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You Are My Sunshine bird on the branch
I found a high branch to sit on, near the canopy


I start to shiver and my feathers begin to puff instinctively. It’s getting colder, and I can tell through the slats in my crate that it must be night. The humming of the truck mingles with the soft song of disheartened birds. Occasionally, I join in.

The events of the day flash through my mind. There was only a light misting today, unlike the heavy rainfall we usually get in the rainforest. The sky seemed bluer than usual, the wind more refreshing, the sun brighter. Everything smelled fresher, looked greener, sounded happier. In the morning, I rolled around in a giant wet leaf to bathe. I found a high branch to sit on, near the canopy. The vast expanse of sky above me made me feel like soaring. So I did. Above the rainforest, troubles, and worries. The afternoon was spent preening and drying my plumage in the sun. I managed to find a large clump of berries today. The forest floor was a treasure trove of ripe goodies. I even found a whole peach. It’s a good thing too because I haven’t had any food since a small nut was tossed in this box.

Thinking of home makes me nostalgic. I try to shift my wings, but they are covered with cardboard pieces, which are attached to me with a rubber band that wraps around my body. I close my eyes. No use leaving them open in this darkness.

Today I was captured. Thought it could never happen to me. I was wrong. I’ve heard stories, of course. I was always careful. Scanning the rainforest. Alert. Listening. So careful. Today, my guard slipped. It was over quickly. The humans are experienced at this. All at once there was a net, over my head. It was mostly a blur. The one thing I remember clearly was the toothy smile the man gave me. I gave a struggle, tried to chew through, but no use. I looked forlornly at what I was leaving behind as we got farther and farther away. They put cardboard over my wings. Put me in a box.

My feathers. I’ve always been proud of them, every color of the rainbow. My wings—green. My body feathers start amber and blend into crimson. My beak is ebony. My tail is royal purple, and deep blue. Now they are ruffled. Out of place. Ruined.

I don’t know where they’re taking me. I just know I’m never going home again.

*          *          *


Anne pulled her bright yellow scarf tighter around her neck. Even though she was wearing the detective coat, as her dad called it, the cold was still seeping into her skin. Even the cobblestone streets lost their charm in this chill.

She tried to pedal faster, avoiding puddles. Her warm breath made tiny white puffs in the air. It was cloudy out, and bitterly cold, but soon she would arrive at the townhouse and the warmth would melt her frozen bones. She rode her bike over a stone bridge, looking at her reflection in the swift, gray water that ran underneath. She let go of the handlebars and sailed along, arms out for balance. It was a skill she had learned from her mother.

Yet another dreary day, thought Anne, and not just the weather.

Anne allowed herself to think about the day. Emily and her flock of giggling friends had been even more spiteful than usual, as if the awful weather made them meaner. They had destroyed one of her notebooks by spilling apple cider all over it, sent her books sprawling in the hallway, and her oatmeal cookies were nowhere to be found when lunch came around.

The talking behind her back she could endure. But now all this? Anne always sat alone at lunch, just reading and thinking. But the cookies were the sparkle, the gleam of happiness she looked forward to every day. She had nothing to hold on to, no friends.

What more could they possibly take away from her?

Too much thinking. Again she was about to cry. She refused to let herself because then they would win. Her home was in sight now. The old townhouse was tired and dilapidated with moldy brownstone bricks and climbing ivy latching onto the walls. Even so, it had grandeur about it. It stood with pride. Anne hopped off her bike and walked down the stone path to the front door. She put the bike against the house and tried to look happy for her dad before she walked inside.

*          *          *


It’s been three days. The pale yellow sunlight coming through the slats in the crate tells me it must be morning. Something is happening outside the box. Commotion. Human voices arguing. I wonder what’s going on. I can’t understand the rusty language they speak. They talk with quick, sudden words and a growling in the throat. It reminds me of the sound of the panther.

You Are My Sunshine biking on the bridge
She let go of the handlebars and sailed along, arms out for balance

Suddenly, I’m moving, but it’s not the vehicle. I’m being picked up. Transported to where? Another vehicle? It turns out I’m right. After a long wait, I hear an engine start. We drive for a long time. The other birds that were captured are still here. We each sing our own unique song. All birds are born with one. I sing mine until I get tired. I also chatter with the others. Mostly, I can’t understand. It is night when we arrive.

A human has taken me out of the crate. The woman is wearing a white coat and she has nice brown hair. Deep brown, I notice, like tree bark. She’s starting to free me from my rubber band. I survey the surroundings. I’m inside a room with shiny white tiles and fluorescent lights. There are no windows, just a countertop. I miss the sunshine. I look around and see a potted tree. A little slice of the rainforest. She releases me and, instinctively, I try to fly away. Bad idea. Everything is a blur, and then, everything goes white. The solid wall jars my head.

She leans down and offers me her hands. I consider escaping, but I can’t muster any strength. I have no choice. I hop into her open palms. My body goes limp in her warm, soft hands. She stretches my wings and studies me for a moment. They haven’t opened in days. They feel stiff and awkward in her hands.

She pokes me with a needle. I see red liquid slowly fill the syringe. It doesn’t hurt until afterwards, but she applies some kind of sticky substance to the puncture, all the time writing on her clipboard.

She also touches me with a cold metal circle. I squirm, but she restrains my wings. The circle connects to her ears. She is listening. I don’t know what happens next because I get covered with a towel. I start to struggle and squirm. Was I wrong? Is she going to hurt me? I try to bite, something, anything. But she isn’t hurting me. She’s touching my feet. Doing something.

After the towel, she puts me on her arm. Normally, flight would be my first choice, but there’s nowhere to go in here. I begin to preen right away. I don’t have time to get through the full routine though. When I start preening my back feathers, I stop in the sleeping position and allow myself to close my eyes. Her arm is warm. I relax. And then I poop.

For the night, I’m deposited in a spacious cage with three perches. These aren’t tree branches, but they’re wooden. I have food and water, but I’m not hungry. This place isn’t my home, but at least it’s better than a crate.

*          *          *


“How was school, Anne?”

“It was fine, Dad.”

Anne hung her “detective coat” on the coatrack next to her dad’s big black one. She slid her feet out of her yellow rain boots and dropped her knapsack on the floor.

“Really? You seem… I don’t know.”

“No, it was great. Except… I lost my oatmeal cookies.”

“You lost them, huh?” He sighed. “There’s a new batch on the counter. Take some extra.”

Anne took a cookie and sat on the counter. She chewed it thoughtfully. Gave a hint of a smile.

“I thought you were going to a friend’s after school today,” her dad said.

“Oh she… uh… cancelled at the last minute.”

More like she purposefully invited me just so she could cancel, Anne thought but didn’t say anything out loud.

“Oh,” said her dad. He looked at his daughter for a moment. She smiled at him, reassuringly. He went back to work, whistling, “You Are My Sunshine.” Anne’s dad illustrated children’s books for a living, but it didn’t pull in a lot of money. They had just enough to be comfortable.

His office was the living room. It was cozy and the walls were dandelion yellow, his wife’s favorite color. The furnish- ings were old-fashioned, but Anne didn’t mind. She rather liked it.

Anne went upstairs and crossed another day off her calendar in red marker. Only eighty-nine days to go until school ended.

*          *          *


It’s been another two days. I’ve been transported across the sea in a flying machine. As if I couldn’t fly myself. I’m now living with a nice woman. She has gray hair that flies everywhere around her face and she likes to talk to us. I like the sound of her voice. She doesn’t put us in boxes or cages. We’re allowed to roam free in the house. I like to chew on her pillows, but only the thread. The stuffing has a strange texture. Today a man came in and talked to her for a long time. Eventually, she nodded, in… approval?

“This one was a rescue from illegal traders. I think he’ll be a nice fit,” she said. I don’t know what that means. She asks me to step up on her arm and looks at me as if to say, Go on, he’s a nice man. So I climb onto his shoulder. He seems very happy about this. But I bite his ear, just to see how he will respond. The bad ones get angry. He simply laughs.

The woman looks at me sternly. She puts me in a cage, but the way she looks at me, I know it will be all right. It is sad to leave her. My cage is covered with a blanket, which has rainforest patterns on it. If I imagine hard, I think I can smell the rainforest. Hear it. Feel it. The man is putting me in his car. We drive. I’m used to this by now. He whistles a strange tune, and I begin to pick up on it.

Eventually we stop. I hear the man struggle to carry the cage. He puts it down somewhere. A table, probably. I stay covered all afternoon.

*          *          *


“Dad, I’m home,” Anne called.

“Oh hi, honey, I’ve got a surprise for you.” Her dad was beaming from ear to ear.

“What is it?”

“It’s a surprise. It’s a friend.”

“Oh, Dad, you didn’t bring me a… person, did you?”

“No, no, just come see.”

*          *          *


I hear voices outside my cage. It’s the man and… someone. Who’s there? Where am I? The voices stop. The man gently pulls the blanket off the cage.

You Are My Sunshine Lebo Molefe
Lebo Molefe, 13
Naperville, Illinois