The ugly duckling…. Really??

A bright sunny morning, gentle breeze playing with my feathers, can see the flock of birds flying liberatingly. The lush green trees playfully flowing as if dancing on the tune of summer. The flowers blooming after a long slumber, wearing their pretty colours with all the pride. Everything looks so calm and serene. I am just floating gently on the crisp sheet of water, taking in all the beauty and hoping to turn into one of their beautiful comrade, wishing this summer to sprinkle some magic on my appearance too, a rather futile attempt, I know. How I wanted those grotesque years to end, where my beak, my feathers, and whole body was considered cringeworthy. How I long to become that swan, which made the others freeze with admiration, for once I also wanted to hold up my beak in pride, but who am I kidding.

Engrossed in these thoughts, I looked at my reflection in the tranquil blue water. The creature looking back at me was unknown, who is that? Eyes as dark as the night sky, beak so vibrant, has it taken the colour from the sun itself? And the feathers as pure and velvety as if the clouds designed them... I fail to recognise her but the truth was, it was me. It was hard to believe that I found my mother at last, in my reflection, the prettiest swan ever known; summer has really arrived.

They say don’t live in your past, but I still remember walking with my siblings... just a few days old,  my mother detested me for how I looked, loathing me for being born so ugly... throwing me out of her herd. A feeble cygnet left to survive on its own, I cried for days for the motherly love and warmth, creeping into the leaves to sleep at night... perhaps the only source of comfort for me. I starved for days, roamed about like a petrified living bird that had lost its directions, or, never gained one. On one such scary day, a little house with yellow inviting walls allured me, and I saw an old but generous lady rocking in her chair, petting her cat... knitting something, maybe for her pet to keep warm in the approaching winter.

I felt a sudden urge to go and hug her. She took me in, fed me, and rubbed her wrinkly yet gentle hands on my head. It seemed like I found that compassion I was begging for. But my happiness was short lived. Soon, she threw me out, cursing my ugliness. I ran as fast as I could, for I didn’t want to become a meal for her pet. Another attempt to find some closure came to an end. Soon the dreaded winter approached; white snow everywhere, which burned my eyes like scorching heat. My scanty feathers unable to keep me warm, I knew my days were done for. Now I shall sleep in the comfort of snow forever, and no one will realise I ever existed. With a quiet smile, I closed my eyes. I don’t know if I was sad or happy.

When I opened my eyes, I was in heaven, with hay around, a little fire place challenging the bitter cold outside. I was covered with fleece, slumbering in the cosy surrounding. I opened my eyes sluggishly to a gentle touch, a man dressed in all white, caressing me... is that what God looks like?

He took me in his embrace, fed me, protected me, and above all, took care of me. For others he was a farmer but for me he was my angel, who made me realise I am not worthless. Time passed by; I started growing under the watchful eyes. My days went by playing with the other birds, and the nights were never cold. It was a bliss living here. Then, one day, he took me somewhere. There were men looking at me, touching me to see if I am exquisite enough, and for the first time, I was tied to a pole with shackles I couldn’t free myself from. It was appalling, I was screaming with pain and anger, but all in vain. I looked at my angel, as tears trickled down... why did you do that? He caressed me again!

It has been a few weeks since that incident, which changed me. For the first time, I realised the power of my beak, the flatter of my wings, and the strength of my palmate, the parts of me I considered ugly, saved me. The man who touched me lost his finger to my beak, and the other one who tried to grab me had to fight my wings. None could match the efficient propulsion of my webbed feet. I was reborn that day, and realised, I was never ugly!!!

Perhaps my mother knew this, which is why she abandoned me, for she had gone through the same. Her beauty was her biggest curse that allured greedy men to showcase her, and make her wear colourful hats and a hateful ribbon around her neck. She was called ‘Mrs Snow White’, the prettiest swan ever. I used to see her walking with Mr Duck, Beanie the monkey, and many others. The colours and the lights we all young ones were so fascinated with, thinking our parents are so lucky, but never understood why they cried every night.

Only, now I know, ‘the prettiest swan’ was made to swim till her palmate was bruised... her enchanting feathers shone brightly under the scorching lights, which made her body and eyes burn. Probably, that is why she used to spend hours in the pool, especially designed for her, which was considered a ‘luxury’. She wanted to break free, feel the fresh air, swim for her own self, but the wretched iron was too tough to break. If not for her distressing remarks and hateful bashing, I would have met the same fate. It was hard to escape the most dangerous animal – human. And they call us savage.

Today, I know what real happiness means. It is not your reflection in the water, not the acceptance of others, and definitely not in those false compassionate eyes. It is in the breeze that gently flows through my feathers, in the setting sun that makes my body glimmer, in seeing miles and miles of land and water without fences, and in my heartbeat that is not rushing in fear. Happiness is within me!!!

I realised finally, I am not ugly anymore... I probably never was!!!             - Nehha Surana Bhandari