“Mommy! Look at this! Little birdie is hurt.” 7 year old Maya said looking down at the tiny creature, on the park pathway, her heart swelling with sorrow. “Well, let’s take her in, dear, we can nurse the wounds and make her feel better” her mother said, unable to look at the woe etched on her daughter’s face. “Really?” Maya asked with wide eyes. “Of course! As long as you’ll help me take care of the little birdie.” Her mother replied with a chuckle. “Oh! Mommy! Thank you!” Maya replied, happiness flooding her little heart. “Let’s see if she has a nest around here and we have to look for her family. Pick her up gently so that you don’t hurt her further.” Her mother instructed.

Maya did as she was told and soon enough, they were roaming around the entire park looking for a sparrow’s nest, but all in vain.

“Looks like the birdie is not from around here. There is not one sparrow’s nest in the entire park. Let’s get her home now” said the mother.

“Home sweet home, birdie!” Maya squealed as they stepped in through the threshold.

“Don’t scare her away now” he mother chided as she laid a doily on the table and gestured Maya to come over.

“Place her here, slowly” she instructed and was dutifully obeyed.

After examining the bird, Maya’s mother said “looks like little birdie has a broken wing, sweetie. We can treat it, I’m sure.”

Maya was crestfallen as she processed what her mother had said.

“Don’t be sad, Maya, we can heal her” her mother ensured.

“Let’s start then!” Maya urged, not wanting to see the little birdie in any more pain.

“Wash your hands with soap and bring the first aid kit. Be quick!” her mother ordered.

The mother watched her daughter struggling to find pace and set about sanitising her own hands.

Maya returned enthusiastically with her tiny pigtails bouncing up and down and a first aid kit clutched tightly in her hand. She placed it on the table and quietly sat on the chair looking at the little sparrow with worry.

“It will be all right, Maya. Don’t worry” her mother guaranteed.

Maya’s mother took a sterile bandage from the kit and carefully wrapped it over the broken wing and also under the working wing. She took this precaution so that the working wing does not lose muscle function. She mentally thanked providence that the bird was co-operative.

Maya was watching with patience, but couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in her eyes. She is a tender, gentle soul. It broke her heart to see anybody or anything in pain.

“There! All done!” her mother announced. “We should take care of her now. Feed her and give her some water” she added.

“I’ll fetch a glass of water” Maya said, getting up from her chair.

Her mother laughed at her innocence and said “she cannot drink from a glass, honey. I’ll do it.”

Maya sat back and watched the little bird intently. It was only a matter of time before the bird stared right back at Maya with little brown eyes.

As her mother came back, Maya watched her place a shallow bowl of water in front of the bird from which she drank gratefully.

Suddenly, Maya said, “Mommy, this is Angel.”

Her mother, intrigued, asked “Why Angel?  Why not anything else?”

To this she replied, “See, mommy, there were many people in the park but Angel only came to me. And, also, she fell from the sky only for me. Mommy, as soon as Angel gets better, everything will be fine. Daddy will come back home and we can spend the rest of my holidays happily.”

Maya’s mother was touched by her daughter’s depth of perception and pressed a kiss to her soft cheek. She dearly wished and prayed for her husband’s return.

Maya’s father was in the Army and the country was now at war. He had left at the commencement of the war, saying it broke his heart leaving his wife and daughter all alone. Maya’s mother had ensured her husband that they would be fine and the only thing that should matter to him was defending the country.

He had promised Maya “I will come back, princess, wait for me.” And from that fateful day, she obediently waited for her father’s return.

“Mommy, what will Angel eat?” Maya asked, interrupting her mother’s train of thought.

“Breadcrumbs will do for now, I think. We will buy the bird-seed tomorrow” her mother said, as she hurried to find bread.

She returned with a few crumbs in a small bowl and took a few in her hand and carefully stretched her hand in front of the bird.

Angel hesitated for a while, then she slowly hopped over and started eating the tiny crumbs and soon enough, she had her fill and hopped away from the hand.

She settled comfortably on the doily and closed her chocolate coloured eyes and called it a day.

Maya watched Angel with wonder and turned to her mother and asked “Can we sleep too?”

“Of course, we’ll sleep right here. With Angel” her mother replied.

Days went by and Maya grew attached to Angel. Maya was happy beyond words as Angel chirped all day. It was her duty to feed and quench Angel.

Maya’s mother was scared because one day, they would have to let Angel go and that day was not too far away.

After a week, Maya and her mother decided it was time they saw if Angel had healed. Maya quickly closed all the windows and came rushing to Angel. Maya’s mother slowly removed the bandage and stepped back.

Angel looked quizzically at them and then tried to flap her wings. Much to her surprise, the wing had healed and Angel flew around the house, happily chirping. Maya followed her, erupting in giggles and pure joy. The look on her face melted her mother’s heart.

“Can we keep her mommy?” she asked.

“Oh no, we cannot do that. Angel needs to go back home to her family” her mother replied, knowing that freedom is the only thing birds aspire for. She is not ignorant to the facts that open skies, morning dew and fresh air cannot be provided by a cage, no matter how glorious it was. A golden cage is still just a cage.

“It’s okay, I understand” she sadly replied “everybody needs home.”

The mother’s joy knew no bounds. She had not expected her daughter to show such maturity for her young and tender years. As she hugged Maya, Angel landed on her head throwing her into a fit of giggles.

The next day, Maya knew that Angel had to leave. She carried Angel to the window, opened it and said “Find your family, Angel. But do not forget me.” Angel chirped in response and Maya nodded, as if understanding.

Maya finally stretched her hand towards the window with her gravity-defying tears falling to the ground as she watched Angel take flight. She closed her eyes momentarily and when she opened them again, Angel was gone. Maya’s mother watched her little daughter with tears of joy. She was so happy; it felt her heart would burst.

Maya wasted away the entire day looking at the window, wishing for Angel’s return. At dusk, she dejectedly retired to the couch when she heard the sound of car wheels.

“Princess! I’m home!” her father said as he burst forth through the door.

“Daddy!” Maya screamed as she ran into his arms.

Maya’s mother took a while to process what was happening but soon joined her husband and her little girl.

Maya was right. Angel had healed her family. She has brought back Maya’s daddy safe from the cold and dark war. He had a few bruises here and there but he was alive and breathing and that’s all that mattered.

It took a while to tuck Maya in her bed as she completely refused to sleep and wanted to spend more time with her daddy. It took some coaxing to finally get her to sleep.

That night, her mother sang Maya’s favourite lullaby

Just close your eyes

The sun is going down

You’ll be all right

No one can hurt you now

Come morning light

You and I will be safe and sound

Her mother meant every word of what she sang. Now that her husband was here, they were no longer vulnerable.  As she watched Maya cast off into her dreamland, she quietly got up to leave.

But, before she left, she said “Sleep tight, my little bird.”

Maya learnt that day, that home is where the heart truly belongs. She had showered Angel with so much love but in the end, Angel left in search of home and family. Maya believed that people should do the same. Of course, they should venture far beyond the shores but they should never forget home. Home should be everybody’s horizon. Something to hope and fight for. She thinks that everybody’s conscience should not be like clouds- flagging, easily drifted. She’d rather hope it were strong like trees, with roots that run deep into the ground, standing high, mighty in the strong winds- unbroken and unshaken.

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