Rubem Alves: “The Little Girl and the Enchanted Bird”

The Little Girl and the Enchanted Bird

Rubem Azevedo Alves

Once upon a time there was a little girl. Her very best friend was a bird.

That bird was different from every other bird: it was enchanted!

The common birds, when their cage was left open, flied away, never to come back. The little girl’s, however, would fly away — but only to come back, when it missed her …

Its feathers were also different. They changed colors. They seemed to be painted with the colors of those strange and distant places to which it would travel, when it flew away.

Once it came back entirely white, its huge tail plumage as fluffy as cotton.

“– Little girl”, it said, “I come from cold and snow-covered mountains, where everything is beautifully white and pure, shining under the moonlight. There one hears nothing, except the noise of the wind cracking the ice on the tree branches. I brought you, on my feathers, a little bit of the enchantment I saw — as my gift to you…”.

And the bird would start to sing the songs and to tell the stories of a world the little girl had never been able to see. Until she would fall asleep — but only to dream that she was flying on the wings of her bird friend!

Another time it came back red as fire, its head plumage looking like gold.

“– I come now from a land that has been burned by draught, a land that is hot and dry, where the big and the small ones, the animals and the men, they all suffer the sadness of a sunshine which does not seem to wish to go away. My feathers resemble that sun, and I bring you the sad songs of those who dream of hearing the noise of a waterfall and of seeing the beauty of a green pasture.”

And once again the stories would go on.

The little girl loved that bird so much that she would be able to listen to it, day after day, day and night, with no breaks.

But there was always the time of sadness and sorrow.

“– I have to go now”, would say the bird.

“– Please, don’t! I get so sad! I will miss you. I’m going to cry…”. And the smile would go away from the little girl’s face.

“– I will miss you, too”, would say the bird. “I’m also going to cry. But I will tell you a secret: plants need water, fishes need rivers and oceans, and we, birds, need the air… And my enchantment needs longing and desire. It is the sadness, which grows in the expectation of a return, that makes my feathers colorful and pretty. If I don’t go, you won’t miss me, there will be no longing. But I will not be an enchanted bird any more. And then you will no longer love me.”

And the bird went away. The little girl, alone and lonely, cried in sadness at night, wondering if her bird friend would come back. It was in one of those nights that she had an unfortunate idea.

“– If I imprison my bird in a cage, it will never go away. It will be mine for ever. I will never miss it any more. And I will be happy…”.

With this in mind, she bought a beautiful silver cage, which seemed appropriate for a bird she loved so much. And she waited. Finally, the bird returned, as beautiful as ever, with new colors and different stories to tell. Tired from the trip, it fell asleep. Then the little girl, very carefully, not to disturb its sleep, imprisoned the bird in the silver cage, so it would no longer leave her. At dawn she was awakened by her friend’s cry:

“– Oh, little girl… What have you done? My enchantment has been broken. My feathers will become ugly and I will forget my stories… Without longing and desire, love will wither away…”

The little girl didn’t believe it. She thought the bird would grow used to its cage. But that didn’t happen. As time went by, the bird became different. Its beautiful top plumage fell off. The red, green and blue of its feathers turned to a sad grey. And it became silent: never sang any more.

Also the little girl grew sad. No, that was not the bird she loved. And at night she would cry, thinking about what she had done to her friend.

Until she could no longer stand it. She then opened the door of the cage.

“– You can go, now. But come back whenever you wish…”.

“– Thank you, little girl. Yes, I have to go. I need to go away in order to feel longing and to wish to return. Far away, missing those we love, many nice and good things begin to grow within us. Every time you miss me, I will become prettier. And every time I miss you, you will become still prettier. And you will try to look beautiful, waiting for my return…”.

And it went away, flying to distant places. And the little girl would count the days. Every day that went by, she missed it even more than the day before.

“– How nice”, she thought. “My bird is becoming enchanted again…”.

And she would go to her closet, to choose a new dress. She would comb her hair, put a fresh flower in the vase…

“– One never knows. It may come back today…”.

Even though she did not realize it, the world was becoming enchanted again, like the bird. Because in some place in this world, it must be flying. From some place it would return. Oh, how beautiful this world must be, if it can keep in a secret place the enchanted bird one loves…

And it was this way that she, every night, would go to bed: missing her bird, but happy with this thought:

“– Maybe it will come back tomorrow…”.

And with this hope she would fall asleep and dream about the joy of meeting again the one she loved …

(Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Chaves, July/1985)

© Copyright of the English text by Rubem Alves & Eduardo Chaves

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