The Caged Bird
After traveling high and low and near and far, Ella had grown used to the ways birds reacted when they met her.
They usually exclaimed:
and often simply
“Huh,” said the birds. “We’ve heard about you. Are you aware your eyes are alarmingly and unpleasantly blue?”
“Yes,” Ella assured them. “I am aware.”
She knew she had blue eyes.
“As one hundred percent normal birds, we find them peculiar,” they said. “Who in the world ever heard of a blue-eyed sparrow? Common sparrows always have brown eyes.”
Ella tightened her scarf and raised her chin.
“I am not a common sparrow,” she said.
Ella had known she was not a common sparrow since the day she learned to fly. On that day, Ella received from her mother a long blue scarf.
“Indigo blue,” corrected her mother.
As Ella held the scarf up to the light, her mother looked at her and said, “I chose the color to match your eyes.”
“My eyes?” said Ella.
This was very surprising.
“I have blue eyes?” she said.
“Of course you do,” said her mother. “Haven’t you noticed how the other birds stare?”
“I thought they stared at my handsome beak,” said Ella.
“No,” said her mother. “Your stubby pale beak is quite plain.”
This was very disappointing.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” said her mother.
“But I have blue eyes?” asked Ella.
Her mother wound the scarf around Ella’s neck.
“You do have blue eyes,” she said. “Your eyes are as blue as the bluest hour before dawn, and they shine like robin eggs bathed in moonlight. This is why the others look at you so. You are not a common sparrow.”
“But where did I get my blue eyes from?” asked Ella. “And what do I do if I don’t want them? All the other sparrows have brown eyes.”
“Silly bird,” said her mother. “Of course you want them.”
“But what happens if I don’t?” said Ella.
“Whatever would you do without your eyes?” said her mother. “How could you see where you are going, or where you’ve been?”
Ella couldn’t say. She didn’t know.
Harold scratched his large green belly and looked around his cage.
“Food?” he muttered. “Maybe, maybe, maybe?”
A Maybe, thought Ella. It sounds almost like a kind of bird. That’s me. There go the Phoebes, and the Finches, and the Warblers. Here comes a Maybe.
“I don’t have any food,” she said. “What did you say about a raven?”
“Why would you wake me and not bring food?” said Harold. “You need to hide. Are you aware that—”
“Yes,” said Ella firmly. “I am aware. But why do I need to hide?“
“You’re in danger—obviously. You can ask anyone if you’re in danger.”
“Okay,” said Ella. “Am I in danger?“
“I just said you are,” said Harold. “All you wild birds are in danger, and especially you.”
“I’m not sure what we’re talking about,” said Ella.
“Hello! Are you listening?” said Harold. “Are you aware that a raven is looking for you?”
“You told me twice already!” said Ella. “Is it my raven?”
“Your raven?” said Harold. “I don’t know. What does she look like? Maybe this one isn’t your raven.”
Ella thought for a moment.
“She’s the largest and most frightening bird I’ve ever seen,” said Ella. “She has pitch black feathers, a shiny dark beak, click-clack claws—”
“It must be hard to be a raven,” said Harold. “Don’t you think? All covered in black. As grave as a tomb.”
He looked back at Ella.
“Hmm?” he said. “What’s that? I don’t think I was listening. Let me check. No, I’m positive I wasn’t.”
Harold bent down in front of the little mirror with a worn yellow frame that hung in his cage. He gazed into the glass and squawked loudly with satisfaction.
“Still green,” he said.
“Please,” said Ella. “This is important. What do you know?”
“Me?” said Harold. “I know an enormous amount.”
He rubbed his beak around the mirror frame and gnawed at his reflection.
Maybe I should have landed somewhere else, thought Ella.
“Let’s start over,” she said. “I’m looking for a raven.”
“I know,” said Harold. “That’s twice you’ve told me. But I still don’t understood why you want a raven. I only know there’s one looking for you.”
“But I don’t want a raven,” said Ella. “I want my mother.”
Harold nodded. “You see what happens when I don’t get enough sleep? I must not have been listening again. I can only imagine it’s your peculiar eyes that distract me.”
He smoothed back the feathers on his brow.
“Or maybe it’s your weird scarf,” he said. He frowned. “You sparrows are so complicated. First you tell me you’re looking for a raven. Now you say you want a mother. Where’s your mother?”
Ella hesitated. The whispering breeze rolled by along the windowsill and ruffled her feathers. She shivered.
“Missing,” said Ella.
Her voice sounded small and unimportant.
“She’s missing?” said Harold. “You mean you lost your mother as well as a raven?”
Ella blinked and shifted uncomfortably. A heavy and familiar lump swelled up in her throat, and the trapdoor at the bottom of her heart collapsed—again.
“Don’t worry,” said Harold. “I have a plan.”
Ella couldn’t reply.
She thought: This is the story I repeat to myself every day. The storm, the dark wind, the wicked smile. The great claw that reached into the nest and stole you away. The numb rush of air as you disappeared from me. The black cry of the raven as she fled. The search, my long journey. The broken trail. And I would like to be able to say these things, but the words are far too heavy for me to speak.
Ella slowly lowered her head as the heavy words drifted down and sank inside her.
“Did you fall asleep?” said Harold.
Ella didn’t answer. She could no longer hear the parrot, or the whispering breeze, or the Park around her that chattered happily in the morning light. She heard only the long rush of a faraway rain, and the stormy howls that spilled from a broken sky.
Ella closed her eyes and saw a Terrible Black Night.
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© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects