The Gilded Cage

Posted on: March 15, 2013
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By Seema Chatterjee
 
 

The pigeon waited impatiently in her gilded cage. She paced up and down, squinting in the sunlight, as the gold bars of her nest, alchemized to a burnished bronze. Glancing at her watch she sighed. Where was the baron her beloved crow? Where was her loved one? Orchards of mandarins, oranges, grapefruit and lemon, loomed before her. Listlessly, she sipped on some water, longing for a piece of orange to suck on.
 
 

Her eyes scanned over bushes of hawthorns and hickories, high bush blueberry, wild grape and honeysuckle and her mouth watered uncontrollably. Did she dare to step out just for a bit? She could bring home a couple of lemons and stray walnuts. Baron would be delighted with the walnuts although she ran the risk of incurring his wrath, should he not find her home. Dejectedly, she sat down on the little copper swing Baron had brought home on his last visit, mulling over her dilemma.
 
 
Swaying on her swing, the pigeon looked at the beauty around her. She was living in perfection, as she looked at the paradise surrounding her. Yet she felt an inexplicable sadness, which like a painful thorn was pushing itself closer and closer to her heart.
 
 
“Could it be Baron?” she asked herself nudging the thought out of her mind. “No, it can’t be, I must be bored. If I get back to my studies and keep busy with the household chores, it will go away,” she said to herself determinedly. And picking up her books, she started to read on plants and trees, on flora and fauna, on nature and rainforests. Her bright mind drank it all in. At times she twittered in delight at the new discoveries, clapping her tiny hands with glee, but the sadness did not go away.
 
 
She made herself busier, throwing herself into a number of activities. She exercised. She prayed. She meditated and cooked. But still it did not go away. “It’s Baron’s fault,” she said to herself tearfully. “His visits have become infrequent and I wish he were here, for I miss him so much. If only I could go back to my old nest, the one in the big banyan tree, up in the jungle where I could be with my robins!” she said, a faraway look coming into her eyes.
 
 
“You ungrateful wretch,” she chastised herself, talking loudly as she tried to sort out her confused thoughts. “Baron has relocated you to one of the best locations in Bird Land, the Garden of Eden. Here, your neighbors have elaborate nests and one feels one is in a fairytale.”
 
 
Looking around her she saw the home of the black-chested buzzard eagle which was a nest of painted twigs, the wren lived in a cage of grass was Eden that the colors of the grass, trees, sky and horizon seemed to take on exaggerated hues of green, brown, blue and white, just like pictures painted in a children’s book.
 
 
Swallows, parrots, pigeons, pheasants, cuckoos and nightingales all lived in the garden. Going for their walks or hunting insects, seeds, or worms, she could have befriended any of them, but Baron had forbidden it. He was so much older than her, so wise and caring that had she not been in love with him, she would not have left her previous home. To leave her playmates was heartrending. Her nest in the jungle was the only home she had ever known, but Baron had not given her much of a choice.
 
 
“Move with me,” he had said, “or alternately see me once or twice a month!”
 
 
So she had given up her simple nest, made of weather beaten leaves, her bed of grass, her water bowl – a plastic cup she had found strewn in the jungle, to follow her loved one.
 
 
Had it been a wise decision, she asked herself for the hundredth time? For Baron had made himself scarce. “I preferred Happy Ville in the jungle and I miss the three flame robins. At least when Baron was away, I could play with them, hunt for food and even cook meals with them. Now I have no one, and everyone here seems so busy.”
 
 
She let her mind wander to the happy days she had spent in the jungle. Her three friends were male flame robins, their bright orange breasts making them the most handsome playmates she had ever had. Initially, Baron had been amused at her friendship, for he knew she needed friends her own age. He had enjoyed watching her play with them through his hooded eyes, her youth and laughter infectious as she flew through trees and perched on bushes, the three robins in tow. But when he saw the robins vie for her attention, flirting with her openly as she innocently egged them on, he was consumed with jealousy and decided it was time to move.
 
 
The residents of the garden were as surprised with their new neighbors, as she was with her new surroundings. “What is this pretty creature doing with Baron?” they wondered. “He is a crow, the worst of our species,” whispered Pheasant to Cuckoo, “and more than anything, he is bird years older than her.”
 
 
“Maybe,” mumbled Wren to Nightingale, “he is good and kind to her. We should never judge a book by its cover. She seems happy when he is around and she runs circles around him.”
 
 
“She feeds him his meal on a silver tray of foil, which she bought from Woodpecker’s Tree House Shop. She paid Woodpecker six whole apple seeds for the tray. So smitten is she with the crow, that I saw her looking for goose feathers, searching for them in rivers, lakes, marshes, bogs and sloughs. She would leave the nest early in the morning on the days Baron was away and would come back late in the evening, tired and hungry. There was a spring in her walk, every time she returned with a feather. I saw her sew up the feathers to make the softest bed for Baron. When he doesn’t come home at night, I can hear her cry in her sleep, as she waits for him,” Hummingbird whispered, having overheard the conversation between Wren and Nightingale.
 
 
“Yes, I know,” said Nightingale. “The other night I was singing one of my odes, a beautiful love song, and Sally the swallow, who lives next door to Pigeon, says she could have sworn that she heard her cry while listening to the ode. I think she was missing Baron, who hasn’t come to see her in two weeks.”
 
 
“I tried to smile at her, when I accidentally bumped into her in the mango grove the other day. She smiled back but quickly looked away as if she were afraid of something or someone,” whispered back Wren.
 
 
The birds did not know that Baron had forbidden his little pigeon from befriending any of them. He was afraid that she might find multiple admirers, for she had an unwitting charm about her and he sensed that the other birds did not like him very much. What if they put ideas into the pretty head of his sprightly pigeon? After all, he was not at home, often for days on end.
 
 
Nasty as he was, Baron justified his sojourns with some excuse or the other. Sometimes he would tell her that he wanted his space so that he could pursue his hobbies and interests – particularly bird-golf, which was one of his prime passions. At other times, he said that he had work to do (his job was to collect worms for The Crow League), or that he hadn’t seen his crow family and had to visit them.
 
 
Partly this was true, and partly he enjoyed torturing her, for he knew she yearned for him. When he would come back after a number of days, he loved watching the play of emotions on her face, changing from uncertainty to joy, as happiness flooded over her. One precious second was not to be lost, and the pigeon would savour her time with Baron with pure joy. She knew her bashfulness and playfulness caught him off guard, making him feel young again. And she would cavort and frolic, dance and prance around him, as she tirelessly adjusted to his moods, making him feel like a bird-king.
 
 
Baron enjoyed toying with his little princess. He would mock her when she would share the knowledge of her books with him. “Oh! My clever little pigeon,” he would say scornfully, jealous of her intelligence. Playing with her emotions he would say, “I love you little one, but I miss my crow family at the same time,” confusing her all the more.
 
 
At times he would tell her, “I will not be able to see you next week as I am going on a safari to Africa. My cousins there have invited me on a trip.” Or he would say, “I have to attend the crow’s convention in India and will be back in three weeks.” The little pigeon would wait for him to tell he would like to take her with him, even though they both knew it was impossible. But Baron would never say those words, for how else would he torture her?
 
 
Baron’s infrequent visits, his strict rules, his sporadic bursts of affection, his temper and his dominance all began to take a toll on the pigeon and with each passing day, she began to find it increasingly difficult to live in isolation. She watched the other birds playing with one another, going about their daily chores happily. She wanted to be part of their lives and join the jollity but was too scared of Baron. Slowly, she began to love the warmth and affection the birds had for one another. If only she could be part of their lives!
 
 
She began to wish that she had not promised Baron that she would not make friends without his permission. She sensed his jealousy and mistook it for love. After all, didn’t Baron love her passionately, bringing her the tastiest worms in the world, strung in red ribbon, as if he were presenting her a bouquet of flowers? Sometimes he would feed her large black ants, carried in a banana leaf in his beak. Often, he would fetch her a cup of spring water, which he knew she loved. And in those moments, the little pigeon would overlook the pain he had caused her, and tell herself that she was the luckiest bird in the whole wide world.
 
 
Baron despite his cruelty was an amazing lover. He would make passionate love to the pigeon, making her feel fulfilled and happy. She would walk around ecstatically for a few days, telling herself that their lovemaking was clearly an indication of how much he loved her.
 
 
“Just because he doesn’t say it as often as I would like him to, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel it,” she would assure herself, “for the look in his eyes when we are together says it all.”
 
 
As the days sped by, and the rainy season came, the little pigeon found herself growing more and more despondent. Baron had formed a pattern of visiting her twice a month, and those two days were the happiest in her life. She would cook for Baron, serve him his meals, massage him, care for him and would find herself in the throes of excitement when he made love to her. She even managed to build a waterproof casing around the nest to keep the rain out, by chancing upon a large mackintosh sheet on one of her visits to the orchard.
 
 
But a niggling feeling of disenchantment was beginning to spread over the little pigeon. She knew in her heart of hearts that all was not right. She began to grow thin. She wanted to make a friend and talk to someone about her unhappiness. She saw the sympathetic stares of her fellow birds. She started to cover herself with a black cloak so that when she went out of the nest to hunt for food, no one would notice the red ugly bites on her front feathers, where Baron had recently pecked her in a fit of rage.
 
 
Baron had grown more and more impatient with her, and the pigeon, instead of looking forward to his visits, now dreaded seeing him. He had even turned violent during their lovemaking and she realized she wanted to break free.
 
 
“How can I leave?” she asked herself hopelessly, “For Baron is sure to hunt me down and find me wherever I go!”
 
 
The pigeon stopped eating, fearful of Baron’s next visit. Her face turned skeletal and her eyes mirrored her unhappiness. She became gaunt and even stopped visiting Woodpecker’s Tree House Shop, which was her only social outlet. Woodpecker loved it when she came to his shop, twittering in enthusiasm as she went into raptures picking up plump birdseeds or a carton of spring water or coloured wool to knit a sweater for Baron. He knew she used his shop as an excuse, for it was the only place she was allowed to visit without incurring the wrath of Baron. Her visits would stretch over two hours and in a strange sort of way, the woodpecker and the pigeon had become friends. But of course, Baron did not know this.
 
 
Four months had passed since Woodpecker had seen his friend and he began to miss her terribly. Where was his lively little pigeon? Putting her ear to the ground, he heard from the grapevine that the pigeon was depressed and was seldom seen anymore. She had covered the nest with blackouts (black mackintosh sheets) so no one knew what was happening in her home anymore. When Baron visited the pigeon, the birds could hear muffled cries and skirmishes but Baron enjoyed the privacy as a cover for the cruelty he had begun to unleash on the hapless pigeon.
 
 
It was time for something to be done and the birds decided to confer and help their little neighbor. Bird justice demanded that any form of cruelty had to be dealt with, irrespective whether it was a family matter or not.
 
 
“It is high time we step in and do something,” said Woodpecker in a staccato voice, as the others sat in a circle outside the Tree House Shop. “I suggest we call in the bird police force from The Aviation Center and get them to stop this. I can swear I heard loud thumping, as though she were being hit repeatedly with a scrap of wood the last time Baron was here. I know this is pure conjecture, but the silence that followed was ominous.”
 
 
“Yes, I once saw Baron cover the beak of the pigeon with his claws to stifle her sounds, before she put up the blackouts. He seems The
determined to prevent her cries from reaching us. Woodpecker, the bird police have made it a policy not to interfere in domestic matters, and that’s where we come in,” said the red crested robin.
 
 
“I think we should approach Owl,” said Wren. “He always gives us good advice. He hasn’t come today as he is catching up on his sleep, but let’s get him to come tomorrow and we can all meet here at the same time.”
 
 
The birds dispersed, and the next day met at the same place. The wizened old owl sat on a podium which the birds erected so that they could see him clearly while he talked. He scratched his head as he rearranged his spectacles, deep in thought.
 
 
“I think,” he said in a deep voice, “that we should give the crow a fright of his life. Let’s make a scarecrow, which we all know farmers use to scare us birds away. We can make a menacing looking effigy that will scare the daylights out of Baron. I suggest that we go to the extent of putting bird spikes on the scarecrow and place it right outside their nest. Should Baron try and get into his nest, he will be ripped to shreds by the dummy and to ensure that he doesn’t get in, I will place some firm nylon netting around the nest, with a lock on it.”
 
 
A round of applause followed Owl’s advice. In the meantime, the little pigeon was slowly starving herself, as she had a death wish and hadn’t stepped out in days to hunt for food.
 
 
“How do we save her from killing herself?” asked Nightingale. “She has imprisoned herself in the nest and hasn’t pulled off the blackouts for weeks.”
 
 
Owl’s kind eyes fell on Nightingale. “That is where you come in, my dear. Every night you will sing an ode, which informs the pigeon of our rescue plan. You must first convince her that she needs to remove the blackouts, so that we can supply her with some fresh food and water. We can then cover her nest with netting which will protect her from Baron. You must tell her that we all miss her and that Woodpecker has kept a small barrel of walnuts for her. Once she hears your loving songs, she is bound to want to live again.”
 
 
They all set to work. Constructing a scarecrow would take a few days, and they all helped out as they carried bamboo to make a cross for the framework, straw for the body and hair, old clothes, boots and a hat, which they stole from other scarecrows in the orchard or found on clotheslines drying in the sun. It was fun working together and after four days of hard labor, they were able to put together a sinister looking scarecrow, which was so craftily produced that it scared some of them.
 
 
The nightingale in the meantime sang verses every night full of love and compassion to the pigeon. And lo and behold, on the fifth morning, the blackouts were removed and the pigeon could be seen again, emaciated yet smiling in spite of the sorrow she had undergone.
 
 
The birds each went across with an offering of friendship. Wren gave her an orange; Nightingale gave her some birdseeds. The red robin gave her a small dispenser of spring water, Woodpecker a tiny barrel of walnuts. Soon the cage looked like a pantry as each bird extended a hand in friendship and love to their little comrade.
 
 
The pigeon grew healthy in a short span of four days, but there were only four days left before Baron’s next visit. And as the countdown began, she grew more and more apprehensive. Wise Owl paid her a visit telling her that the next day, the netting would be placed around her nest for protection. He also informed her that Woodpecker had offered to sleep outside her nest for the next three days and guard her against Baron.
 
 
 The pigeon’s eyes welled up at the kindness of her new friends. But there still was one big hurdle to cross. Would her friends really be able to save her from the clutches of Baron?
 
 
The day of reckoning arrived. With the minutes ticking by, Baron’s dark shape seemed to conceal the sunlight as he descended towards his home. Singing a guttural song, Baron almost choked on the words as his eyes fell on the evil looking scarecrow standing outside his nest. He surveyed his adversary skeptically and narrowing his eyes, was relieved to find that it was only a scarecrow. Well, he was used to them. They couldn’t outwit or scare him away.
 
 
And slowly, as he took a step forward past the scarecrow to enter the nest, he was shocked to find a hidden bird spike rip into his flesh. How dare anyone play with him, thought Baron angrily? Who possibly could be preventing him from entering his own home? Ignoring the pain, Baron skirted the visible spikes, determined to find a way.
 
 
As he dodged a spike, a dark bird descended and pecked him hard on his neck. It was none other than Woodpecker. The crow lashed out at the woodpecker but his injury from the spike had weakened him. A fight ensued and the woodpecker bit him repeatedly on the neck and wings.
 
 
The crow grew livid, especially when he saw the nylon net that prevented him from getting into the safety of his home. Where was that dimwit of a pigeon? Couldn’t she see that he was being attacked? And why was she not there to help him?
 
 
It was at this point that the crow’s eyes fell on the pigeon. Their eyes met and Baron in his anger flew towards her without seeing another hidden spike emerge from one of the arms of the scarecrow. It pierced him, penetrating his heart. Letting out a bloodcurdling scream, Baron fell to the ground dead.
 
 
A deathly silence followed as he lay on the ground dying. “ Save me,” he asked, begging for forgiveness.
 
 
“ We must help him,” said the pigeon from her nest. “ If we leave him to die, we are no better than he is.”
 
 
“No,” said the Woodpecker. “To save him will be a disservice to Bird Kind. Besides he is likely to be crippled for life.”
 
 
“No, no,” cried the pigeon. “ We cannot be inhumane. Never again will we allow him to set foot here. That will be his punishment!”
 
 
The Woodpecker stared at the pigeon in astonishment. She was wise beyond her years and had such a generous spirit that all of a sudden he felt ashamed. By forgiving the crow, the pigeon was letting go any bitterness she held towards him. Gently he placed the crow on a stretcher, made from a bark of wood.
 
 
“Take him to our Tree hospital,” he ordered, and a number of birds flew down from their trees to do his bidding.
 
 
“ Little one,” said the Woodpecker after the birds had left. “You are a noble soul. Should he survive he will never be allowed into The Garden again.”
 
 
“ Thank you,” said the pigeon, as he lifted the nylon sheet for her to come out of her nest. Hugging the Woodpecker tightly, the pigeon knew she was finally safe.
 
 
Now had the rest of her life in front of her. But she would still remember the few good moments she had shared with Baron. With this in heart, she set forth to embrace the joy of life yet again.

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