When you live in a tree, every story seems to start off with a leaf.
This one in particular, however, was different from the rest. Huddled in our nest, my brothers and I marveled at the funny green leaf, beaks agape at its rectangular shape and exotic squiggles. When Mama returned from the river at dusk, she told us about the city that our treasure had blown in from—a land of tiny wingless creatures and giant glass trees and the Great Green Woman with the Flame. Then, with a gentle flick of her wing, she flipped the funny green leaf over and there we were, reflected back against the scribble “E Pluribus Unum.”
In that moment, as I peered through the canopy of leaves and watched darkness engulf the Big Blue, I knew that I had finally found my meaning. Maybe up in this tree, I was ordinary. But out there, I would mean something.
They would love me—the boy who spread his wings and broke free from the funny green leaf.
I’ve done it.
Gazing up at the giant glass trees that tickle the Big Blue, I feel dizzy with excitement.
So this is what it means to be free.
I swoop down into the river, hungry for independence, herring—everything this faraway land might have to offer. And then I see it, reflected in the water’s gentle ripples—a giant silvery shadow. I tilt my head upward and my heart skips a beat.
Mama spoke of these creatures as she tucked us into our nest that night. But now, it’s so close I can almost touch it, glistening silver as it glides through the Big Blue, and immediately, I am up up and away, racing after this foreign brother of mine.
Without even flapping its wings, it flies through the Big Blue faster than I have in my entire life.
I flap my wings harder in a desperate attempt to catch up. Finally, I am chasing my dreams.
The giant silver bird soars past the Great Green Woman with the Flame, and I am right behind him, breathless, imagining the bedtime story I will relay as Mama tucks us into the nest tonight. My first kill—and guided by the silver-winged one, no less!
But then, I begin to wonder: why isn’t he plunging into the river yet? I squawk out a warning to guide my brother back on track, but he does not hear me. And suddenly, before I can stop him—
My brother has collided with a giant glass tree, and the Big Blue has gone gray.
Why is it so hard to breathe?
I hover next to the downed tree, unable to separate myself from my fallen brother.
Balancing on the branch nearest me, a two-legged creature emerges from the tree’s depths and stares first down, then up, then straight at me. I have seen the look in his eyes before—it’s the same one that flashed across Mama’s when I fled the nest this morning.
Please, don’t go.
It isn’t time.
You’re—I’m—much too young for this.
The creature teeters to the ledge of the branch, making a funny crossing gesture with the sticks that protrude where his wings should be.
And then, he jumps.
But it is all wrong. Instead of going up into the Big Blue, he is falling down down down, and there I am, soaring after him.
Please, Brother, I plead, my squawks growing frantic, let me save you like I couldn’t save the silver-winged one. But feathers and foreignness form a void between us, and I am left to watch him fall.
He has spread his wings, so why does he not fly?