Short Story 16
A Little Bird Told Me
There is a village where a man sits in a room filled with birdcages. He has long hair kept very nicely, appears always in the ripe bosom of youth and dresses in flowing robes. He remains by himself much of the time and talks to the birds of all breeds and kinds that are housed in the open cages from which they can come and go at their leisure. It is said that there is no secret in the village, or the world for that matter, that he doesn’t know. Many people fear to go to him imagining that he can read their minds the moment he sets eyes on them.
The man was in the possession of one attendant assigned to him by the village when the boy was only ten. He had come to the man’s residence every day since his appointment and served him. He would prepare his food and drink. Clean the quarters, though never anything in the bird room, and check on his general wellness. If there was anything that was lacking. The boy would see that it had been brought or taken away.
One day while performing his duties he was called into the bird room, “Manu, would you come here for a moment.”
He entered the room to find his master with a yellow finch on his right index finger. He appeared as he viewed the bird, as if he had forgotten his sending for his servant in the first place, whatever was transpiring completely absorbing his attentions.
“You sent for me Master?”
A handsome smile, the bird flew from his finger and his soft dark eyes went to the young man near the door, “How long have you served me, Manu?”
A hard swallow, “I have been with you since my tenth birthday master, and that was eight years ago now.”
“That much time has passed.” Manu’s master said this as if in a haze trying to recollect it.
Eight years Manu had been serving his master and never had he aged. He was always just as beautiful and timeless as if stuck at some time in his early twenties.
“This life must be quite hard on you, Manu.”
“Not at all Master, it is my pleasure to serve you.” He bowed his head, though never had his master harmed him, he feared the power he had. The reverence the people of the village felt toward him.
“Of course, it is a great honor to be your servant.”
In honesty, Manu had not wanted to be elected by his family, but all the first-born sons of the village under the age of eighteen were presented to potential election as the Bird Keepers servant. It was something every family wanted, they received special benefits from having their son be the one chosen by the Bird Keepers favorite bird the Red Crested Turaco he had received as a present when it was just an egg, the one he had named Abayomi after the one who had given her to him. She was his treasure. It was even rumored in the village that the woman Abayomi who had come from so far away had been the only woman the Bird Keeper had ever allowed into his presence.
“You are not happy here are you, Manu?”
“I don’t understand Master, what would make you think so.”
“A bird told me, Manu.”
Manu’s flesh prickled against the accusation. He wasn’t sure if the Bird Keeper was telling the truth. It had always been a rumor, but no one had been sure how he had come to know so much.
“The finch just now confirmed what the tit had told me a few days ago, that you threw a rock at Abayomi.”
Manu shivered against the accusation, “Master, I…”
The Bird Keeper raised his hand stopping him, “Abayomi did not accuse you, but it disturbed the other birds that you, my servant, should treat the one I favor in such a way.”
“But Master, I didn’t…”
A stone like quality came to the handsome face, though the kindness never evaporated from the dark eyes, “So you are saying the finch and the tit lied to me? I shall ask Abayomi myself.”
The bird as if knowing she was wanted came through an open window landing on her master’s right hand. They looked at each other, no sounds were made. Nothing exchanged save their glances. The Bird Keeper’s mood grew solemn, the bird flew from his grasp and out the window.
“She confirms what you have done. She tells of you gathering water in the stream near this hut and you’re removing a pebble from the stream and tossing it at her as she watched from a branch nearby. You have always been very kind and very good, what has caused you to behave so out of character?”
“It would be difficult for you to understand Master.” There was no anger in Manu, no frustration now, anxiety forced that far away.
“Are you not provided for?”
“And your family’s needs, are they not met?”
“It is true that I do not understand your plight when you are fed and clothed. However, I am not blind to understanding that there is more to life than this and at times much more to finding it pleasing. Please explain to me, Manu, what is bothering you, I want to understand you, what would change you so much from what I have known.”
He rang the towel still in his grasp, “Master, it is just…”
“I do enjoy privileges for being in your service. My family has never been blessed more. But being your servant… it means I am ostracized from the village. I am not permitted to do as any young man my age. No family will allow me to wed their daughter. I must devote my entire life to your care.”
“You were brooding on this at the river, weren’t you? You through a rock at Abayomi because she selected you for my service?”
Manu nodded unable to raise his eyes, “I have been ungrateful master, you must surely wish to punish me, and truly I deserve it.”
“You couldn’t be further from the truth, Manu. I do not wish to punish you. It merely confirms my thoughts.”
Manu looked up at his master. Despite his youthful appearance there was a reflection of age in his eyes, that reminded Manu of his great grandfather, a man he had seen only once in his life.
“I will tell you something that I have told no other, listen to me this last time, Manu. I must relieve my heart before I can remove this other burden. Abayomi was a gift to me, one I received from a woman from very far away. She came to me and offered me gifts of gold to help her. I was taken with her the moment our eyes met; she was beautiful like night captured in a jar with all the moonlight still intact but only the darkness visible. I would have done anything for her without need to receive a gift, and so I begged her to allow me to help her as my reward.
“She asked me to discover for her a secret. She was a princess, the only daughter of her father, he had always kept her very close, but now he refused to see her. Her uncle was leading as her father’s proxy, though doing things she knew very well he never would have authorized. I didn’t refuse her my help and she agreed to stay in the village and wait until word could be brought.
“As we waited, we grew more to care for one another. Often, I would find excuses to have her brought to me. It might surprise you, Manu, but I do not reside in here because I wish to, but because I must. Our people will not allow me to leave. When my gift was discovered so many years ago, my family locked me away. They told people stories about my gift and kept me as an unwilling idol, here in this place. The only one residing here kept in a locked cage is me.
“This was something that I and Abayomi had in common, and in this place, she comforted me, though she always remained as distant as you are now, her very presence was soothing. Two months passed before word returned, and then it made sense why such a precious daughter had been allowed to leave. Her uncle had been poisoning her father for well on a year, he had slowly stolen everything from him. Very soon her father would die and she would be given away as a pawn used to garner an alliance her father never would have consented to. Her absence was to be utilized to finalize his take over.
“I begged her not to leave, to send envoys instead. My birds had brought back word of her suiter, it was not farfetched to assume that he would be the death of her. Knowing that if she left, she would surely die, she still chose that path, in the hopes that she might save her father. Before she left, she gave me an egg saying that it would only hatch at her death. Her body and soul would be gone, but her heart would stay with me.
“The egg hatched three months after,” He extended his hand and Abayomi flew to him landing on his fingers, “I knew that day I would never see her again.”
“Master…” Manu’s words fell silent when he saw the tears in his ancient eyes.
“I promised to stay until I was no longer needed. My time has come. You are free, Manu, go and live a happy life.”
Sensing the Bird Keepers desire to be alone he left the room finishing his chores before going for the night. Returning the next morning he found his masters room empty, all the birds gone. The only things left were fallen seed husks and feathers.
Thank you so much for reading everyone!!
Prompt: A little bird told me
Special thanks to Rob Pumphry from Unsplash for the use of the image!
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