Spirits were soaring high and the chatter was infectious. Her cousins had pleaded with her to join them as they hopped in and out of the invitingly warm ocean. She had said she didn’t feel up to it. Eventually, they had given up. And so, she sat by herself on a little rock, aloof from the merry crowd basking in the warmth of the midday sun. And as the holidaymakers revelled, she thought of home. And her eyes grew moist. Again.
It was the same every year. At the first feel of chill in the air, her entire family – and she had a big one – would excitedly start making plans for a holiday in the warmer south. She loved that time of the year. She lived for it. A few of her cousins hated the long flight across the seas, said it made them feel sick. But she lived for the exhilaration of it. That first rush of ad renaline as they soared up, up, and up! The hilariousness of beating gravity in the mock challenge that it insisted on putting up every time! And then, she loved how her childhood home would gradually shrink to a size small enough to carry in the heart till it was time to come back into its open arms once again. And while the others would collapse with fatigue at the end of the flight, she could only wish she could fly for longer.
When her brother was little, she used to make up stories as they flew. One time, they were on their way to visit the angels in heaven, riding on the soft pink cloud the angels had sent for them. And another time, they were superpowers, flying at supersonic speed, to save the world from demons. His eyes would grow big with wonder, his tiny body would quiver with thrill. But that was a while ago. Now if she tried to make him believe that they could pluck a few stars off the sky to light up their home, he would only nip her in the ear.
For her, the journey itself was so grand that the destination could never match up to it, even with all its glorious stretches of green and golden and blue. And when it was time to go back home, while everyone else would grumble about the holidays getting over too quick, she would be jumping up and down on her heels, eager to take on the skies again.
But this time, everything was different. She had flown without even noticing the horizon turning from a pale powder blue to turquoise, to indigo, and then navy, finally diving into a dark purple and then an impenetrable black. She ignored the stars winking at her as she sped past them. Every now and then, her eyes filled with stubborn hot tears, and when she tried to keep them back, they trickled down to her heart and made it so heavy that she felt she could never lift herself again.
She missed him.
She missed her parents when they went for work. She missed her brother when he went off with his friends sometimes. But she never knew that missing someone could turn itself into an ache that wrenched the soul so mercilessly. She had been sad to leave him behind and she had known that the holidays would not be so much fun without him around, but she was not prepared for the torment that now crushed her insides.
And when, on the third day into the holiday, she woke up in the middle of the night sobbing because of a dream she couldn’t recall, she instantly knew what she had to do. She would go back to him. She couldn’t tell anyone. Her parents would never give her permission to go back, that she knew with a distressing certainty. And she couldn’t risk trying to convince them to let her go. Especially her dad. He would snap and yell at her to not be stupid, demanding to know what she saw in that scruffy boy, calling her a disgrace. Her mother would be more gentle. But she would try to convince her to stay back for the holiday; how could she possibly travel such a long distance alone? What would everyone say, did she have no respect for her parents’ wishes, was not her family good enough to spend a few days with – questions she didn’t have answers for. Later, she could grovel at her parents’ feet, beg of them to forgive her, and accept any punishment that they might think befitted her. But for the now, all she knew was, he needed her and she needed him, and they needed to be together right away. And she knew this with such a strong conviction that considering any other option seemed ridiculous. So ridiculous that if she were not crying, she would laugh.
It had to be a non-stop flight; she had no time to lose. I have done this many times, I need not be afraid, she told herself before setting off, leaving behind her family sleeping peacefully. A few minutes into the journey, she realized how different it was to fly alone than with her family. Her heart pounded against her ribs, her limbs were almost frozen with terror, her back ached, every vague silhouette against the dark sky scared her, and more than once, she was convinced that she would never reach him.
This time, the flight seemed painfully endless. Every minute seemed to rob her of a little of her energy. By the time she felt drained out both emotionally and physically, she had covered only half of the journey. Her eyes stung with fatigue, but sleeping was out of the question. She was starving, but she was too nervous to swallow a morsel. The enormousness of what she was doing sent shivers through her body every other minute. What if her parents never spoke to her again? Her heart twisted at the thought, but she had come too far to go back now.
And finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she was swooping down! The fluffy white clouds had blended with the vanilla snow such that for a while, she didn’t know which was which. And suddenly, she was not tired, not scared, not aching. All that mattered was finding him. She headed straight for his house. She scanned the windows of the big grey building from miles away, half expecting him to be sitting on the window ledge as he liked to do in summer, humming to himself. But the windows were empty, with little heaps of powdery snow on the ledges.
Where is he? She thought frantically. She rushed to the terrace, where she had first met him eight months back.
“Tweeeeet,” she called out at the top of her voice. “Tweet, tweet, tweet, TWEET.”
There was no answer. She looked around desperately, a frightful apprehension gripping her heart. And then…
“Chirp?” Came a muffled, hesitant voice from somewhere. And a tiny head peeked out from under a stack of hay in the lone corner of the terrace.
“Chirp!” he exclaimed again when he saw her. As she dissolved into happy, relieved tears, he clumsily hopped to her, his broken wing hanging by his side, the other one beating frantically.
“Chirrrrrpppp,” he screeched, as utter disbelief was replaced by ecstasy.
“Tweet,” she whispered coyly, just before their beaks met.
Images: Author’s own doodles
Check out this heart-wrenching video from British Airways: