to produce the best sound. When she opened her eyes, she noticed the pile of sticks was smaller. She looked all around the room and as she looked behind her, she saw there were a few sticks now standing upright against the window pane. Puzzled, she asked, “Weren’t these sticks just over there?”
“What are you talking about?” the birdwatcher replied innocently.
“These sticks, here, are now behind me. They used to be over there. I’m sure they weren’t here before. Why did they move?” she asked.
“No,” he maintained, “there were always sticks there. You’re imagining things. Perhaps you’re tired, you need some sleep. Silly bird.”
“I don’t think so,” the bird insisted, “I’m sure that pile of sticks was higher and there were no sticks here.”
The man’s fingers began tapping on the table. “I think I would know what was in my own home,” he said, and stood up quickly. He raised his voice, “Are you calling me a liar?”
“No! Of course not!” she conceded. “I wouldn’t–”
“I’d like to be alone now,” interrupted the man. “I think it’s time you left.”
“Oh please, I’m so sorry to offend, I really didn’t mean to.” The bird pleaded with the man, and he accepted her apology. When he then asked for more of her songs, she quickly obliged and serenaded the man until he appeared to be asleep.
“Don’t… leave… me,” he mumbled in between snores, and feeling guilty, and sorry for the man, she stayed. She ruffled her feathers to make herself comfortable for the night, as one of her colourful feathers dropped, leaving a dull grey one underneath. She then drifted off to sleep thinking about how rude she had been in exchange for his kindness, and how sad she was to have upset him.
When she awoke she saw he had made her a lovely breakfast of berries and seeds, and also that there were more sticks surrounding her, this time gathered and tied at the top. For a second she thought to ask if there were now more there than the previous night, but decided against it. She remembered how angry he had been and she didn’t want to upset him once more. Suddenly she noticed a few more of her feathers had dropped, but was immediately distracted by the man wishing her a good morning.
They had a wonderful chat as he told her how much he enjoyed her staying to sing him to sleep, and how she should feel free to come and go as she pleased. As a token of his gratitude, he placed a bracelet around her ankle.
“Our little secret,” the man said lovingly, and with that she returned to the forest feeling more special than ever.
When she arrived there, her friends started chatting amongst themselves. They didn’t seem too pleased to see her. She approached a group of them as she began a song, but none of them joined in.
“What’s that on your ankle?” one of them heckled.
“Why– it’s a secret, actually,” the bird replied sheepishly.
“I knew it,” another started, “she thinks she’s too good for us now.”
“No, that’s not it at all… if you must know, the man gave it to me,” she defended.
“What nonsense.” they all echoed at once, and flew away from the beautiful bird.
Leaving her alone on the branch, she watched as they all gathered together and sang a harmony without her. They looked happy. But the bird was not. Saddened, she flew back to the cottage, dropping a few more feathers along the way.
“Why are you crying?” the man questioned as he drew her near.
“I don’t know what I did wrong,” she whimpered, and looked down, seeing the bracelet. She thought maybe they had been upset that she had been given such a pretty thing. She would rather have her friends than a bracelet. “Oh, maybe it was because I told them you had given me this,” she began, but instantly found herself hitting the wall and in screaming pain. She didn’t know what had just happened.
“I wish you wouldn’t have made me do that,” sighed the birdwatcher, “but it angers me so when you tell our secrets. Hurts my feelings. Don’t you know how much I trusted you to keep that between us? And you betrayed me. I can’t think of anything worse than a friend who betrays another. That’s why I was so upset, I couldn’t help it.”
“I– I’m… sorry,” stammered the bird, “my wing… my wing is broken.”
“You should not have told our secret,” said the man, “if you hadn’t betrayed me you wouldn’t have got hurt. I hope you’ve learned your lesson now.”
He picked her up gently off the floor, where remained a pile of her feathers. He tended to her wing. And then, he placed her by the window. “Why don’t you climb in there,” he suggested, motioning to the sticks which were now attached to a base and completed by a door, “it will be much safer for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in danger now your friends are so jealous. That’s why you should never have told. Would you like me to secure it with a lock?”
“Yes, please,” said the bird sadly, as she cradled her bandaged wing, while a few more of her feathers dropped.
For the rest of the day, the man brought her everything she needed. She began to forget the pain in her wing as he told her stories, made jokes, gave her some of his special treats. He really was a good man, she thought, and she had been so wrong to betray him.
The man asked for some of her songs, and although she didn’t feel much like singing, she obliged to make him happy. She didn’t want to upset him anymore. She sang so much her voice began to crack, and by the end of the evening all her beautiful feathers had fallen into a pile at the bottom of her locked cage. She stared at them, and knew it was because she had been silly and betrayed her friend the birdwatcher that she no longer deserved to be beautiful.
The following day she awoke to a clean cage, but this time there was no breakfast. She asked for something to eat, as she could not go get any food for herself. The man demanded that she sing in exchange for his hospitality. She tried, but her voice cracked again.
“Look at you,” the man sneered, “not only are you so ugly, but you can’t even carry a tune. What good are you to anyone now? It’s a good thing I took you in when I did, or you’d never have survived out there in the forest.”
The man denied her breakfast and left the cottage. Through the window the bird could see him going to visit all her friends. She heard them singing to him, and felt ashamed, believing she would never be able to sing again.
Upon returning, the man brought her a small bit of food. It wasn’t a treat like he used to give her, but she was so hungry that she felt thankful he’d given her anything at all. He then offered her a gift, which was a little jacket made from her beautiful, colourful feathers. Delighted, she put it on and felt pretty for a second. He complimented her and she smiled, when she heard her friends outside the window. Excitedly, she waved to them with her good wing.
“He’s right, she does look happier there,” the bird heard her friends say as they turned and flew away.
The bird looked at the man. He had a smug grin on his face. She lowered her eyes to avert his, and saw once more the bracelet on her ankle. At that moment, she was sure she wanted it off. She no longer wanted to live with the man. She took off the jacket and thanked the man for the food, nodding her head to his following criticisms and trying to be as pleasing to him as possible.
Weeks later when one day the man went out, she seized the opportunity and tugged with her beak at the bracelet. She tried with all her might, but with a weak wing, and an overwhelming fear of what might happen when the man saw it was no longer on her, she stopped, and cried. Letting out a wail while thinking of how she used to sing and be loved and safe and free, and happy, but now she was surely going to die in this cage, she was surprised by the sudden sound of her own soft, melodic voice she had thought was lost. Shocked, she tried to sing a few notes. It worked! She sang a bit longer, repeatedly looking out the window and toward the door, worried the man would return at any second. Gathering a bit of courage, and remembering he would surely be gone for some time longer, she sang as loud and as high as she could, when one of the sticks of her cage began to crack. She stopped, contemplating what she had just done.
In her excitement she fluttered her wings. As she did so she noticed the broken wing had mended and did not hurt anymore. She fluttered again and a grey feather fell out. Surprised, she inspected her wings, to see that on the inside of one of them was a colourful feather. She beat her wings as fast as she could and as she did so, her cage rattled. She smiled as tears streamed from her eyes with this small glimpse of hope. She wiped them away and prepared herself, for the birdwatcher would soon be home.
When the man was around she pretended her voice and wing were still broken. He called her names and told her of all the more beautiful birds he had seen on his walks. She endured his speeches with a silent grace, nodding when he asked if she knew how good he was to her, and how she was lucky he provided for her, as she would no doubt struggle to survive on her own.
Despite becoming wise to his deceptive ways, part of her still wondered if she would indeed be better off staying with the man. Her friends no longer loved her, she doubted she was missed. She could hear their lullabies in the evenings, and their songs and laughter in the days. He would bring her food when she most needed it, and he told her how glad he was she’d chosen to stay with him. Despite the bad things he had done, he’d done equally good things. And she’d deserved her punishments, she thought.
One day when it was sunny, the bird said to the man before he left, “Please, just open this window a tiny bit, just for some fresh air? I am so glad to be safe in this cage and know it could do no harm, but the sun is a little extra warm today.”
Pausing to think about whether she could escape, but knowing her wing was useless and the cage locked, he relented and lifted the window. “Silly bird,” he muttered, and walked out the door.
Shaking, she gathered her courage and started to sing and beat her wings simultaneously. But thinking the man might hear her and be angry, she became terrified and stopped. She sat stunned the whole day until the man returned, feeling angry with herself for not taking what might have been her only opportunity to escape. She really was a ‘silly bird.’
A few days later she caught a glimpse of her colourful feather. She sighed, and knew she must act. She told the man how grateful she was that he’d opened the window the time before, and how much cooler it would be for him when he returned from his outings if he opened it again. As nothing had previously gone wrong, he agreed and opened the window, and left.
Giving him time to walk far enough away that he wouldn’t hear her, she began to beat her wings. The cage rattled. She beat them faster and harder, and tilted her beak upward, closed her eyes, and sang as loudly as she could. The sticks were cracking, and rattling more furiously. Thinking of how much she wanted to be free from her cage and away from the man, suddenly with a burst of what felt like insanity she pushed off and began to fly. Upon making contact with her beak, the cage shattered into thousands of pieces. Her grey feathers were moulting with every beat and her colourful ones re-growing at a fantastic pace. She squeezed out of the window and flapped her wings with fervour in the direction of the forest.
She was flying, and singing the best song she had ever heard coming out of her own mouth.
Being careful to make sure the man was not in the forest with her friends, she settled amongst them. They looked at her with surprise. “Please,” she said, “I have missed you all so much. Please will you help me get this bracelet off my ankle?” She sobbed with relief as they hurriedly rallied together to pull the bracelet off her ankle. “The birdwatcher,” she wailed, “he broke my wing. He caged me. It was awful. He’ll come for me. Please, we need to protect ourselves from him.”
“But you looked so happy when we saw you,” one of the birds commented, “why didn’t you leave sooner? You’ve been there a long time… if anyone treated me like that I’d have been out of there ages before now. How could someone as wise and as beautiful as you allow yourself to be caged?”
“I know,” the bird replied with shame, “I wish I had left much sooner. But I was so scared, and I thought it would have been impossible, so I stayed. But there’s no time to explain. Listen up!” They gathered all the creatures of the forest around and discussed what should be done about the man.
Now walking home to his cottage, the birdwatcher saw something glinting in his path, appearing to float in the air. He approached it, curious. Reaching out his hand, he saw it was the bracelet he had put on the bird, suspended in a spider’s web. After another step he found himself falling into a hole, which had been dug by the underground-dwellers. The birds had disguised it with twigs and leaves. It was so deep, he could not climb back out. After much trying he gave up, feeling sorry for only himself.
The bird, now back in the forest with her friends she had once loved so dearly, began a song. All the creatures chimed in with her, making the whole forest resonate with their harmonies. The last of the grey feathers began to fall out as she sang, except for one feather where her wing had been broken. It was never going to be colourful again. But, accepting it as a token of her strength and courage, she looked upon it proudly.
She would never forget what the birdwatcher had done, though she still felt sorry for him… just not too sorry.
Artwork by my eldest son, age 11
This is a story about domestic violence. It was written to challenge questions like, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
And statements like, “I’d never let that happen to me.”
And perceptions like, “She’s too pretty/wise/educated/etc. for that to happen to her.”
Domestic Violence can happen to anyone, by anyone. The damage isn’t always physical, and the solution not always simple.
It is also worth noting that while this story has a relatively happy ending, that is not always the case in real life.
(This story and all posts contained in this blog are the intellectual property of Kirsten Young and are copyrighted as such, unless expressly stated otherwise e.g.: “reblogged”.)