When I was a girl, I thought bird songs were part of the dawn, like the sun or the mist. My nights in the Philippines were so quiet that I heard coconuts break from limbs and angry mosquitoes buzz around our hut, but I never heard the birds until morning. I imagined that they spent their nights high in the mountains, and the moment they saw the sun, they spread their wings and flew down to land on the village treetops. When I fetched water from the well or washed clothes in the river, they watched me.
The only cawing bird that I have heard in America belongs to my American husband’s sister, Diana. On my second day here, Nicholas introduced me to Diana and Diana introduced me to her lovely ibon.
My mother once told me that birds were the most blessed of God’s creations because they were able to see all of His work–deep oceans spotted with islands, streams that trickled through mountains and collapsed into waterfalls, blocks of ice that moved between peculiar animals, like white bears. I thought of this as my husband and I leaned in, staring through silver bars at Diana’s ibon. It looked just like one of my village birds.
“So sad, stuck in cage,” I whispered.
“Don’t worry,” Nicholas said. “His wings are fixed to keep him from flying, so he never learned how.”
That night, as we lay in bed listening to the sounds of America, I wondered what the people in my village would say if I told them that my new American sister spent a year’s pesos on a bird. They would think someone was loko, then they would look in the sky and wonder who it was: them or the American.
“Your sister should set free the bird,” I said.
“She lets it out sometimes,” he replied. “We’ll go there tomorrow. You’ll see.”
When we got to her house the next day, Diana told me to open the cage door. She looked at me the way I used to look at the village children when they said something amusing.
Animals can see inside our souls, so I knew that the bird saw me as his savior. After I unfastened the clamp, I stood straight and stepped back to make room for him. In my village, birds tripled in size once they took flight, and I knew that this ibon would soon knock the wind through all of us.
But there was no flight. The ibon turned his head. He picked his feathers. He stepped to the open door, shook his tail, stepped back. The three of us stood there for a long while. Waiting.
“See?” my husband finally said. “He lives in a cage because he never learned to fly.”
No, I thought. It is kasalungÃ¡t–the other way around.
I looked into the bird’s eyes.
Fly away, ibon. Forget this place. Don’t be afraid.
The ibon turned away.
E.K. Entrada‘s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Story Philippines, Asians in America Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine and the Kartika Review. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in English at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA.