I watched in awe as she flew by with perfection. Wind soaring beneath her wings, carrying her forward like an invisible hand showing the way. To her, my mother, that freedom was bliss. To me, it was an impossible feat. I was the odd one out. My siblings were older and normal. I was not, by most standards. While they flew to their feather’s desire, plucking straw for their nests or snatching worms for their stomachs, I just sat and fantasized on my favorite drooping branch. I felt as if the decaying offshoot was a reflection of myself; wilting yet stubbornly alive. Sitting there somehow made me feel powerful enough to dream. I dreamed of happily singing along my brothers and sisters. I dreamed of flying early in the morning to catch some fresh breakfast. I also dreamed of dying and of shedding both my wings; the healthy and the abnormally short one.
We lived on the oldest oak tree in the park. People scurried about like ants. Jubilant music flowed from ice cream trucks. Excited dogs ran besides their owners and the dreadful cats. Lots and lots of cats. I spent a large part of my day trying not to fall off the branch and into some odd cat’s sneering, smelly mouth. The thought of its whiskers pinching my flesh was particularly disturbing. Though some days I contemplated jumping on purpose. Fortunately those moments ended as soon as I saw my delicious lunch wiggling in my mother’s beak. I loved to eat. My sister often told me I would end up a fat Robin. Fat, sick, ugly, useless…. was an endless list I secretly loved adding words to.
Mother’s stash of hope was as inexhaustible as the number of worms creeping up; at the right place, right time. When I first discovered I had a ‘bad’ wing by birth, she gave me hope. When I was ridiculed by others in the family, she assured me things would change. She was right, but not quite the way I had hoped she would be.
One day, as I was waiting on my favorite branch, the rays of sunlight seemed dimmer than usual, like the weakening pulse of a heart, limping towards silence. I saw neighboring birds fly on by in a hurry. I felt sick. Something was wrong. She was late. I would’ve been starving, if it were any other day. But it was not. I dozed on and off, sitting alone on that branch, shivering like a crumpled leaf in the wind. That night, I dreamed of her gloriously descending from the sky, engulfing me in her warm, cozy wings. I dreamed of our flight together.
Night turned into day. My fellow birds cheerfully chirped across the park. I felt hopeful of her arrival. Hope soon turned into despair, then sheer desperation. I peered down from the tree. Everything was dead slow. I saw no cats and no people. I thought about jumping down. I couldn’t fly but I could always hop. A hoping hopping Robin. I would’ve smiled at such clever word play if it were any other day. But it was not. I jumped on the lower branch and onto the next one; one hop after the other and I was finally on the ground. In one feathery piece of dread.
Time passed in slow motion. I heard life ahead. Children and their parents were happily walking along the pebbly walkway. I remember sitting with mother and watching life pass us by. I remember her telling me about how kind some of these humans were. I remember listening to children’s laughter and thinking to myself, “That sure is a kind laughter”!
I suddenly snapped out of my dreams and saw a pretty little girl with dark brown curls you could get lost in. She held a scruffy doll clinging closely to her chest. She sent a wave of warmth to my heart. She stopped midway and noticed something. I followed her gaze to a flowery bush a few steps ahead. I jumped on further. She gasped with dismay at the same time as I almost fainted with horror. There lying stone cold on her back was my mother. Her beak wide open as if the last word on her mouth was hope. The girl hurriedly ran ahead and picked her up. I could see a tear rolling down the girl’s cheek. She caressed my mother with her soft hand. She even kissed her on the feathers. She did everything I would have done. I hopped on near. She grabbed a little stick and made her way onto a small dirt patch next to the bush. She dug a hole and gently placed my mother in it. She covered it carefully and placed a pebble on top. She stood there watching the tiny grave when her father called: “Hope! Come here sweetheart. It’s time to go home!”. She brushed away her tears and ran to join her father.
From then on, I knew one thing. That moment of kindness was enough for me to survive. My mother had given me hope and the will to live all these years. And now this gentle soul was to do the same. I hopped on behind her, as fast as I could.
Fast, hoping, hopping Robin.