The young man cradled a rickety wooden cage, like a newborn child in his arms. His steps slow, measured. Cautious so that no tremor disturbs the fragile bird inside.
Reaching a spot he had scouted out before, the young man paused.
This place is perfect, he thought as he scanned the trees are where the bird would rest on hot afternoons. The leafy undergrowth rich with bugs. The sky above perfect for it to spread its wings.
Carefully he lowered the cage; but could not prevent a tiny bump as it hit the ground. It awoken the bird from her slumber. He cooed almost instinctively, comforting her. She now looked up at him with eyes as intelligent as they were naïve. The young man’s heart dropped.
I have to do this, he reminds himself as his hands moved towards the door of the cage. But he stopped.
She is well. Her wings are strong enough, he tells himself. But his hands would still not move.
The bird is fine. She doesn’t need you anymore, he tells himself more forcefully this time.
He closed his eyes, and suddenly was struck by a vision.
He saw himself as an old man. His figure cutting a bent silhouette against the hot afternoon sky. Walking in measured steps; but now because of the ache in his joints, and not because of a cage in his arms. Reaching this very spot he scanned the trees and undergrowth with feeble, aged eyes. His hoarse voice cooed; calling out for the creature he once cared for.
The bird’s soft coo brought him back to real life. Still she looked up at him. He thought he could see trust in those eyes. It was a trust he deserved, for bringing the bird from the brink of death.
She flapped her wings briefly, as if to cheer him up. It reminded him that she was better. Reminded him that the cage no longer protects, but now traps her.
He opened the door. The bird stared at this unexpected new opening for a few moments. As uncertainly as the young man had opened the door, the bird hopped out hesitantly. She bobbed her head to glance for one last time at her guardian with eyes which never failed to melt his heart. Then she was off into that beautiful sky. Her once broken wings strong, doing what they were meant to.
His eyes followed her as far as he could. When she was truly gone he shakily stood up. It felt like a part of him had flown along with her. The empty cage hanging limply by his side he walked back tremblingly.
Though his very soul is screaming in pain, he knew he had done the right thing. Because he knew that she was never his. And he had set her free.
If you have a bird, let it go. If it comes back it has always been yours. If it doesn’t it never was.