There’s a song about blue birds that live behind the rainbow. When someone has a big dream, blue bird leaves his homeland and flies away to look for the dreamer. Once they meet, the dreamer must take care of the bird, and then the bird begins to fulfill his dreams.
Red and yellow rear lamps stood and blinked instead of gliding along the road. Somewhere nearby a sound of a siren crossed the street. Winter as usual paralyzed the city. Mike opened the window splashed by the snow and leaned out. It was impossible to see where the traffic jam ended. Lights of the car in front of him moved half a meter and stopped. Mike slapped his hand on the steering wheel. It didn’t make sense to move on. He will be late anyway. He will later pick up his son from the music school. And he will later start to work on the project he did over hours. Today was the deadline. The clock displayed mercilessly passing minutes. He felt as if every precious moment melted in dirty drifts, piled up on both sides of the street.
Suddenly the lights before the car turned right. Mike also decided to go in that direction. Maybe he will manage to get through the side roads to the place when the traffic jam loosens up? It’s always better than waiting.
He knew this side road. As a child, he dragged that way with colleagues, coming back from school. Along the way, they spent a long time in a pet store. They pressed their eyes to the walls of aquariums. Fish in fantastic colors put on their charm. Once he noticed under the ceiling a cage where a small bird stretched his beautiful, emerald feathers. When their eyes met, the bird sadly cooed and fluttered the wings as if it wanted to fly away. Mike wanted to bring up a pencil and sketchbook from his schoolbag and draw the bird immediately. At the time he used to draw everywhere. Under the desk, in the schoolyard, in bed. Strange. Drawing was once so important for him, but he was able to abandon it for such a long time.
Around the corner of the street loomed up the main road. Cars didn’t move. Mike slogged the steering wheel. And then from the corner of his eye he saw a familiar sign. Impossible. How could this small pet store survive? So many big shopping malls were lately built in the neighborhood. Since the death of his parents he hasn’t been in this area. He lived with his wife and son in the comfortable apartment in the suburbs. He had to pay for this convenience by getting stuck every day in afternoon traffic jam.
Mike knew already he won’t be able to speed up anything so he parked and looked at the storefront. Behind the curtain of swirling snowflakes there was shining a warm light. Aquariums sparkled with color. He wondered if behind the counter still stood the same shop keeper with yellow bulging eyes?
Since that day when he first saw the blue bird in the shop, he popped down every day to check if no one bought it. Shop assistant must have noticed him.
“Would you like to buy it?” he asked once, in a low, sibilant voice.
The moment he heard the question he realized how much he wanted to buy that bird. However, he decided that he wouldn’t admit it.
“I’ve never seen such a bird,” he said. “Is it some kind of parrot?”
Shop assistant looked at him curiously, tilting his head a bit.
“It’s just a blue bird,” he answered. “There’s a song about blue birds that live behind the rainbow. When someone has a big dream, blue bird leaves his homeland and flies away to look for him. Once they meet, the owner must take care of him, and the bird begins to fulfill his dreams. In my opinion, this one is waiting for his owner. Maybe for you?”
Mike squeezed a pencil that always kept in his pocket. Yes, he had a big dream. He dreamt about drawing comic books. All his life long. Could this dream come true thanks to the blue bird?
He smiled to his memories and, before he could think about it, he stood at the pet shop’s door. Bell rang merrily. The tranquility surrounded him immediately. It was so different from the crowded street. For a moment he felt as if he was a little boy again. Somewhere under the ceiling sounded quiet cooing. Incredible. It was still here. The blue bird in a cage. With emerald feathers. The bird looked at Mike as if they knew each other for a long time.
The shop keeper leaned behind the counter. He looked at Mike curiously, tilting his head a bit. His yellow bulging eye were surrounded by the net of wrinkles.
“Didn’t behave like that since a long time,” he said, pointing at the blue bird. “Would you like to buy it?”
Yes, he wanted. But just like in the past, he decided not to admit it.
“I used to come here when I was a little boy. Once you told me a story about blue birds that live behind the rainbow. Like in that famous song.”
“You must have had a great dream then,” said the shop keeper. “Where has it gone?”
How could the shop keeper know, that Mike’s dream didn’t come true? Has he had it written all over his face? And actually was it really a great dream? Until a moment, when he entered the shop, he had forgotten that he could draw.
“I fulfill the dreams of my son,” he replied evasively, adjusting his tie. “My son is very gifted, plays the violin and tennis and performs in a school theatre.”
“That’s a lot. It will be difficult for him to recognize his greatest dream. And then any blue bird will be able to find him.”
How could this man have the cheek to judge his son? What could he know about talented Adam? Why should his son choose one dream? Mike and his wife, Martha, did their best to give Adam the opportunity to choose what interests him mostly. But explaining all this to the old shop keeper didn’t make sense.
“You don’t understand anything,” Mike snapped back.
“I just wanted to say that no one but you can fulfill your dream,” the shop keeper replied quietly, dabbing bars of the cage. Blue bird fluttered the wings, as if he wanted to fly away.
Coming out, Mike heard the sad cooing, but he slammed the door without turning back. Although he was stuck in a traffic jam for the next half an hour, he stopped looking at the clock. Words of shop assistant couldn’t get off his back. He kept thinking about it until the moment when he reached the music school. Adam, getting into the car, as usual, tossed carelessly his violin case in the back seat, and then sat back. He looked a bit different today. His cheeks blushed from the cold, and his eyes sparkled merrily.
“Great that you were late!”, he said. “We were playing snowball in the school backyard. Other parents also stacked in a traffic jam.”
Adam had no idea how expensive his education was and how often his parents worked overnight, to provide him with everything he had. They lived according to schedule, precisely arranged by Martha. And their son preferred a snowball fight!
He looked in the wing mirror. Adam felt asleep.
The house smelled as usual of spaghetti sauce, Martha’s perfume and fresh laundry. Everything Mike loved and in the name of what he has so easily forgotten about drawing.
Martha carefully took sleeping Adam from Mike’s arms, then she put the boy on the couch and covered with a blanket.
“I’ll let him rest a while,” she said. “But I’ll wake him up soon, so that he can do his homework”.
“Come on. He can sometimes go to school without his homework done. He’s only nine.”
Martha raised her eyebrows.
“Last semester he got weaker grades. If he carries on learning like this, he won’t be admitted to good high school and later – to good university. “
“I’ve graduated from the best university and so what? In the office I have the impression that I’m working on the same project over and over again. Then I get stuck in the traffic jam and struggle to save every minute in order to do what for half a night? The same project over and over again!”
He was astonished with his own words. Did he really think so?
Martha looked at him indulgently. As always in the moments when he behaved like a naughty boy. Recently it happened rarely. Usually he saw pride in her eyes when she adjusted his tie in the morning.
“We’re all tired. Nothing new, the whole semester behind us,” she answered quietly. “Soon we make holidays in the Alps, you can rest and everything will be fine again.”
He knew that the holidays in the Alps are not enough. During these two weeks he will forget about the whole world, but then his life will be the same again.
“Martha,” he began hesitantly. “Do you still remember that I used to draw comics?”
Martha smiled and disheveled his hair with her fingers. Like in their high-school times, when he had shoulder-length hair and always some new drawings in his schoolbag.
He wanted to take an entrance exam in the Academy of Arts but finally decided to study architecture. He crammed Maths, trained Technical Drawing and by the high school finals had completely forgotten about the comic books. Martha looked different back then. She was sewing herself colorful dresses and jackets. Who would think that she would pick the bookkeeping and every day before going to office she will button up in front of the mirror her grey uniform.
“I would like to start drawing again,” he said very quickly. As if he was afraid that in a moment he will no longer have courage to admit it.
Martha took her hand away, but said nothing. He knew what it meant. Instead of arguing she preferred to wait until his mood will change. She stood over the stove and with her back turned served the spaghetti out.
“I don’t want to decide in a rush. But I’ll need more time for drawing,” he continued. “I’ll have to give up my over hours work.”
Marta said nothing.
“I know it sounds a little unrealistic, but I will probably have a chance to publish my own comic book!”
Finally, she turned around.
“And have you thought about Adam’s chances?” she asked, moving closer his plate with spaghetti.
“How do you know that he wants to use them? Today he told me that what he likes most is a snowball fight. And what is he doing now? Sleeping! The whole day at school – running from one classes to another. No wonder he is tired.”
“Perhaps he doesn’t know it now,” she said. “But he certainly will appreciate the chances we gave him when he will grow up.”
“And what about our dreams?” he asked.
“It’s too late,” she replied firmly. “Those talented ones graduated from artistic colleges. We weren’t gifted enough. This is the way I cleared it myself up.”
“No. It’s you who didn’t want me to be an artist! You wanted me to be a well-mannered architect who goes to office in a suit and earns good money!”
Tears came into Martha’s eyes.
“You have never told me that you don’t like your job. You were so proud when you became an architect.”
Mike felt ashamed of his own words. What he said was not fair. He has never mentioned before that he would like draw comics once again. Actually, she hasn’t event thought of it until now. How could Martha guess? She said out loud the concerns he didn’t want to admit himself for years. He probably had too little talent. But on the other side, he has never shown his drawings to anybody, he didn’t even try to take an entrance exam in the Academy of Arts. He was afraid that he will not succeed and now he understood that success didn’t matter. What mattered most was to draw. Maybe it wasn’t the talent that he lacked, but – the courage.
When Martha went to Adam’s room, Mike found a box on the cupboard top shelf. He tipped out of it on the desk pencils, crayons, markers and sketchbook .Various tints, thicknesses and grammages proved how seriously he thought then about his comic plans. He picked up the emerald crayon and smelled the pleasant wooden scent. He remembered the pleasure he felt in the past, when he led a crayon on the page. He tried to draw a blue bird he saw today in the store. However, the effect disappointed him. His hand trembled, and the line was weak. He crumpled drawing and threw into the trashcan. How could he be so naïve to believe that after so many years he can draw once again? Martha was right. It was too late.
The days passed, one day similar to another until finally blasts of spring chase the winter away. Anything else stayed the same. Mike spent mornings and afternoons in the traffic jams, picked up Adam from the music school and worked half a night. Only Martha looked at him closely each time he returned from work, but didn’t ask about anything. Perhaps she was afraid that he will secretly give up the projects he did over hours? Sometimes she walked into his room, as if she wanted to say something, but only put a cup of coffee on his desk.
As usual, when the days became longer, he had an impression that he has more free time to spare. One sunny morning, when a cheerful spring breeze blew, the grass became bright green, and in the air swirled pink petals from a nearby apple tree Mike felt that everything is possible. Maybe if he bought the blue bird it would work out? He would simultaneously work on all the projects and draw? Perhaps it is as simple as that?
On that day he believed in miracles and could not wait the moment when coming back from work he will turn into the familiar side street. However, when he finally stood before the store’s door, he felt nervous.
Bell rang merrily. He looked around. He couldn’t see the blue bird anywhere.
“Can I help you?” a young man in a white shirt leaned out from behind the computer screen.
“I thought … earlier worked here…”
“Oh, yes. My father. Unfortunately, he died. Two months ago. Did you know him?”
“No, we talked only twice. I came here because…I would like buy a blue bird. The cage was always hanging there, under the ceiling.”
“Blue bird, yes. I have no idea what happened to it. Apparently it escaped. The days are now getting warmer. We were airing in the store. Strange … such a beautiful specimen, and no one wanted to buy it. But we have lovebirds. They’re so cute and not fussy at all. They eat sunflower seeds, oats and millet. All this you may purchase from us.”
Mike looked vaguely at the shopkeeper. He felt like a boy who didn’t receive a present he looked forward to. So this is it. How could he be so naive to believe in such a bunch of crap? How can a common bird in cage fulfill dreams?
When he left a store, sunk in his thoughts, suddenly he bumped into a young woman. Her bag almost fell out of her hands. Unexpectedly, the woman smiled.
“I am glad that we met”, she said.
He nodded politely, but didn’t recognize her.
“You don’t remember me? I teach Adam playing the violin.”
“Oh yes, violin. Does my son make progress?”, he said, adjusting his tie.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk over with you”, she said. “I think…Adam shouldn’t take violin lessons anymore”.
“What do you mean? Why would he give up? Now, after practicing for so long?”
“In music practicing is important, that’s true”, she said slowly, selecting every word carefully. “But I also think that it’s important to have fun playing. Adam quickly gets tired. That’s not the way music arises”.
He couldn’t say a word. From a nearby tree a flock of birds sprung up and flew over their heads.
“I understand that it must be difficult for you,” the teacher continued, looking at him with compassion. “You’ve invested so much money in those lessons. Another teacher probably would not tell you the truth. But try to look at this from another side. Perhaps when Adam gives up the violin, he will find another passion? Please think about it.”
Mike dragged to the car. He felt hot, so he took off his jacket and threw it on the back seat. “In this country it’s either winter or summer. Nothing in the middle,” he thought and slammed the car door. He didn’t notice any more a blue sky, juicy green grass or pink petals, which were swirling in the air. On his way home he was only wondering how would he tell Martha about what he heard from the teacher. It will be a blow for her. All their hard work didn’t make sense.
The house smelled of spaghetti sauce. Marta was humming in the kitchen. Today she took the day off and looked very relaxed. He didn’t want to spoil her good mood, but knew that he must tell the truth as soon as possible. Until Adam returns from drama classes.
“I’ve met today… the violin teacher,” he said, slowly pronouncing every word.
She put a finger to his lips.
“I know,” she said.
“Has she already talked to you?” he asked surprised.
“No, but I know everything. From the time we had that conversation about comics I began to notice how Adam is tired of the treadmill, that he have imposed on him. We need to give him more freedom. Not only from the violin. He doesn’t enjoy drama classes any more. And I guess he doesn’t like tennis. We’ve put too much effort in fulfilling his dreams and have forgotten about ours.”
“But you told that we are already too late for our dreams,” he said.
Martha winked flirtatiously. She seemed fifteen years younger.
“Come on,” she said. “That’s why I took a day off.”
She opened the door to the bedroom. Under the window stood now a wide desk with carefully disposed felt-tips, crayons and pencils and an open, clean sketchbook on it. This small part of the rook looked as beautiful as a big studio, which Mike once had dreamed of. He never talked to Martha about his dream. How did she know?
“Since the time we talked about drawing, I noticed that something inside you went off. I could not bear it. I’ve tried to tell it to you, but was afraid that when I encourage you to draw, I will deprive Adam of his chances for a good life. It took a while before I understood everything.”
Mike sat intimidated over the blank sketchbook page.
“Now you have to draw, “ she said, disheveled his hair with her fingers and left him alone.
Mike started to draw. He completed one picture and then another. His line became more and more certain. He didn’t feel that the time passed. It seemed to him as if he was sixteen again and had the whole life ahead of him.
He opened the window. A spring breeze fell into the room together with children’s cries from the playground. Among them he recognized Adam’s voice. From behind there came another sound. A sewing machine. Suddenly nearby something fluttered. On the window sill squatted down the blue bird.
The story was originally written in Polish and translated by the author.
Polish fiction writer who writes uplifting stories