Fiction / August 2009 (Issue 8)


by O Thiam Chin

I was once in love with a boy who was a bird. He had a shiny beak for a nose, a pair of wings for arms, and a body covered with soft cream and brown feathers. We were in Primary Four and he sat next to me in class. My classmates liked to call him ugly names, pushed him around, plucking feathers off his body, poking him with sharpened pencils. To me, he was the most beautiful creature I have ever set my eyes on.

So I drew a picture of him, and passed it to him during English class. He looked at it, and opened his beak, like he was smiling. His eyes shined as bright as polished stones, and he fluttered his wings in delight. My heart jumped in my chest, like a sparrow skipping. I drew him more pictures, and he in return, gave me small, pretty pebbles that he had found. I still have them with me, in a jar.

During recess, we would stay away from the school fields, where the boys played soccer and the girls tested their agility with zero-point, with ropes made of rubber bands, and lie under a mango tree and eat the snacks from our lunchboxes. I usually had fried rice with egg or a strawberry jam sandwich, while he had snails, earthworms and some berries. Sometimes, when I felt more daring, I would feed the slimy, wiggling earthworm into his beak and he would tilt his head, swallowing them alive.

We would talk about our adventures, mine on land and his in the sky. I would tell him about stray cats with drooping bellies, a Hello Kitty hairclip I got for my birthday, and the delicious spring rolls my mother made, and he would regale me with amazing stories of trees that looked like broccoli from above, of him brushing his body against the underside of planes, and of rivers that unspooled like silvery ribbons. The pebbles that he had gotten me were from all the places he had been, near and far.

I asked him what flying was like, how it felt to be so high up in the sky, if the air cold. He said in a few years time, when his wings are much stronger, he would bring me up and I would know first-hand. He even gave me a feather as a seal of his promise.

Then one day, he stopped coming to school. Some said he was shot down by the officers of the Environment Agency who were acting on a complaint about stray birds attacking passersby. Others said he had migrated with his family further up north, where the climate was warmer, and there was an abundance of food.

I never heard from him again. Some nights, when I can't sleep, I take out the jar of pebbles and conjure up his sweet sing-song voice from my memory, taking flight with him, soaring into the sky.

Editors' note: Read a review of O Thiam Chin's Never Been Better by Moira Moody here.

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