by Jo Waterworth
There was once a girl in the city who saw nothing of the buildings or the people. She saw only birds. Birds and trees.
There were many birds in the city. Perhaps as many birds as there were people. She gave them no names or categories – sparrow, seagull or pigeon – they were simply there, and noticed. She always noticed birds.
Her mother could be dragging her from one strange building to another and suddenly she’d stop, mesmerised by wings, by an aerial ballet, swooping down to land on a leafy bough. She’d be shouted at again, but she expected to be shouted at. She’d be dragged by the arm, away from her wondrous creatures in the sky, with the constant muttering by her side. It made no difference. Nothing stopped her observing the birds, nothing made her take notice of people.
Her favourite season was winter. In winter she could watch the birds more clearly. They landed on bare branches. And in autumn she liked to watch the leaves fall, twisting and curling, and the sycamore seeds spinning like crazy things. Like herself. She would stand in the middle of the floor and spin until she fell over, and her mother would pick her up and whisper words of apology to the other invisible people all around.
In spring the birds were especially active, scurrying around with young mouths to feed. She tried to climb trees to look at their nests, but was always pulled back. She built herself a nest on top of some furniture, but she wasn’t allowed to sleep there.
Summer was not a good time. Not until the year she was sent to a farm. She was put on a mini-bus with bags and sent away, and it was the happiest time she had known. She was surprised at happiness. It had never occurred to her before. There was no dragging, no muttering, no shouting. There were new birds, many trees, fruits to be found on branches and food discovered in the earth. For the first time she looked at the earth. She saw the small creatures, she saw the many different kinds of leaves, flowers and seeds. She saw and she loved. Until her bags were packed again and she was put on the minibus back to the city, back to her mother, back to too many people and too much confusion.
She had to return. She began to climb on to buses, but was always dragged back. She ran into the road when she saw a minibus like the one that had taken her away. And when none of that worked, she realised there was only one way to rejoin the real world.
Seeing birds arguing over a high ledge, she slipped away from watching eyes and walked into a strange building, up many stairs, and into a room with an open window. She climbed out onto the ledge and greeted her friends, whistling and chirruping to them in the only language her throat would form.
She didn’t see the crowd below. She didn’t hear the shouts. She was happy again, in her element.
Someone in dark clothes with a crackling box on his chest appeared at the window. She backed away with all her friends. As they took off in a flurry of wings she took off with them and flew, circling high above the buildings until she had her bearings, and heading West, towards the setting sun.
Jo Waterworth lives in Glastonbury and has been writing for years, but doesn’t submit often enough.