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by Shernaz Wadia

Cheel was one of the strangest birds of prey. Smart and handsome, he could glide like a ballerina and swoop with finesse. But he was glaringly different from other kites in one respect. He was born very normal. As a fledgling he relished every beakful of the choice morsels of squirrel, rat or small bird that his mother brought him. Obediently eating whatever he was given, he grew into a strong young kite. Then began the lessons in flying. At first he was very scared and just flapped his wings or flopped down awkwardly. Like all mothers his mom too knew that eventually he would learn to fly, because that is what all birds do...well, almost all.

Then his mother began the next most important lesson – hunting. With great patience she taught him how to circle around high up in the sky and keep a keen eye for small birds and animals. In the beginning she told him to just follow her as she glided in smooth circles and scouted around for food. When she spied an unwary little prey, she would swiftly pounce, dig her talons into the poor struggling creature and fly off with a triumphant scream. Cheel would follow her eagerly to binge on what she caught, tearing away with healthful glee.

Often when she had espied something, she would play a game with Cheel. She would guide him in the general direction of the prey and ask him to spot it. At first it was difficult. Once he saw a fat rat lying near a garbage dump. To impress his mother, he circled the area without her and then in one unerring descent he scooped it up, only to throw it down instantly. It was a foul smelling piece of rag that he had mistaken for a rat. He flew off peevishly. At another time he had found a small snake in a field, but he was so amazed at it slithering away that he forgot to catch it.

His mother, who constantly watched over him, instructed him softly, “Son, you must learn to be more observant and focused. If you keep going after wrong things, or get distracted as you just did, you will not succeed. Be more watchful and teach yourself to distinguish between what is right for you and what is not.”

“Yes mama, sorry mama,” said Cheel. He thought his mother was the wisest and most beautiful in the bird kingdom and he would make her proud one day.

That day wasn’t too far away. He had been flying with other kites. Cheel did not like the boastful talk of the others, as he had not yet caught anything he could brag about. He flew far from them, away from their usual hunting area over a little hill. From way up he could see some movement, little animals scurrying about. So he decided to take a closer look. He began to fly down and then saw that they were squirrels, chasing one another and chirruping delightedly. He flew a little lower still. “Now is my chance,” thought he. He kept flying in stealthy circles and then pouncing fleetly, he scooped up one. He screeched in excitement, while the poor squirrel struggled to free himself. The rest, except one little chap, had scampered off in fear of their lives. Even as he lifted off with his booty, Cheel’s eyes met those of that fearless little squirrel who had been nicknamed Spunky. Eager to show off his catch and see the gleam of pride in his mother’s eyes, Cheel vaguely wondered why he had not caught Spunky. He was such an easy target.

Soon he became as adept as his mom and like any young adult decided it was time for him to move away from her protective shadow. Something disturbing had begun to happen to him now. Whenever he was resting, Spunky’s eyes seemed to stare at him, as if they were trying to tell him something. He tried in vain to ignore them. Finally he decided to go and see if Spunky still lived on that hill. He was disappointed. The hill had been cleared of its little vegetation and construction work had begun.

As the days progressed, he became listless. He began to fly off everyday in search of squirrel colonies to find Spunky. Those fearless eyes had cast a spell on him. They had robbed him of his peace. One particular spot had become his favorite perch. It was an antenna atop a four-storied building. Half-starved, he would sit on it and watch all the squirrels scuttling about in the surrounding trees hoping Spunky would be among them.

One evening, as he brooded about those obsessing eyes, he noticed a slight movement very close to the antenna and then a plucky “hello” greeted him. He looked closely in the fading light. It was Spunky! Cheel was as delighted as a lover on finding his long lost sweetheart

“Ah, finally I have found you. Where were you? I have been looking all over for you. I’ve been so desperate. There is so much I want to ask you...”

Cheel and Spunky were both startled at his outburst and then they began to laugh.

“No, Cheel. You didn’t find me. I have come to you.”

“Why would you do that? I can see that you are fearless, but what has made you so? Do you have some special powers?”

“I have come to you because I know you have been looking for me. First I thought you wanted to eat me but I have been observing you and realized that something is eating away at you. You want to know the secret of my fearlessness?”

“Yes, yes, please tell it to me.”

“Actually the secret is a very simple truth, a lesson that a very kind old crow taught me.”

“Yes? Go on.”

“When I was growing up there was a bully in our group. I was the most timid so he always stole my nuts, pushed me around and terrorized me. I was so afraid of him that I stopped venturing out of my hole. I was sad, lonely and almost dying of hunger.
The crow lived in the same tree. He came to me one day and said pitifully, ‘Don’t you think you would be better dead than living this miserable life?’
I sobbed uncontrollably and decided I would end my life that same day. I asked him to show me how.
He replied compassionately, ‘Silly. I can’t teach you how to die. Instead I will tell you a little secret to help you get rid of that bully.

“Oh will you do that? Thank you so much. What should I do?”

‘Face your fear. Next time your tormentor comes, look him straight in the eye and stand your ground. Then see what happens.’

“I thought the crow had lost it. He was asking me to invite my death.

‘You anyway wanted to kill yourself. You will die but once. Why not go facing your adversary with courage?’ Those words did it. All night I pondered over them. I was dying a thousand deaths daily because of my cowardice. Might as well face it once and for all.

“The next day I took the gamble. If I didn’t go out, I would die of hunger. If I did, the ruffian would steal my food but I might still get enough to keep me alive. So thinking I began to feast and then gathered some delicious nuts to take back with me.

“Bang on schedule, the bully arrived and ordered me to hand them over to him or else...The monster bared his fangs. I was quaking inside”

“So what did you do? Did you give them away? Did you run away?” The young kite was edgy with suspense.

“Trust me, I wanted to scamper away. But the crow’s words echoed in my mind. I held on to my precious load, looked him squarely in the eye and in a firm voice said, ‘Go find your own. These are mine and you are not getting any. At the most I might share a few with you if you will stop bossing around.’ With that I stood up on my hind legs, struck a warily adamant pose, ready to throw down my treasure and dart if the need arose.

“I couldn’t believe what followed. The bully, struck speechless by this attitude just bounded off without a backward glance. I was more dumbstruck than he! I stayed rooted expecting him to return and fall upon me any minute. From that day I have romped freely and lived on my terms. I dared to look fear in the face. That is my secret.”

“Wow. Now I understand why I couldn’t pick on you that day.”

Cheel was all admiration for this brave little squirrel. There he vowed that now on he would be a friend of the squirrels and protect them. That differentiated him from all other kites. They had always suspected that he was a bit batty. Finally he had proved it.

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