There was once a little bird and she lived free and explored the world.
If someone offered her a crumb she would sing and fly for them to make them smile. Late one spring, she found someone who loved her songs and the shimmering sun on her wings so much he would come every day to his window with crumbs of cake to encourage her back.
Some days she came, other days she flew around elsewhere, doing other things.
She alighted on the windowsill one day and saw another bird inside. This bird lived in a cage.
The little bird wondered why the man gave cake to her and not to the bird in the cage and so she began to come back more often. She would not eat any cake until the man gave some to the other bird. The caged bird’s tatty wings soon began to shine and her sweet song joined that of the little bird on the window ledge.
The man was so happy with his singing birds; one in the cage, one on the window ledge.
As the summer rolled on, the little bird began to come back every day and the man realised that the bird in the cage would not fly away if he set her free, he only had to offer her cake.
In the middle of a warm summer’s day, the man set the caged bird free. She hopped out onto the ledge and stretched her wings, but she was afraid to fly. The uncaged bird liked the warmth and safety of her cage, so she sat there often, knowing the window was open if she ever wished to fly.
The little bird outside flew often, but she came every day to the window to share cake with her friends.
Autumn came and the little birds had never been happier. They sang and sat in the man’s hand pecking crumbs from his fingers while he admired their shiny wings. The uncaged bird even began to like the little bird, even though she had once resented that the man gave the cake only to her. They both realised that they could eat cake until they were both ready to burst and the man would still have more.
In winter the little bird had lots of things to do, she had to see her other friends so they knew she had not forgotten about them. But she still made time to come to the window as often as she could. The man gave her gifts with her cake and she brought gifts for him and for the uncaged bird.
Though the weather was cold, the man kept the window ajar every day for his little birds. Every morning, without fail, he had cake for them. At the turning of the season they sat together at the window ledge huddled together in the warmth of their love.
But there was a shadow growing in the man’s eyes and, as the days began to grow longer again, each time the little bird came back the man seemed less happy. She sang and flew for him but it was no use. She even tried perching on his shoulder and listening, but in spite of everything she did, his shadows continued to darken.
The uncaged bird took to sitting in her cage, and the shine left her wings.
The little bird settled on the frosty windowsill one morning and found the window closed. The uncaged bird’s cage dangled from a hook on the outside wall and she sat inside with her feathers fluffed up against the cold.
Scattered across the windowsill were a handful of cake crumbs. The little birds shared the bitter morsels; they didn’t taste the same as they did pecked from the man’s fingers while sitting in his warm palm.
The uncaged bird perched quietly in her cage while the little bird tapped at the window, flapping her wings to get the man’s attention. He cracked open the window, tossed out some more cake and closed it again. The little bird threw the cake off the ledge, puffed up her feathers and tapped harder.
The man cracked open the window once more. “I have given you your cake, what more do you want?”
The little bird didn’t know what to do, so she pecked up a few left over crumbs to show the man that she did still want cake. She didn’t know whether to feel upset and angry that the window was closed or grateful that there were still crumbs of cake on the sill.
The uncaged bird turned her back on the window and suffered in silence. She had lived for a long time in a closed cage with no cake; this was no different. But the little bird on the ledge didn’t understand why the man didn’t want to hear her songs or hold her in his hand any more.
There had been times before when the man had not come to the window, although the window had never been shut. On those occasions the man always had twice as much cake the next day when he came back. And, those times when the little bird had not been able to visit the window, she always had more songs to share the next day. Maybe this would be the same. If she kept coming back, one day the window would be open.
Each day she came back and she gathered the crumbs that had been left out. Sometimes she ate them, but sometimes she just couldn’t stomach them. On those days she brushed them off the windowsill so the man would think she had eaten them. The window stayed closed.
Spring began to warm the land and new green shoots burst forth, vibrant and fresh. Last spring the little bird had been flying around singing for anyone who would listen, and taking any little morsels they offered. Now she didn’t feel much like singing.
She thought maybe she could sing for the uncaged bird, but it didn’t seem the same without the man there.
She dared not fly away for too long. What if the man opened the window and found she wasn’t there? Would he think she had flown away forever? She couldn’t risk that. If only she knew when the window would open, then she could fly and be free knowing that she would be there when the window opened.
Weeks followed days and, each morning, the little bird spent a little less time by the window. Sitting on the cold, silent ledge just reminded her of warmer times, when the sound of her song and the man’s laughter filled the air.
Months followed weeks and spring turned to summer. The little bird began to wonder if the window would ever open. She flew away for longer and longer, days sometimes. Maybe the man wanted her to go away, and that was why the window stayed closed. Maybe he didn’t want to listen to their bird song any more.
The uncaged bird would not leave her cage. She was still afraid to fly. No matter how long the window stayed shut, she would be there. Whether she would ever sing again was another matter.
The little bird eventually stopped returning to the ledge. It seemed the window would never open again and sitting on the empty ledge, scraping up tasteless crumbs, only sharpened the edge of the void in her heart. Better to find a new ledge to perch on. Better to eat bread than bitter cake.
Summer faded, the leaves turned crisp, and all too soon the frosts of winter began to creep in.
The man had found no answer to his shadows. They still lurked about him. He lashed out at a dark shape and knocked the little bird’s gift from the end of a shelf. Cradling it in his hand he remembered how her song had made him feel. The shadows retreated a little and he looked towards the window. Perhaps the little bird’s song would help him banish his shadows.
He threw open the window, smiling for the first time in months and held out some cake in the palm of his hand. The little bird did not come.
Perhaps the uncaged bird would sing for him. But, when he turned to her cage, he found her feathers had turned black and dull and she would not take the cake from his hand.