The pond was unusually cold. Winter is going to be worst this year. I believe I have to warn Chief that we must leave tomorrow to the southern part of the pond. On my way, I meet Gilbert, Stanford and Stephen. Look at these idiots, I giggle in my thoughts. Stanford seems to be training these guys. Of course, he is! How insane these guys can get. I felt like waving from distance but as usual, Gilbert makes an effort to approach me. He always loves flaunting his orange-black beak as he is the only one who has got that unique one. Rest all of us in the herd has an orange beak. He paddles faster as he gets closer to me. He certainly is excited about something. In a few seconds, my speculations are going to be proved.

“Cooper, hey buddy…. Where are you heading? Come, join us,” he cheers as he smoothly makes his way through the water.

“Gilly, How many times will you insist? You know it. Invite me only for the fish feast or grazing or perhaps for our early morning flock dance. Otherwise, I am not interested,” I wasn’t going to be a part of this activity, I was sure.

“Stanford has been so kind to teach us all the new techniques of wooing. He has taught us the backward swim, the shallow fly swag & how to gurgle in a soothing way…. And also….”

“Oh god! Stop it, Gilly. How this would help you to impress your Pen (our female flock)? And even if you do, what is so great about it?” I wish I could frown like humans; I had to show my irritation. So I used what I have got. I flapped my wide wings and moved my arched neck towards another direction.

“Goodbye, I have to talk to Chief,” I managed to say as I swam towards the triangular end of the pond covered in moss.

Chief agreed to the fact that it was time to start our migration. I was eagerly waiting for the next morning as it was going to bring me my favourite part of our existence.

We woke up around twilight. Chief’s message was already received by the herd last night. The hopeless romantic gang of Gilbert joined Chief and me at the triangular end. Rest of the members were prepared too. I turned and embedded my beak in my feathers to clean myself for the big day. The “dawn chorus” &melodious chirping of Blackbirds has charged up our spirit too.

And then it’s time. One by one we all spread our wide white wings against the chilly wind. I admire Chief at his leading position guiding all of us. My fixed place of right front beside Chief helps me foresee the impending path of our journey. It’s easier to locate the lakes or ponds surrounded by a morass. I love this task as we gaze at the green landscape, giant mountains, heavy waterfalls and flock of elephants trooping through the trees.

The open sky glowing in orange & grey shades welcome us in its arms. This is the true merriment one can ever experience. Fresh air flowing through our wings, brushing our white feathers reminds us of our real strength. Our flight is not higher in the white clouds but it is no less adventurous than any other flight. It’s filled with the mysterious beauty of nature. It lets us believe that we are gifted with something which many other beings don’t possess. And so we have a purpose too. Not only to admire this possession but to capture everything in our sight, which can’t be watched from the ground.

And just when I am lost in my unusual thoughts I locate a tiny lake at my right just a few miles away. Lush green surrounded by the moss, trees & grass. I gurgle softly letting Chief know of my discovery. He flaps his wings faster as a sign to let everyone know that we have found our new destination. The herd cheers with a loud cry & the team started landing towards the new lake.

Few minutes after landing everyone indulges in grazing. The fresh aroma of grass fulfils our early morning appetite. Chief & I slowly wander in the green feeling the soft & cold grass against our black webbed palmate. Unexpectedly Chief starts the topic which was highly unexpected to me.

“Cooper, you have always been the smartest & most responsible one in our herd. We are grateful to have you. It’s been almost four years that you have joined us.” his old quivering voice has always soothed me.

“Chief, I am lucky to be a part of this herd. I can’t imagine how my life would have been if you hadn’t picked me up from that muddy pond when I was a tiny abandoned cygnet,” I showed my gratitude.

“You were destined to be here with us. And you have got everything that a brave soul needs to survive. But there is something that I have been wondering. You have shown no interest in socializing with the young Pens in the herd. Why is that so Cooper?” Chief too has noticed this! For a moment I stopped and looked at Chief.

“Well, I like them. They have their own beauty. But I don’t believe in our practice of “mate for life”. It sounds too restricting and I don’t need…..” before I could finish telling my disliking of monogamous relations we heard tires screeching nearby, some humans whispering to each other. They carried huge cages and cane sticks in their hands. Chief and I flew towards the herd. We knew they were coming for us. By the time we reached the pond, I saw Gilbert being caught by one of their men. They had held his twisted wings tight, he struggled to flap & untie himself but his constant attempts went in vain as he was forcibly shoved inside the cage. A serene pond had turned into loud squeaking of the trapped herd. I could see Stanford and his friends paddling towards the moss but they too failed as three humans held their necks with the crane pulling them towards the cage.

“A snow-white swan with an orange beak, this one is a real beauty, Look Ted”, I heard this human whisper getting closer to me. In a panic, I couldn’t fly or paddle further. I froze looking for Chief all around; as I turned I couldn’t see anything. A total blackout & felt a cloth smothering me. I felt two human hands picking me in haste & I guess I was thrown inside a giant tunnel. In a few moments, the herd was captivated by this strange gang of humans. I lied motionless at the same place for some time. My heart pounding, I could see some loose white feathers lying on that cloth. My palmate hurt; it was tightly tied with a string. Though I feared my own death I couldn’t stop wondering what they had done to Chief and my other friends. I could still hear Gilbert’s heart-wrenching squeal. I could still see how the only cygnet in our herd was being dragged by humans, my friends struggling to set free & everyone drifting apart from each other.

The engine roared; I realized I was thrown in some huge transport. “All set, the final count is 18 in this van. Let’s move. These birdies have a long journey ahead in India.” The voices in front spoke with each other. I hated their clan, I hated their voice. I really hated humans.

………………………………………

In some time I managed to tear the cloth with my beak. The bumpy ride of a few hours had got us somewhere far. The vehicle had stopped. The human’s scent came closer. In a flash, I was unveiled from the cloth. I was glad to see few more buddies like me. But no one from my herd was there. Each one of them was in a cage. Most of them had a red or black beak. Some had shorter necks. The human hands held my wings again & pulled me out of that vehicle. I was being pushed in a silver large cage. I could only see elongated roads all around. My cage was being passed by one human to the other. Then I heard a loud thunder as one giant birdlike human transport was landing from the air. I was certain this was the same thing Gilbert and I had observed flying in the clouds a lot of times before. “Hey, Ted. That’s our flight. Take out all of them.” The voice said. Before I could understand anything my cage was again pushed inside another tunnel & this time it wasn’t so dark.

………………

Finally, my palmate was free. I felt soft grass against them. As I opened my eyes I was elated to see water. I walked towards it admiring the surrounding, giant trees, mountains, grass. For a moment I felt I was home. But I wasn’t. I spat out the few sips of water which tasted nothing like our usual pond or river water. I realized this wasn’t like a usual pond. First of all, it was small, had weird tasting water and I could see some dirty mud stuck at the bottom as I bent to drink. The smaller buddies whom I had noticed back in that transport were also here. Few of them were grazing in the smaller portion of grass at the other end. Most of them were swimming in the water. I was starving; I don’t even know how much time had passed when I ate last. I joined the strangers. In a few moments, a human in orange clothes came near us. He had a huge plastic bag in his hand. And slowly he dug inside the bag with his plastic gloves and took out a fleshy flapping fish. I spread my wide wings flying near this human who suddenly seemed so pleasant to me. He threw that fish towards me &Iperfectly grabbed it in the air with my beak. Since I was the only swan in that area I believed I was treated with 2 more delicious fish. I don’t know what just happened but the tender flesh made me ignore all that was bothering so far.

Soon after this appetite, I decided to just relax. I slowly moved towards that tiny pond and swam along those smaller buddies. Sipping water & swimming calmly they seemed just fine like me. Being treated with our favourite diets was something to win our hearts. Perhaps these humans in orange costumes were different than the ones I had seen earlier in my life. Sooner my eyelids were shut as I parked in one corner of the pond; it was also getting dark. I didn’t worry, to be frank; the fish was still soothing my tongue & my stomach.

………………………….

I woke up to the birds chirping & the scrubbing sound. Another orange human was brushing the outside of the pond. Oh, finally they noticed the muddy bottom. To my surprise, I noticed a new guy on the grass; he was different than the smaller buddies. He had long legs & a sharp beak. A long neck too but unlike us, it didn’t have any curve. While walking towards him I realized this area isn’t as big as I imagined it to be, I observed the wire fencing around the ponds, shrubs & trees.

“Hi, you seem to be new out here, I am Shrek.” His voice was funny as his beak.

“I am Cooper. Yes, I guess I was thrown here yesterday. Can you help me a little? I am not sure what’s happening. Where are we?” I asked him flaunting my orange beak.

“Hello, Cooper. Welcome to the world of human’s puppets. That’s what I call it. Because in a very short time you will be watched, photographed & perhaps fed by a variety of humans. It’s a bird park inside this zoo. By the way, we are luckier than the other guys as we don’t live in cages. I guess they like us to be presented as if we are enjoying out here.”

I couldn’t understand. “Shrek, I don’t understand. Yesterday a human in orange costume fed me & today they are cleaning out here. They seem to be pretty okay. Then what are you talking about?”

“No, No… Cooper… I am not talking about these orange clowns. They are the caretakers of the park. You will befriend them initially by being excited about all the treats that they offer you. But I suppose that’s their duty. You were brought here last evening along with that goose gang & some ducks. The humans I am referring here are yet to come. They come to watch us. But before sunset, they are out of here.” Shrek laughs shaking his long neck.

‘Goose, ducks..’ that’s what the smaller buddies are called, I thought.“So we are not in a cage. But we are trapped to be watched by humans, am I right?” I reconfirm.

“Yes, my friend we are in a fancy land. A golden cage which doesn’t have bars but you can’t move out unless your time comes.” I stared at him blankly.

Shrek Continued, “Well, I mean one day when you are old, weak & your feathers start shedding. You will be taken out of here. And despatched to heaven!”

“Does that mean you will be freed?” I wondered.

“No, my innocent friend. Actually even I am not too sure. But I don’t think anything pleasant happens to you. If you are of no use to these humans what do you think they would do to you? I am certain you remember the process of how you were brought here in the first place, right?” Shrek clarified my doubt.

“Yes, I do,” I remembered the fluttering of my buddies & that unfortunate capture. “How do you know all this, Shrek?”

“Because Shrek isn’t as young as he looks. I have been here for past 9 years. I was also captured from a faraway land. They had snatched me away from my mother when I was just a chick. Anyway, the story is long & tragic. I am sure yours is too. Let’s go grazing, what say?..”

“I am glad to meet you Shrek.” We started walking towards the grass. The aroma wasn’t as fresh as the ones in my land or the grass weren’t as cold against my palmate as it used to be. But I was happy at least I found someone.

“So Cooper…. have you met with a Pen? How old are you?” Shrek broke the silence with this notorious enquiry.

“Aheeemmmm….. Well… I am older than 4 years. And I am not so interested in this stuff” I hesitated. What the hell is wrong with everyone on this earth? Why everyone ends up with this conversation?

“What are you saying, my friend. That’s unbelievable. I have heard that you people follow ‘mate for life’ sort of practices. Love & commitment is like invented by you guys. Humans must be considering you a cupid or something,” he laughed again arching his neck back.

Then once again Shrek was another buddy to know about my disbelief in our practices. Our conversation was soon disrupted with a soft little voice.

“Good morning, Shrek. Who is this beautiful white birdie? Please introduce me.” Can a human voice be so naïve? A tiny human chick which approached Shrek without fear.

“Oh, Good morning, Olivia. This is Cooper, my new friend. He is called as Swan in your world.” Shrek also greeted her without any fear.

“And this is Olivia, the only human we all have ever conversed with. I have known her for the past 5 years now. She is a small gift in our tragic world who gives us hope.” He introduced both of us.

Olivia and I clicked instantly. She was the owner’s daughter as per Shrek’s information. And the only one who was allowed to feed us officially. I couldn’t understand how she was able to decode our language. Not only that, Olivia had this unique ability to even read our emotions. She visited the park twice daily. Only during her ‘boring exams’ that’s what she called it, she couldn’t meet us. I don’t know what it was.

The gates were opened in a few minutes. And I realized what Shrek said was right. They were entering in groups and watched us like they were seeing some delicious fish in front of them. Some of them used a tool which flashed a light; I guess that’s what was meant to click a photograph. I stayed in the pond as their noise had already started disturbing me. Olivia was busy feeding Shrek. Soon I was going to join them.

I don’t know how but I hardly thought of Gilbert or Chief or my herd when I was with Olivia and Shrek. Shrek told Olivia about my non-belief of “mate for life” in the next few days. Another buddy who learnt about it! The routine was set in the bird park. Though I hated all the other visitors and my inability to fly higher, I was thankful for having Shrek and Olivia in my life.

One day while grazing and strolling on the grass, Olivia and Shrek just couldn’t stop persuading me to find a mate. Olivia said I would make a great life partner. I would shower my lady with the utmost care and attention. According to her, she said Cranes don’t have that side and hence Shrek wouldn’t be as great a lover as I would be. That day before bidding goodbye she said she has a surprise for me which will be revealed soon.

………………………

The next morning while swimming I was astonished to see a beautiful Pen at distance. A black swan with a red beak, a white patch on her neck & lustrous pair of eyes which could draw you closer subtly. And that’s what happened, I slowly moved towards her. She was swimming in the front pond. ‘Loved your surprise my little Olivia’, I thanked Olivia thousand times.

“Hi, there. Good morning. I believe you have just arrived here, am I right?” I couldn’t believe my courage. This was the first time I was approaching a Pen without any formal training from Gilbert gang.

“Hello, Good morning. Oh….. So there is at least one Swan in this wonderland.” Her voice was as soothing as her beauty. “What a lovely morning! I loved the haze, and the sunlight shining brightly upon us. Lovely mountains & trees just add to this beauty. Isn’t it? Oh… I am Jasmine by the way”.

I was astonished to see someone so happy even after entering into captivity. “Ahhhh… Yes… Of course, they are. But there are very few who notice them. Jasmine is a lovely name. I am sorry but I don’t understand Jasmine, aren’t you sad to be here? I mean while moving towards you I thought I will be getting to hear another tragic tale. Unlike a lot of us, you don’t seem to be upset being here….. I am Cooper by the way…”

“Cooper… What an unusual name! To tell you the fact I was lost, upset a few weeks ago when I arrived here. But I met a lovely human chick. I was living with her at her home. She made my days so wonderful that I have really changed the way I used to live.”

“Olivia was your owner? Why did she give you up then?” I asked her flaunting my orange beak.

“Oh.. don’t worry… She hasn’t given me up. Neither was she my owner. They had got me from the foreign land &I was a gift to Olivia from her father. She took great care of me, fed me, bathed me, spent hours with me grazing & talking. And a few days back she told me that she wants me to live like many other birds. She loved having me with her, but she never wanted me as a pet. ‘That would have been taking away my freedom to find my own world.’ That’s what Olivia said. I didn’t agree for a long time, as I had got too attached to her. But after giving a thought I realized no other human would ever think for me like this. That’s how I have landed here”

I had started wondering if Olivia was really a human chick? Who bestowed so much kindness in her heart?

I was elated about meeting Jasmine. Soon we shared our life stories. Hers was also filled with a lot of hurdles & adventures. I told Jasmine how I had stopped flying completely. She couldn’t believe it &kept asking why I was changing my way of living.

“You are still a swan with the biggest white wings, right?”

“Yes,” I said looking away.

“Then, what stops you, Cooper? You have got these wings today. Do you know how long would you have strength in them? I understand our habitat is no more natural. But this is our home now. It might not have the greenest grass or the sweetest water or the longest yards. But we do know we won’t starve a single night. We are sure no human or other animal is going to hunt us here. So we are safe. You can fly on those long trees. Have you ever overlooked the fence?” her voice was raised in excitement.

After almost 4 weeks I opened my wings wide & Jasmine and I flew near the high fencing. We placed our palmate next to each other and admired the glowing sunshine on our feathers. I looked at Jasmine and couldn’t find words to thank her for this. I asked how she had found this way of looking at life. She explained how living with Olivia had changed her perspective entirely.

“Do you know Olivia always says one thing, ‘You can’t get so hung up on where you would rather be that you forget to make the most of where you are’” Jasmine and I landed on the grass as she shared this.

“Wow, that’s a lot of wisdom for a human chick”

“No…”, Jasmine laughed arching her beautiful long neck, “She has heard this in one of those movies her parents were watching. It does have a deeper meaning through”

“It indeed has it,” I affirmed admiring her beautiful eyes without saying anything.

…………………………..

Well, as it seems obvious I did fall for Jasmine. We shared a wonderful time together grazing, swimming, and grooming ourselves. We sooner enjoyed the blooming experience of lovemaking too. And of course, our friends were there to make our days even more exciting. Shrek, Jasmine and I eagerly waited for Olivia when she used to get busy with her exams. The new routine was joyous than ever. I had stopped complaining about my captivity. Instead, I invested my time in inventing different ways to woo Jasmine or to play with Olivia or spend time with ducks who would fight with each other. In fact, now I had also started flaunting my beak and flapping my wings in front of the visitors. I no longer felt I was their prisoner. I equally enjoyed entertaining them. I would observe the other human chicks too who would look at us lovingly. And I never stopped flying. Jasmine and I would also create a heart shape curve with our necks just to entertain the visitors while swimming.

In few months Olivia came with the news of some birds show competition in which she had enrolled my and Jasmine’s name. According to her, we were the famous couple who set an example of “mate for life”. No doubt I did miss Gilbert & gang, Chief and my previous life. I always prayed for them. But I never stopped living.

I had started believing humans. At least the human chicks & of course in “mate for life” too.

All thanks to my angel Olivia who showed me this side of life and introduced me to my soul mate.

______________________________________________________

Written by Manali Kadam

Mysterious & vivacious places, people & paths- these are her favorites. Intensely treasures her dreamworld and tries balancing the rational & mystical life's experiences. Dancing & writing have helped her best so far to express her innerself. A freelance soft skills facilitator loves to travel, eat and listen to people's stories. Learning to become a better human each day that's her goal.