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I looked up to the sky, shrouded in cloud. My arms ached, and I set down the basket I was carrying to rub one with the other. It was my job to bring water up to the top of this mountain, and I didn’t always do it with glee.
I hefted the water carrier back into my embrace, and began trudging again up the winding path. I was almost to the top.
As I reached the village, several people approached me, offering to help. But each one I refused, and continued heading towards my destination. Everyone knew everyone up here. I don’t remember how I got here myself, but the villagers say I fell out of the sky. Our leader had found me on the very top of the mountain, just a little baby. The only thing I had with me was a sparrow feather, tucked under my ear.
That’s why they call me Sparrow.
Most likely, a mother who couldn’t care for her child left me there, hoping I would fall. I wish I knew who she was.
A little boy came up to me. I smiled and waved him over with my head. He grinned and raced over.
“Watcha doin, Sparrow?” he chimed, weaving in and out of my legs. I carefully stepped over him.
“I’m bringing water to the top, Taro” I replied, pointing. At the very top of the mountain was a little shack. Taro only grinned wider.
“Can I come?” he asked.
“Go ask your mother”
He raced off. I picked another path, one leading outside the village huts. I watched him go, hoping his ma would say yes. He was one of the only children here who dared to befriend the mysterious skinny boy who lived in the highest dwelling on the mountain. I trudged ahead slowly, waiting for his eager face to pop out of the bushes. When I heard a rustling in the sparse brush, I turned, expecting Taro. But instead, cold eyes set on a heavy face smirked back at me. I didn’t run, but merely turned around and began to walk back up the path. A hand caught the back of my shirt to hold me in place.
“Good morning, little birdie” a cruel voice whispered into my ear. “Going for a walk? Bringing some water for your old man?” And with that, I was whirled around so I was face to face with my attacker. I lost my grip on the carrier and it rolled to the ground, spilling all over the front of me.
“Let me go, Harn.” I said softly.
“Go yourself, Sparrow. Where are your wings now?” he replied, laughing. He shoved me, and I fell onto the rough ground. A hand was pushed into my spine, and I couldn’t rise.
“Where are you wings?” he chanted above me, “Where re your wings?”
A rustling in the grasses close to me caught my attention. Concerned black eyes stared back out at me, and I motioned with mine. Stay away. Get help.
Harn was now kicking me, and my ribs screamed in agony. But I made no sound as my body was thrown around the path. He continued his demonic chant.
“Where are your wings now, Sparrow? Where are your wings?”
“That is enough.”
The voice came as salvation. I felt the blows cease, and the hand was removed from my back. I stood on shaking legs.
Taro had come through. He must have run to the shack on the hill, where I lived. Staring down Harn was my caretaker. He was an old man, his skin wrinkled and his hair white, but his gaze was deadly.
“Leave, Harn. If I catch you beating up my boy again, you will not be as lucky.” He snarled. Harn inched down the path. As soon as he was out of sight, I could hear his footsteps running. I looked up at my adopted father, and he gazed down at me, looking at my bruised legs. Taro came and offered me a hand, but I shook my head and bent painfully down to retrieve my basket.
“I’m sorry Toshihiro. He made me spill the water. I’ll go get more.” I said, turning around to go back down the path. But his withered hand caught my shoulder.
“Taro will get us some, won’t you, son?” he asked my little companion. He nodded eagerly and I gave him the bucket. He ran down the path after Harn.
“Sparrow, come with me.” Toshihiro said.
We walked to the cottage we had shared since I was a baby. He sat down on one of the old chairs by the rickety fire place, pulling something out of his pocket. I sat down opposite of him, waiting for him to speak. There was a long silence.
“Sparrow, do you know where you came from?”
“I was found at the top of the mountain with a few sparrow feathers.” I replied automatically. ‘I don’t know where I come from.”
“You were not just found with a few sparrow feathers, boy.” My foster parent replied, holding something up to the light of the window. As the sunlight struck it, I saw it was a small carved figure, big enough to fit in his palm. He handed it to me.
The carving was amazing in detail. It was of a pair of birds. One was a falcon, with cold, hard eyes. The other was a sparrow, it’s gaze holding mine. I let sunlight fall onto it. It almost looked real.
“This was found beside you. I have never shown it to anyone, and keep it hidden. But I fear my time is near it’s end, and I wanted you to have it before I pass.”
His words startled me. I had never thought about not having Toshihiro by me. He spoke again.
“When I’m gone, I want you to leave this mountain. I have heard of great places in the world, where pictures move on their own, and mechanical houses take people where they want to go. I hear of wonderful inventions, of science. Places where there are homes as large as this mountain itself. America, Japan, Great Britain. You don’t belong on this mountain, Sparrow.”
He got up out of his chair.
“I have to go down to the village. Think about it, son.”
And I was left alone, wondering just how large the world was.