The White Bird

by Eugene Marckx

Once there was a boy who made friends with a white bird.  They went freely together everywhere.  But one day the boy locked the bird in a cage because he said that other boys were always trying to catch it.  When he came back from play the cage was empty.  The white bird was gone.

As the boy grew into manhood, he spent years wandering.  He grew old before his time.  Then he met a sage and told him his story.

“God forgives you, my son,” the wise man said.  “Go to the edge of town and build a hut.  Pray and live simply.  On the last day of winter, just before the weather turns, pray and fast through the day and night, and the white bird will come to you.”  And he gave the man a pot, which was always filled with food.

So the man built his hut and prayed, and when starving children came he sat them down, and they all had a feast from the pot of food.  On the last day of winter he prayed and fasted through the night.

Early before dawn he saw a cherry tree out his window, and on a branch covered with tiny buds he saw the white bird.  He climbed out the window and into the tree, but he lost sight of the bird, for on all the branches the buds had turned to ripe cherries.  They were so sweet, and he couldn’t stop eating those cherries until he fell from the tree.  When he woke up he went back to the sage.

“God forgives you, my son.  Here is a guitar.  Would you like to begin making songs?  Go live and learn in your hut.  On the last day of winter, just before the weather turns, pray and fast through the day and night, and the white bird will come to you.”

So the man learned to play and make songs, and the children sang with him, and they thought of him as one of their own.  On the last day of winter he prayed and fasted through the night.

Early before dawn he heard the white bird calling.  There it was on a hill above a spring of red water gushing down.  Red?  He tasted it.  Oh, wine!  He drank and drank.  When he finally woke up he went back to the sage.

“God forgives you, my son.  Yet I see that gifts do not help you.  Now you must beg and scavenge and sing for your supper.  But on the last day of winter, just before the weather turns, pray and fast, and the white bird will come to you.”

So the man learned to beg for food, and the children showed him where to find mushrooms and berries and nuts in the forest.  But on the last day of winter he was thin and faint from hunger.  Still he prayed through the night.

Early before dawn he saw the white bird, but he was too weak to follow it very far.  And so it came to him.

The children and the wise man found him dead, a smile on his blue lips. Yet in his glazed eyes the sage caught sight of a fluttering.  “Look up!” he shouted.  In the high branches of all the trees were white birds.  And at the shout they flew upward in explosions, flocking and turning and filling the skies until the clouds themselves looked to be shimmering.  People in the town thought it was a hailstorm coming to destroy the thatch of their roofs, and they ran out to find the sage.  But he met their fear with smiles.  “No, my friends, the white bird has come to us at last.”

The children remembered one of the songs the man had made.  They began to sing, and they formed a circle dance while the birds wheeled above them in the sky, around and around the dead man lying there, smiling his blue smile.

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