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The room was white. White walls, white floors, white curtains. Pale white skin. The doctors wore all white. They didn’t touch anything unless they were wearing their white, latex gloves. The only color resided with a man, sitting next to a hospital bed. He was holding a girl’s hand. His shirt was pink. It was his daughter’s favorite color.
“Daddy,” the girl said. She had to bedsheets pulled up to her chin.
“Why did all my hair fall out?”
“That’s what the medicine does.”
“I’m not sure. I bet the doctors know.”
The girl paused, considering this.
“You know, I wish I was a bird.”
“I could just flap my wings, and fly away from this hospital and the doctors and their pokey needles and machines and stuff.”
The man smiled, a squeezed his daughter’s hand. “I think that’s a very good idea.”
“I’d love to be a bird.”
“Then a bird you will be.”
To most people, Charlie was invisible. It was probably because of his profession. Cheesey news outlets like the Daily Mail “report” on the top ten most stressful jobs on the planet. They’re always the same: teacher, doctor, brain surgeon, CIA agent. Charlie thought,
Right, I’d like to see a doctor try to drive a taxi through New York City every day, seven days a week, with ceaseless passengers screeching in the back seat.
Not to mention the traffic.
Charlie had a lot of different people come through the little cab of his. He’d had the rich, the poor, the young, the old. He’d had people jump out of his cab before paying at the end of their ride. He’d been told “keep the change” and been given the smug richey-rich look. But he’d never had a passenger quite like the one he picked up at 3:30am on April 14th, 2006.
Charlie was flagged down by a casual waving from the sidewalk. He pulled over, and into his cab hopped a man. He told Charlie his destination, and never said another word despite Charlie’s attempts to make small talk about the weather, or the construction on 7th street. When they arrived at the man’s stop, he handed him the money, and quietly got out. He closed the door before Charlie could finish his goodbye, and thank you.
Charlie thought nothing of it. This was New York after all. Weird people capital of the country. He’d had far stranger experiences than this. So onward he drove, to pick up his next passenger, which turned out to be several blocks away. When she opened up the back door she gave Charlie a confused look.
Was the backseat getting dirty?
“Is that yours?” she asked him.
“Is what mine?” he responded. Charlie didn’t have the slightest clue what she was talking about.
“This.” She pulled a shiny, gold object out from between the seats. It looked strange, almost like a kettle that had been horizontally stretched. Charlie felt his eyebrows raise.
“No, that isn’t mine. Another passenger must have left it on accident.”
“Left it wedged between car seats?”
He paused. Was it the strange man who had left it? Was it left on purpose? He took it from her.
“I don’t know how it got there. I’ll take it and get rid of it later.” This seemed to please her enough, and she took a seat on the cushions she had found the object between. Charlie pulled away from the curb, and on they went, the golden object in the shotgun seat beside him.
Being home was always a bit strange for Charlie. He was more familiar with his cab. Tonight he lugged himself inside, the strange golden object wrapped in his jacket in his arms. Charlie dropped it on the kitchen counter, momentarily forgotten. It would probably end up in the trash anyways.
The sun was just beginning to peek through the windows. Charlie showered, and crawled into bed. Charlie lived a reverse life. Sleep in the day, live in the night. He had grown used to this backwards way of living.
Just as his eyes were beginning to flutter shut, Charlie heard a shuffling in the kitchen. His eyes snapped open. He remained alert for a minute, but heard nothing else. He dozed off again. A few moments later, he heard another shuffling sound, this time a little louder. Intruder. He fumbled under the bed for the baseball bat that resided there. He made his way slowly into the kitchen, armed with the bat.
Charlie peeked around the kitchen corner, looking cautiously. He saw nothing. He dropped the bat and rolled his eyes at himself, blaming it on his hyperactive imagination. He turned to go back to his bedroom, when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He whirled around, the bat in his hands once more. Nothing. Charlie stayed poised, waiting to see another hint that he was not alone. After a few moments, he saw his jacket shift. He dropped the bat, his eyebrows raised. It shifted again. Charlie slowly lifted his jacket off the counter, and the golden kettle object fell out. It landed on its side. The movement had stopped.
Charlie picked the object up with both of his hands, inspecting it. It made a small squeak. He almost dropped it, shocked. The more he looked at it, the more it reminded him of something out of Aladdin or from some old Arabic folk tale. It almost looked like a magic lamp. Charlie laughed at himself and his wild thoughts. Those were just silly stories. There was no truth to them at all. But still…
In spite of himself, he rubbed the side of the lamp with his shirt sleeves. Nothing happened, and so he rubbed again. No reaction. Charlie chuckled to himself. Of course nothing would happen. It was nonsense to think such a thing. But the movement, the noises from the lamp. What could be making these things happen?
Charlie lifted the lid off the top of the lamp, and placed it on the kitchen counter. He peered inside. He gasped, before breaking out in an irresistible smile. Inside the lamp was a little baby bird, looking up at him. It chirped in greeting. The bottom of the lamp was lined with cotton balls to keep the the bird warm. He hesitantly reached his hand into the lamp to pull out the baby bird. It made another squeak as he hopped into Charlie’s palm.
It had big, black eyes and a little beak of the same color. It was covered in an orange fuzz that wasn’t quite feathers, not quite fur, but somewhere in between. Its chirping was high pitched and friendly, as if he was introducing himself. Charlie wondered when the last time he’d eaten was.
What do birds eat? Charlie walked over to his refrigerator, and rummaged through. He pulled a banana out from the back of a fridge drawer. He peeled it and pulled off a chunk of the fruit, laying it before the bird. He chirped, and pecked away at the banana. Charlie smiled, and placed the rest of the banana in front of the bird. “Have as much as you want, little guy.” He then filled a little saucer with water, and gave that to the bird, too.
Charlie didn’t know what he’d do with the bird long-term, but he knew that right now he couldn’t just get rid of it. He searched through his junk closet for a box of some sort. Eventually he found a gift box, one of the ones that you put clothes in, the shallow white ones. He made a layer out of tissue paper and found an old blanket to fold up on top of that. Charlie placed it in the corner of his bedroom, and brought the bird to it from out in the kitchen. It chirped up at Charlie as he placed it in its new bed.
“Sleep well little guy,” Charlie whispered, as he shut the lights off and crawled into bed himself.
Owning your own taxi cab means that whatever you do with it is up to you. Because of this, Charlie found it fit to take the next night off when he woke up. He wanted to spend more time with his newfound friend. He still wasn’t quite sure what he would do with the little bird, but today, he decided, he would try to make a decision.
Charlie picked himself up out of bed with a yawn and a stretch, and padded over to the little bed that he’d made for the bird to sleep in. There he was, all snuggled into the wrinkles of the blanket. Charlie smiled softly down at him. He’s had quite a journey, Charlie thought. I’ll let him rest.
He walked out to the kitchen, where the lamp was still resting on the sink. He pulled the cotton balls out from the inside and threw them into the garbage can. He then rinsed the lamp out in the sink and dried it. He put the lamp in his junk closet, for safe keeping. Just in case he ever needed it.
Many months passed. Charlie’s bird stayed around. He couldn’t bring himself to set it free, and frankly, it didn’t seem to have the slightest desire to leave. And so the bird stayed. Charlie cared for it, and the bird loved him because of this. It took some getting used to for Charlie. He hadn’t experienced this in a long while.
As time went on, though, Charlie noticed that his bird was aging. The orange of the bird’s feathers began to fade to a weak yellowish color. His inky black beak turned a shade of charcoal grey. Only a few months ago he was a baby, Charlie thought. I didn’t think birds aged this quickly.
Charlie feared that his time with his beloved bird was limited. As saddening as he felt this was, he was also grateful. The bird had rekindled a fire in his life, one that had been dashed out long ago. And so he decided to cherish whatever time he and his bird had left together.
And so the days carried on. In the nights Charlie would drive his taxi around New York City. Sometimes he would bring his bird along with him. The passengers were fascinated by him. “I’ve never seen such a tame bird. How on earth did you train him to behave so well?” Charlie would just smile to himself. “Oh, you know. A little of this, a little of that.”
They ate their breakfasts and lunches and dinners together. Charlie would eat his sandwiches and burgers and salads, but he’d always carry a banana for his bird to eat. That was his bird’s favorite food.
And when Charlie curled up in bed to get some sleep, his bird would hop into its cardboard box bed in the corner or Charlie’s room, never making a noise. He would huddle down into a bundle of dulled out feathers and nestle into its tissue paper bed. And they always dozed off, knowing they’d see one another when they woke up.
But one day, Charlie woke up, and wasn’t greeted by the usual chirping he heard from his bedroom corner. Before looking into the cardboard box, Charlie knew that his bird was gone. He had been prepared for this. Charlie knew that it was okay.
He got up, and went to look into the box that the bird had gone to sleep in. Charlie’s eyes widened. His bird wasn’t there. The only sign of him was a few feathers, more white than yellow. Charlie hurried out into the kitchen, the living area, the hall, looking for his little bird. But he has nowhere to be found. Defeated, Charlie began to head back to his bedroom when he passed the hall closet. He paused. What if? He pulled open the closet door. He stepped in. On one of the many shelves, he pulled out the golden lamp, in which he’d found his bird so many months ago. He tried the lid, giving it a pull. All that time ago it had lifted off without resistance, but now, it didn’t budge. He pulled some more, but the lid felt as if it had been superglued shut. He sighed. “I guess our time is up, little buddy.” He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard a small chirp from inside the lamp.
Charlie got dressed. He brushed his teeth. He held the lamp tightly and he left his house. He walked a few blocks, and hailed a taxi. He slid into the back seat. He mumbled an address. “Ah, the old cemetery. Beautiful place, that is,” the taxi driver responded. Charlie barely heard him.
The cab rolled along. It came to a stop outside a tall, iron gate. Charlie gave the lamp a small pat, and placed it on the cab floor. He passed a twenty to the driver, offered a small thank you. He slid out of the cab. A woman shouldered past him, towards the cab. He walked through the cemetery gates.
A woman walked out of the cemetery. She tenderly wiped at her eyes, pale smudges of foundation bleeding onto the wrists of her black dress sleeves. She watched as a taxi pulled up to the curb. A man got out, walking toward the gates she’d just come from. She sent her silent love to him. You must’ve lost someone, too.
She squirmed her way into the cab, her foot hitting something on the cab floor. “What’s this?” She lifted a oddly shaped, golden object.
“I don’t know ma’am, it’s nothin’ I’ve ever seen. You want me to take it for you?”
The lady looked at the object for a moment. “No,” she replied. “No, I think I’ll take it. There’s a wonderful spot on my mantle for it.” She felt an involuntary tear drip from her eye.
“You alright there, miss? Is there somewhere I can take you?”
She sniffed. “Yes, sorry. I’ve just come from my father’s funeral.”
“I’m awful sorry, miss.”
She smiled a sad smile. “He used to call me his little butterfly.”
The woman waved in appreciation to the cab driver as he pulled away from the curb in front of her house. He has cut her ride price in half. It was a kind gesture.
She made her way into her house, and into the living room. She sat on the the love seat in the corner. She held in golden object in her lap. She rubbed at his with her sleeve, polishing away any smudges. She turned it around carefully in her hands. Curious, she reached for the lid. She lifted it off with ease. She peered inside. Out drifted a small butterfly, on delicate wings, laced with intricate orange and black patterns. It landed on the knuckle of one of her fingers. She brought it up, slowly, to eye level.
“Well, hello there,” she whispered. “What are you doing here?”