The Canary’s Song

I wrote this a few years ago, thinking of how other people’s perceptions of us can mold our lives, turn us into what we are not.

birdcage

The room was dark, and filled with many things. Important, old, dusty objects, visited on occasion by the people in the house. Furniture, seldom used, left there to be dusted off when company came. Pictures hung on walls where no one could see them. The burgundy velvet draperies covered the windows except for a small space of about three inches left open for the bird.

 The cage, itself, was fairly large. Silver wires woven together, tarnished. It had once been designed to be beautiful, but now, merely served its purpose. Set in the corner, unobtrusive, silent.

The bird knew no other home. She had always been here, in this cage, this corner, this room. Daily, she had watched the world outside through the gap in the drapery, like someone watching TV. She believed none of it was real, but enjoyed the neighborhood dogs, cats and traffic as some kind of entertainment. But it was the birds she loved the most. She watched their dancing flight, and felt their freedom in the wind.

Occasionally people came in the room to feed her and give her water. They loved her, and she enjoyed the moments they spent with her. This was real. They filled her dish with colorful seeds, her bowl with fresh sparkling water. She would stay pressed out of the way, against the silver bars of the cage.

“Sing, little bird.

Flap your beautiful little yellow wings!

Sing your pretty canary song,

For it pleases us.

This is the reason you were made.

Fulfill the wish of the Creator.

This is the meaning of your life.”

The seeds were hard for the little bird to break, and they stuck in her throat making it difficult to sing the song they wanted to hear. She washed them down with the water, and sang for them the best she could. Puffing out her chest, she sang long and hard, until tears would form in her eyes.

“Sing louder, little bird.

Sing sweeter.

Sing your canary song!”

 She was so happy to be yellow, as it seemed to please them. She would flap her little yellow wings, and they would smile. So pretty in her silver cage. They tapped her cage as they would leave, making it swing on the chain that was attached to the ceiling.

“Fly!” they said as they left the room.

 The bird was thankful that they allowed her to fly like this. The cage spent several minutes swaying to and fro, and she held her wings out to enjoy the soaring sensation this created. How thoughtful they were. How much they loved her.

 Whenever she heard them come near the room, she would begin her song. Bringing joy to their hearts was the meaning of her life. Her heart longed to see the happiness she was creating. The dark room, the shadowy objects, the dusty curtains reflected nothing.

 In time, the little bird realized the cage was getting smaller. She could no longer flap her wings the way she had done before. Her wings, when spread, reached across the cage. Her feathers scraped across the silver bars. No one noticed this when they made their daily request.

 “Sing, little bird.

Flap your beautiful little yellow wings!

Sing your pretty canary song,

For it pleases us.

This is the reason you were made.

Fulfill the wish of the Creator.

This is the meaning of your life.”

 One day, she discovered she could sing a new song. She had practiced all day, and the sound thrilled her. When they entered the room, she greeted them with her new found song. Instead of the joy she had anticipated, she saw displeasure in their eyes.

 “Who has corrupted you, little bird?

Who has changed your beautiful song?

Sing louder, little bird,

Sing sweeter.

Sing your canary song!”

 Although she was eating all the food that was given her, it no longer seemed to give her strength. She longed for more, something besides the colorful seeds. It took all her strength now to flap her wings and sing her songs. It took all her courage to supply the joy she was created to provide. Many days were spent laying on the bottom of her cage watching the world outside. One day the sun shone through the glass and formed a puddle of warmth in the corner of the cage.

 The little bird huddled in this tiny spot of sunshine that had joined her from the outside world. Could this be real? She wondered. When the people entered the room, they saw her lying in the sun.

 “Oh, little bird!

This is dangerous for you!

Let me adjust the drapery to keep the evil sun

from damaging your beautiful yellow feathers.”

 And they closed the draperies. Blotting out the warm sunshine. Blotting out the cats and the dogs and the birds. Blotting out what was real. Sealing her in to their reality.

 “Sing little bird.

Flap your beautiful little yellow wings!

Sing your pretty canary song,

For it pleases us.

This is the reason you were made.

Fulfill the wish of the Creator.

This is the meaning of your life.”

In the darkness, the bird’s heart withered.

She never left the floor of the cage now, her eyes clouded over with worry about which of the two worlds were real, and why she was really here.

 One day a beautiful woman came to visit, and slipped in to see the bird. Carefully, quietly, she approached the cage. She held out a gift. A mirror, framed in polished silver that gleamed. The bird had never seen anything so beautiful.

“A mirror to set you free,” said the woman gently.

“Someday you will wake up, and realize what you are.

Someday you will find a way to use this key.

And when you do, nothing can stop you!”

 When the woman left the room, the bird took a long look into the mirror. What she saw there distressed her. Was there something wrong with her eyes? Did she not understand the concept of color? For what she saw was not a yellow bird. The feathers she saw were black and gray and white. She hid the mirror in terror. Why would the Creator have done this horrible thing to her?

“Sing louder, little bird.

Sing sweeter.

Sing your canary song!”

 One day, the people did not enter the room. The house was silent. No one came with seeds or water. No one came to be given joy by her song. She gathered the strength to find the gift the woman had left her. Taking a look into the shiny silver, she saw that the door of the cage behind her was open. Indeed. There was no door there at all.

 She stood in the opening, only hearing the beating of her heart. Fearfully, she stepped out into the dark room. She didn’t die. Instead, she felt stronger. She pulled aside the burgundy draperies to see the sparkling sun outside. It took time for her eyes to adjust, but she saw the most beautiful world waiting for her. She looked back into the safety of the dark, dusty room that held nothing for her.

 As she looked out the window, she realized it was open. It had always been open. The bird stepped through the window and for the first time, she flew. The rocking of the cage had not been flying, she found. Nothing could compare with this. Her wings carried her up into the sky, toward the sun. She found the joy she had for years given away. She opened her mouth to sing her song. Her own special song, that came out in a scream of ecstasy.

“Sing louder, glorious bird.

Sing wildly.

Sing your eagle song!” 

 c. 2011, Fai Marie Dawson