‘Just hop along little song bird. Hop along and sing. Just hop along little song bird and sing this song for me.’
The song bird flapped its wings and it hopped and it jumped as pretty as it could be, chirping out a sweet melody for all to hear.
The people who had came to visit clapped and cheered. One or two even sung along with the sweet little bird. It’s music bringing joy to everyone.
The man stood back smugly, proud of the adoration the honey drop of a bird brought. Many had come from far to see the bird, to hear it and enjoy it, and the man loved every moment.
The song bird shone brightly for it too was proud. It’s beautiful plumage hued in gold, amber and fire was fluffed up each time the bird drew a long breath before unleashing the most perfect music. A music that made Bach sound common and the most talented opera singer shed a tear openly. Music that could bring warmth, laughter and joy to even the coldest soul.
For the first week, the room was full and people cued around the block, all the better to take part in a choir performed by one soul. For that first week, the man could barely move for all the people who were in his small house. For that first week the little bird felt love, not only from all the people, all the joyous people who came to see her, but from the man also.
When the day came to an end he would take her out of her cage for a moment, and she would sit on his finger. The man would stroke the fine feathers on the top of her head and tell her she was a good bird and feed her a grape which she pecked up with her beak delightedly. In the morning she would awake and find a treat had been placed in her cage, a long stick of seeds, grains and honey. And she would trill happily, hopping down at her perch, pecking up the grains. Half would be gone by the time the next batch of people were let in, desperate to hear her sing,
For that first week, all was well.
By the second week, half the people came. The Que outside was far shorter and the man could walk through his house a bit more easily. The people still enjoyed her beautiful song, but they had heard her all the week before and the novelty of her beauty, her sound, and the very nature of what she was had worn off.
By the third day, there was no honey stick for the bird who was carved from honey and amber and flame and she sat for a moment, huddled in her cage, a feeling of puzzlement caste over her. Then she hopped to the door of her cage and rang the little bell there. It’s chiming echoing around the room.
The man staggered in from another room. His large hand clutching his forehead. When he came close, the little bird could see his eyes were bloodshot and he stank of something unpleasant. Acidic.
‘What’re you doing there – ringing this?’ the man flicked the bell which rang dimly, the little bird huddled away from it, feeling she had made a mistake.
‘Bothering me. At this hour?! You have water don’t cha? And-and food?’ The man gave her cage a small shake with one of his pork chop fists, rattling the small bird’s world.
She hopped back, startled, her little beaded eyes wide. Then, finding her courage, the little bird moved herself forward, shyly, gingerly, and spoke, in a very small, very tiny voice.
‘P-please. I only wanted to ask… Where is it?’
‘Where’s what?!’ The man grunted between his teeth.
‘The-the sweet thing. The lovely sweet thing you leave on my floor each morning. Where is it?’
The little bird made herself look up into the man’s red and black eyes as she waited for her answer.
‘Honey sticks? Honey sticks are for little birds who earn their keep! No one wants to see you anymore, they’re bored of you! Make em’ come back an’ you’ll have all the honey sticks you want!’
The man leaned back a moment and fumbled with his shirt pocket, trying to grab something small from inside.
Holding out his hand, he showed her a grape. A perfectly round, perfectly juicy, red grape.
‘And you can say goodbye to these too! Un-Until you bring back those people!’
The man squeezed the grape between finger and thumb, sending juice squirting at the little bird. It gunked up her feathers, leaving her all sticky and smeared.
‘Bring them back!’ the man shot at her as he staggered from the room, taking his sour smell and sour look with him.
Over the coming days, the little bird tried her very best to draw the crowds back to the small dark house with the sour smell and the sourer man. She sang her hardest. She learned words and repeated them back. And, when permitted, she flew around, spreading her wings wide, showing her brilliant colours, and she landed on a head here, a shoulder there, and she made people feel special. The people came back again, to the small house, and the Queues once again went down the street as there were so many who wanted to see her, touch her and hear her say their name as well as sing her beautiful songs.
The man reapplied the smug, proud look he had worn before, and presented her, the little song bird, with pompousness, his egotism at receiving such praise for something he owned oozing from him with every gesture and mannerism.
The little bird acted with ability, her talents on display for all like her fine feathers. For a further ten days, the crowds came, the Queues stayed long and the grapes and the honey sticks returned at the end of each day. The little bird rested securely, assured in the power of her performance and the coveting the man had for her.
But, the ten days passed, and the crowds once again began to ebb, melting away like snow on the last day of winter, with spring just around the corner. And then there was no more grapes and no more honey sticks and no more sitting on the end of a large hand being told what a good job she had done.
The man peered out of the window in his grey house, with the grey walls and furniture. The general gloom of the place being enough to depress just about any soul, if exposed for long enough.
The blind snapped back and the man staggered over to the bird, his hulking form lurched over the cage.
The little bird, the only pop of colour in the otherwise colourless, muggy house, shrank to the bottom of her cage, flattening herself down until she was almost nothing, in the face of his bulky, pungent form. And even more so in the face of the rage that bared down on her.
Blood shots eyes and a snarl, the face of a demon.
The man shook her cage, sending shock waves rattling through her entire world.
The little bird squawked in fear and stayed huddled to the floor, trembling with fright.
The man let go of her cage with a yell, sending it swinging back and forth through the air.
He left the gloomy, grey house with a slam of the door, taking his sourness with him but leaving just enough to smother, to exhaust.
The little song bird sat shaking in her cage until long after the man returned, his pungent aroma of stale sweat, sour rot and rage applied thicker than it had been earlier that day. She did not sleep that night.
Consumed she was with an anxious need to do better, to be better, to give more and give it quickly. During her musings and her planning she drifted into a fitful sleep, chirping slightly as she dozed on her perch.
‘Eating me out of house and home! MAKE ME MONEY!’
The cushion hit her cage far harder than it had any right to, sending her cage swinging wildly back and forth, and knocking the little song bird from her perch. She hit the ground hard with a thud and a cry. Her wing was bruised and she breathed quickly, fear and adrenaline sending her delicate heart into a drum roll that could end her life if it did not slow down.
The man, fuelled by another sort of adrenaline kept his assault on her home going strong, before turning his feral mood on the rest of the room. Both the room and the little bird were left in tatters when the man slammed the door loudly and dangerously behind him, taking his black mood and (some of) his sourness with him.
The little bird lay panting on the base of the cage, recovering, just.
Her attempts to bring back the people, to reach their hearts and inspire the same serenity and joyfulness before had not been successful. In face, it could be said that it was a disaster. When the little song bird had attempted to land on the hand of a small boy, to be sweet, she had scratched the little boy’s little hand by mistake, bringing tears and scorn and mutterings about how wild animals should not be kept in houses. Words spread like disease and no one had returned to the cramped, greying, sour house with the sour man and the little song bird since.
The little song bird was still on the floor of her cage when the man returned.
His smell proceeded him, unfurling across the front room like dark smoke from an old coal fire. Then the door slam.
The little bird moved as far to the back of her cage as she could, the closest attempt she could make at escape and knew that all was not well.
The man, an aggression seeded from something rotten and ugly possessing him, his animus, had total control.
The cage smashed against the ground.
The little bird screeched in panic, taking flight as best she could on bruised wings.
The sour, angry man attempted to grab her in a meaty fist, but she swooped away, clawing his hand as she went.
The man yelled out in disgust, angered such a small helpless thing could do him any harm (shamed even).
The little song bird, disorientated by it all, circled the ceiling light as she tried to gain her bearings and find her way out. Out of this sour grey house. Out towards the sun.
She circled three times, the man jumping at her, clawing at her tail feathers, his teeth bared and his eyes furrinesses. Black and red and enraged.
The little bird got away.
She hit the door frame.
The man stood over her limp body and he cursed. He cursed and he shouted and he yelled, hitting the door frame, leaving a large hole, before trashing the room, and the other rooms, and then getting blind drunk.
When he woke with dawn, last night’s bottle of Jack whacking his head like a mallet, it took the man ten minutes to find a dustpan, and another five to find a brush.
The man wobbled his way past the broken cage, and the destroyed room, and the thrashed front door and expected to find the dead bird.
The dead little song bird, who had hopped and sang and brought joy, to himself and others, and made him feel important for a small time, just for being near her.
He didn’t find her. There was only a note.
Kindness begets kindness. Sometimes.
Cruelty and spite are everliving. The font will not run dry.
The small piece of parchment crumbled in his hand. Much like the piece that had come with the bird. The little song bird in her golden cage that had arrived, on a Wednesday morning, on his doorstep. It had been dawn then also.