The Last Broken Wing
The Last Broken Wing8 mins 493 8 mins 493
Butterflies. As long as they are not in the stomach, largely they are beautiful creatures. I know that snakes, lizards and other reptiles eat butterflies, but that was not what I was talking about. Although I wonder what taste or nutrition a butterfly would give to whoever eats it, given that it is more wings than the body itself. Imagine how one small thing makes such a big difference to our perception, case in point being, if you take away the colours from the wings of a butterfly, it gets reduced to a moth. I am not being judgmental here and am not questioning the importance of the existence of a moth over a butterfly, however, we all have our flaws and shallow perception of beauty. Sometimes I wonder why is it called so since it neither consumes nor generates butter. I have often tried to capture a still of a butterfly only to come to a conclusion that they are restless creatures and for a novice photographer like me, the job is almost impossible. This brings me to my other theory that whoever wanted to name this being, perhaps wanted to call it flutter-fly. Coming to names, I also wonder if honeybees did not generate sweet honey, would they be called wax-bees. It is a curse to most artists who are deft at more than one craft with one talent overshadowing the other one.
One such gifted soul happens to be my closest friend. Coming from humble origins, from a village in a mountain tucked nicely in the midst of some more mountains, my friend knows more about animals, birds, insects than he knows about human beings. His name is taken respectfully in the circles of science and research however he always appeared to be dissatisfied. His constant struggle which was so obvious on his face forced me to ask him what is bothering him in one of our meetings. He rekindled the fire in his cigar pipe, the lines on his forehead doubled and his eyes became dreary and with great pain, he turned his face towards me. He asked me “When you look at me, what do you see my friend?” I could not understand whether he is fishing for praise or is genuinely asking my impression of him. Our years of friendship flashed before my eyes and I feared that my answer, if wrong, can bring it crashing down in a minute. He detected my apprehension and encouraged me to speak freely since my opinion matters to him. I said that I see a knowledgeable person, a great friend and someone who wants to be someone he is not. His facial muscles tightened as he gestured me to follow him. I realised that I have never seen this side of his house and it also occurred to me that perhaps I was about to see another side of my friend.
I may be a bit digressing here, but looking at him unlocking a door made me wonder how many memories have I locked away over the years. There are doors behind doors, locks over locks and keys thrown in deep dungeons. Some of those voices often ring in my ears. I try to cover them tightly with my hands but they pierce my skull and reach into my brain. They tell me not to be how I am and try to remind me how I was. My train of thought was jolted by the sound of the key rotating thrice to open the lock. It occurred to me that he was probably doing one of the most courageous acts of his life by choosing to unlock the door in my presence. Inside the room was an entirely different world. It was full of sketches and paintings. There were half sketches thrown away in frustration, perfect ones lying about casually, incomplete paintings waiting to be worked upon and many complete works with signature of my friend on them. There were thousands of butterflies, dead ones marked and organised neatly. There wasn’t a single painting or sketch which wasn’t of a butterfly. I spent hours and hours looking at those before I looked at him with my questioning eyes. He was sitting there patiently yet disturbed as one is after one confesses a dangerous secret to someone close.
We came out and helped ourselves to a drink. He finally started speaking “I have visited doctors and therapists to overcome my obsession with it, but everything has failed. They have identified the cause but not the cure. When I was a kid, one day I found a beautiful butterfly and brought it home. I kept it in a jar and looked at it for hours. The colours, blue-green and black, how they merged into each other. I must have dozed off staring at it because when I got up, the eyes that were looking at me were not tiny. They belonged to my drunk father who was curiously looking at me and at the jar. What happened next just unveiled the nakedness and ruthlessness of life. He took the lid off, caught hold of the butterfly, held its wings and looked at me. I wanted to scream at him, hit him hard, shout for help but all I could do is cry and beg him to let it go. For a moment, it seemed that he would after all come to his senses, but he was only toying with me. In the fraction of a second, both the wings came off the body and it writhed in pain on the floor. Then he crushed it under his foot and laughed shamelessly. He caught my jaw tight and looked right into my eyes and said “This is life. Everything you love will be taken away from you. Better get used to it.”
Sometimes you should control your urge to give someone the advice that one needs. For instance, I suggested to a friend once that he is wasting his time in trying to become a musician. It was genuine advice considering there was little difference in his piano piece and hammer of the carpenter working on his deck. He became a successful architect later but still curses me for his boring life. Be that as it may, I was supposed be genuine here so I advised that he should go back to his hometown and look for the butterfly with the same coloured wings and that it may give him some closure. I never imagined he would take the pains of actually following it, but the next day he was off to his birthplace.
For several weeks after that, I kept wondering when he will call or whether he will be back or not. Then I got busy with my own life. Time is a lot like water. It fills up space perfectly and leaves no gaps and yet makes space for anything which submerges in it. Fragments of the room, turning of the key and damp turpentine filled the air of the room kept visiting me in my dreams. Have you ever wondered why we see the brightest of the lights when our eyes are closed? Often the butterflies came alive and sat on me as I broke their wings one by one until I woke up to find the world has not changed. Frequency of such episodes reduced gradually until it finally stopped. After eleven months of our meeting, one day I got a call from my friend. His voice was calm and he invited me to his place. As much as I would have wanted to avoid this meeting, curiosity got the better of me and I found myself walking to his place. He didn’t waste any time and took me to the room without telling me anything that happened in the last eleven months.
Finally, he turned to me and spoke “You were right my friend. I went searching for the same butterfly I had caught several years back. It took a lot of time because it turns out it is an unidentified species. Many times I doubted my memory and thought I am chasing a dream, but I kept at it. After several months I got the first glimpse of it and all those painful memories came rushing back. It was so real that I forgot to catch it and it took several more months for me to finally put it in a jar. Then I came back and started the painting. As the painting progressed, I found myself getting released of the obsession. I apologise for not having called you for months, but I wanted you to come here when I was done with it.” He turned and removed the cloth from over the painting. Words eluded me. Then he removed another cloth and picked up the jar in light. It was undoubtedly the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen. The painting looked even more mesmerising now looking at the details and colours of the wings. He kept the jar near the painting and looked at me.
Amused by my bewildered eyes, he said “I have called for a press conference tomorrow wherein I will present both of them to the world. Then finally I will be free from the obsession and I will be known as a great artist and not only as a scientist.” Saying this, he raised his hands in the air as if to receive applause, but while doing so, his hand hit the painting which in turn hit the jar. Both of them fell to the ground along with bottles of paint. First, the jar broke then the bottles. The butterfly tried to fly away but it got caught in thick paint. The painting was lying face down in a pool of paint and so was the butterfly.
I was in shock of what I just saw in front of me. Then I looked at my friend. He calmly walked out of the room and I followed him. He picked up the suitcase, put clothes in it, opened the front door and walked out of it. To this day, I wait for his call.