4

Flight Feathers

There’s a bird in a cage and no one’s clipped its wings.

It’s a big cage, spacious and pretty, and the bird thinks he likes it. There’s food to eat and playthings to play with and perches on which he can perch. They’re plentiful, these perches, and they range in height, shape and texture. Some are easy to climb to and some take a bit more work. But climb he does, to the tops of these perches, day after day.

He doesn’t think about flying to the perches. He knows that he can climb to every perch to reach every corner of his big, pretty cage, and he likes to do what he knows he can do and so he does this, day after day. He climbs to the top and looks out over all of his pretty playthings, shiny and colorful, scattered around his cage. He doesn’t think about the bars on the cage or what might be beyond them. He doesn’t think about flying because he doesn’t know he can fly.

His wings know, and they try to tell him. They flutter as he climbs, trying to bring a swell of air beneath them, coax it into lifting him higher than the tiny hop he intends. They’re all there, the primary feathers, long and full, their tips rounded, the sides symmetrical. They rustle against each other, whispering and cooing and begging for flight. But the bird doesn’t hear them because he doesn’t know how to listen.

As far as he knows, he’s content to simply eat and play with his playthings and climb to his perches, day after day, using his wings to balance instead of fly. He doesn’t think about whether or not he’s happy because he doesn’t know what happy is. Does a bird in a big, pretty cage know it’s trapped?