The Peacock and the Sparrow
By Donna Edgar
The Storyteller sat on the old tree stump and has was the custom, whenever she came into the garden, the little creatures and woodsy folk would come a' running' as the whooshing sound of the wooden gate closed behind her. There was anticipation in the air as Nora, the Storyteller began to spin her tale. Nora had the 'Gift of the Telling'. She knew how to say and use her words in ways which made you feel as if you were in the midst of every utterance.
“In the center of the garden”, she began; her voice, soft as a whisper, could be heard under every hallowed out path root, every patch of thistle and in the rushes of tall hidden places, "Is a clearing, and in the middle of the clearing is a statue of a beautiful stone peacock. It is very large and is intricately craved, it's tail spread in a majestic display. So delicate and perfect is each feather that one can sense a hand other than humane chiseled and chipped away at the stone to reveal a mystery locked with-in."
"There is also in the center of the garden a Dogwood tree, its branches, full of blossomed splendor, gracefully drapes to caress the ground. The scent of the flowers growing from each wispy branch is the sweetest aroma in the whole garden, there is not one rose or flower which can compare. Fireflies gently light the outer circle with a warm glow and enhance the beauty with diamond-like sparkle that reflects and bounces off the bark of the ancient tree. Just inside the protection of the limbs is a nest of twigs and weeds. In the center of the nest resides a small brown sparrow. It is her sad-sweet song that wakes us each morning and lets' us know that evening is approaching at day's end."
Nora stood and lightly rubbed the chin of a young dove perched on a low branch, it cooed with delight. Then she turned toward a path and began to follow a soft glowing light into darkening woods. She continued her story as she walked; "One day the peacock was admiring his shadow cast by the noon day sun. He puffed out his chest and spread his beautiful tail feathers so he could get a better look at himself. He strutted and strolled, turned this way and that, becoming more and more aware of the center of his own attention. "Am I not the most beautiful creature in the whole garden?" he mused "Was I not fashioned to delight the senses?” he spoke as if he had an audience of thousands, but instead one little brown sparrow answered his inquiry. "Oh, yes, you are most beautiful" The peacock lowered his head and turned toward the sparrow and drawing himself up full height hissed "And who gave you a speaking part in my story?" The little sparrow stammered, "I, I was just answering your question, you are the most beautiful creature in the whole garden." "And what would a toad like you know about beauty?” barked the peacock. The poor little bird spoke in hushed tones with tears in her eyes and quivering in her voice; "I'm not a toad, I’m a sparrow." "QUITE!!” shouted the spiteful cock. "You are just a plain, drab, brown bird! What is your worth? What is it that you think you have to offer the garden?" The peacock stopped his barrage long enough to once again admire his profile in the fading shadow. The little sparrow, although dazed, gathered her thoughts and spoke in hushed tones. "You must be so lonely, I feel sorry for you." "What do you mean by that?" snapped the peacock. The sparrow flew to a lower branch to be in eye contact with her assaulter. "I mean, that as beautiful as you are the only one you have to talk to is your shadow, and that only for a little while during the heat of the day, I will pray for you." The peacock puffed himself up as tall as he could and spread his tail feathers up and out like a beautiful fan, his wings outstretched and started to quiver in anger. "I'll show you who should be sorry for who, you ugly brown patch of feathers!" But as the peacock was about to launch an attack, the Keeper of the garden walked in between and protected the tiny bird from the scratches and deep cuts which would have surely killed her. "Your vanity and pride will be your undoing", said the Keeper, "Long have I suffered with your strutting and vain babblings hoping that you would grow weary of being alone. Yet you have not even noticed that you have been speaking only to yourself, for you have driven off all the creatures that I have sent to befriend you. You have ignored all the warnings I have given you, and now when this dear little sparrow tries to compliment and comfort you, you devised in your stone hard heart to hurt her!" The peacock tilted his head, looking up at the Keeper with a haughty dare in his speech, “Well, if you think I have a stone heart, why not do something about it?" The Keeper, looking down at the puffed-up peacock, rubbed his chin and whispered "So be it, as your heart is stone, then shall you become stone and so you shall remain until you learn what it is to be humble and to love others more than yourself." A hardening feeling began in the peacock’s chest and spread outwardly. The peacock, struggling to breathe looked at the Keeper in disbelief. The last words he uttered was, "Didn't I always look beautiful for you? Didn't I always...?" The Keeper sadly hung his head and said to the stone bird, "I did not allow you into my garden to admire yourself; I did not save you from a harsh world where you would surely die to hurt others. With your actions and attitudes, you have brought this curse onto yourself." The Keeper turned his gaze to the still frighten sparrow. "Peace be with you", he said, "from this day forward this shall be your home, you will never have to worry about food or shelter as this tree will provide all you needs." The little bird bowed with all the grace and daintiness she had. "Thank you, dear Keeper and Defender, but I do not deserve such a home of beauty and splendor, however I am in need of a home and Peacock will need someone to be here,...if he ever overcomes this tragedy." The sparrow started to weep at the sight of the stone peacock. "I shall stay and sing to Peacock from the first light till the edge of night and I will do my best to protect him." The Keeper smiled warmly and tenderly wipes away a tiny tear. "Little one, you have more love and bravery in your heart than the largest creature in this entire garden. I am bestowing on you the gift of song and it will be the sweetest ever heard in this garden and all who hear you will be blessed."
Nora strolled down the path toward the center of the garden paused to smell a rose and touch the velvety softness of it's petals, raised her head in time to see a family of baby ducks collide into each other at her sudden stop. She laughed softly as she reached down to straighten the gaggle. "What happened next?" inquired a chipmunk. "Yes, Oh please tell us!" Nora's followers became to be a chorus of questions. "Well, one day three from beyond the gate came and followed this very path! There was two that picked up large limbs which had fallen from these great trees and began to whack everything in their way and down the path they went," Nora said in hushed tones as if sharing a secret, "maliciously destroying the flowers, bushes and small twig trees. Then they heard the sound of a bird singing, the song, so sweet and pure, fell on deaf ears. You see," said Nora, "they had stone hearts. The three followed the path and the sound of song until it came to a large clearing and there in the center was the great stone peacock, the graceful tree, and owner of the beautiful song that filled the air.
One of the intruders, a girl, wandered the clearing in awe and amazement, while the other two, her brothers, stomped about swinging the tree limbs as if they were clubs. Suddenly in some tall grass one of the boys spied the top of the peacock’s head and calling to the other to follow went toward the huge stone bird.
As they poked at the peacock with the limbs, the sweet song of the sparrow ceased. One of the boys, the bigger and older of the two, took a stance with his legs spread and raised the big limb over his head, readying to slam it down on the head of the peacock.
The Sparrow watched in horror as the boy prepared top swing. She flew from her perch in the Dogwood tree to defend the peacock. She dove into the face of the attacker again and again. The bigger boy yelled for help and the other two ran towards him. Seeing the tiny brown bird attempting to drive away his brother the smaller boy began to laugh. “You mean to tell me my big bad brother can’t take care of this little teeny-tiny problem?” he inquired. The boy raised his limb to shoo away the small bird and connected with his brother’s head. The bigger boy screamed in pain and then in anger swung at the sparrow, knocking her to the ground. The girl gasped and ran to the fallen bird. She gently picked it up and held it in the cup of her hand.
The two boys resumed beating at the stone peacock, all at once a thunderous crack and lightening struck the statue freeing the peacock from his prison. The peacock’s eyes glowed hot-red as he squared off to do battle with the two trespassers.
He looked toward the girl holding the injured sparrow close to her heart, satisfied that she was caring for the tiny bird, turned his attention back to the boys.
The peacock drew himself up and seemed to grow larger and larger as he charged the one responsible for hurting the tiny sparrow. The peacock opened his beak and a piercing scream came rushing out that dropped both boys to their knees. With their hands still covering their ears, they scrambled to their feet and sought the tree limbs so as to club the giant bird.
A strong wind began to blow against the boys as the Dogwood tree’s branches reached out and entangled them as tightly as a rope. At that moment, the Keeper appeared and everything grew quite except for the two squirming boys, who by this time were shouting profanities. The tree released its grip on them and they dropped to the ground and ran for cover.
The Keeper focused his attention on the little girl who still held the lifeless sparrow. As she opened her hand to show the Keeper that her intentions were to help, not hurt, her tears ran down her cheeks and splashed onto the little brown bird. The peacock, now standing next to the girl also began to weep and their tears mingled together and dropped like rain onto the little body. “Oh Sparrow,” sobbed the peacock, “please, tiny brave little friend, please, please come back to me.”
He turned to the Keeper, “Is there nothing you can do?” The Keeper reached out his hand and with his index finger touched the tiny bird and stroked her feathers.
The sparrow took a deep breath, then another and stood up in the palm of the little girl’s hand. The Keeper smiled at the trio. “Peacock, your heart is no longer stone. You have learned to put another above yourself. You have learned love.” To the sparrow he said, “Dear brave little bird, you kept your promise and looked after Peacock all these many years and expected nothing in return. You gave love.” To the girl he said, “Little girl, you had compassion for a stranger in need. You demonstrated love. My child, you are welcome to this garden anytime.”
Then the Keeper turned to the boys who thought they were hidden in the tall grass. “Come here!” demanded the Keeper in a stern voice. “Come and get us!” retorted one of the boys. In one swift movement the Keeper was behind the startled two and had them by the scruff of their necks. The boys started to kick and scream even more violent cursing and threats than before. He shook the two until they quieted.
“You have witnessed great caring, bravery, compassion and love at its finest, and you have failed to comprehend the meaning.” The boys began to smirk and mock, “Love is for Sissy’s,” they both chanted. “Besides, what do you think you’re going to do about it?” The Keeper grew very quiet and then after careful consideration said, “You both have stone hearts. You care nothing for anyone or anything but yourselves.” The boys started to snicker louder. “Stone hearts, ha, ha, ha!” said the older boy. “Yeah, stone heart, very funny!” mocked the other.
“Very well, so as your hearts are stone then shall you become stone and so you shall remain until you learn what it is to be humble and to love others more than yourselves.” said the Keeper softly. As with the peacock, a hardening feeling began in their chest. They looked at one another, struggling to speak and move. A stone layering engulfed their bodies and they looked at the Keeper in disbelief.
At the telling of the story, Nora came to the center of the clearing and walked over to the two statues. Tears welling in her eyes she bent over to kiss the cheek of both boys. The peacock greeted Nora with beautiful display of his feathers and bowed humbly. “Welcome Nora, peace be with you.” He said. The sparrow flew from the tree branches and lightly landed on Nora’s shoulder and began to sing her sweet song in her guest’s ear. “Looks like my brothers have not changed,” she said sadly,
“Hope,” said the peacock, “Never give up hope, dear Nora.” Nora smiled, “That is true, Peacock.” Reaching up to caress the tiny brown bird’s feathers, she said “Sparrow never gave up on you.” The sparrow began to sing her sad-sweet song and every creature in the garden was blessed.