“May my heart be open to little birds who are the secrets of living” EE Cummings
I’m walking along the lane, stealthily, silently. Decisively placing one foot in front of another. Eyes alert, glancing briefly, constantly from side to side. Alert to all the hustle and bustle. I’m on a mission. The stall sellers line both sides of the alley. The smells and sounds of their wares overflow onto it. The clash of tin wares falling, the dud thud of plastic bowls and buckets, the blood red drainage from the butcher’s and from the haberdashery shop the song of chattering woman and a flash of bright yellow ribbon. My first stop. They like me there. I step inside and walk the length of the shop and back again before finding a plush green silk cushion to settle on. After a few minutes the haberdasher comes over with my milk “How are you today?” she says as she strokes my head. I snuggle in close. “Such a good boy” she announces to her customers. “The best vermin catcher” She turns back to her clients. I nestle deep in the cushion softness, sip my milk and fall into an ever so gentle snooze.
As I awake, I see the shop has become much busier. Woman and the daughters. Bales of pink cottons and silks are strewn across the counters. Bangles are being chosen. Ribbons measured. Perhaps I can sneak out quickly before that horrid little girl with the pigtails spies me. But I’m contentious of my “free” milk so I dutifully wander down the shop again, check behind a few of the bales of cotton, rummage in the remnant ends left piling up in the corner. But there is nothing else to be had here today. So I head on out.
I continue on down the alley heading for the chicken seller at the far western corner where there are always good pickings but it means passing the place run by the man in the white coat with its strange smells. I give it a wide berth, as always. There’s something about those smells and his coat I don’t like - too clean, like death, like the aroma from those new houses built on the edge of town, too clean, smelling of pine trees where there are none.
The alley has got much busier as the morning progressed. The woman are out doing their shopping and the stall holders are loudly and proudly trumping their wares. I negotiate the maze of legs. Spying a pair of red stilettoes I follow behind them for a while lulled by their luxury. I am thinking I am hers, with its lazy life, dreaming of cream and cuddles all day and night, the good life far away from the daily toil of the alley.
My dream is broken by a kick to my left side. “Ouch, that hurt” I’m flying through the air, landing in the drainage in front of the animal seller. Dazed, I try to take in what happened. I’d not seen the blow coming. I can’t identify the culprit. I try to stand. I need to get away from here. Tempted once by fat juicy fish swimming in a bowl, I had ventured in. But deep in the bowels of the store I had found fear. The sight of ferrets unable to turn round in their glass cages, of white rats engulfed by never stopping wheels, had never left me.
It’s then I hear it. A song bird singing. It is beautiful. I try again to stand, and inspired by the striking song I manage to do it. I’m still shaking but I am on my legs. The bird continues to sing its song. She is high above me in a wooden cage. I stare up at her. She continues to sing to me. For the first time I hear a mournful tone hidden behind its joyful chorus. I am hearing her real song, her real message. I try to reach her, but am unable to reach the cage, hanging out of reach, high on the stall’s door. Before I can try to stretch up again, the stall owner is on me “Shoo, get. Get out of here.” I run, the bird’s song is with me, getting louder and louder now as all the birds have joined in. Their symphony floods over me, embalming my bruised muscles, empowering my legs. I run, faster and faster. I don’t look back. I don’t stop until I am at the other end of the alley. I scramble behind the lumber pile, and resting there I look back down the alley knowing why a caged bird sings.© Sheila Ash 25th January 2016