When I was about seven, I had a small green parakeet named Toukou. I would call him from my bedroom and he would open his cage and fly to me from the other side of the house, landing on my wrist. He’d look me in the eye indulgently and climb up to my shoulder. From this perch he’d kiss my cheek and talk to me. “Toukou loves love.”
“Good boy, Joshie,” Toukou would say to the dog, perching on his back as Joshie carried him around the house.
I loved to watch him fly, and used to take him outside for the sheer joy of knowing he came back because he loved us. Because he wanted to be with us. The intoxicating freedom of lifting one’s wings and riding the wind was a subject of great contemplation for me. I wanted to fly, too. One day, I called Toukou to my room and quietly closed the door.
“Toukou loves love,” Tokou chirped his usual greeting.
“And I loves Toukou,” my ritualistic reply. “Toukou,” I looked right into his wise eyes, “I want to fly. I want to fly like you.”
Toukou shifted to thought-speech then, “My child. My love. Fly, then. Just fly.”
I dragged a chair across the room and climbed up on my dresser. Toukou sat on my bed and watched me with a tender, indulgent expression in his eyes. Countless times, I had envisioned myself flying weightless, wind brushing across my cheeks and streaming through my hair. I took a deep breath, summoned the vision, and repeated Toukou’s words like a mantra, “Fly, then. Just fly. Fly, then. Just fly.” Arms raised high, I stepped off of the dresser.
I landed loudly, my feet awkwardly folded beneath me. Toukou, now perched on the curtain rod, watched quietly. “You said I could!” I groused.
“And you can, but not the way you think.”
“Show me,” I begged.
“Believe,” he calmly replied.
I managed to convince him to climb onto my shoulder as I stood on the dresser, and to fly from there across the room. I watched each movement, each breath carefully, and mimicked him exactly. Well, exactly except that I landed in a heap on the ground instead of flying gracefully to the curtain rod as he had done.
“You were born to fly. Believe,” Toukou encouraged me, while sending me images of the beauty he encountered when flying above the trees in the backyard.
Maybe, I reasoned, I needed to take off from a higher spot. This way I would have more time to take flight…
I ran to the living room, Toukou flying alongside, Joshie running behind. I cranked open the big bay window, took a deep breath and leapt with faith. I believed, but I landed in the shrubs several feet below. Joshie and Toukou looked down on me from the window above as I caught my breath and untangled limbs from foliage These experiments went on for months. Every time I fell, Toukou would tell me, “You were born to fly.”
Toukou grew old, and frail, until finally the time came for my dear friend to soar beyond his body. I still have one of his feathers. And I never forgot his adamant belief that I was born to fly.
Visiting my parents in India in recent years, I sometimes saw wild parakeets flying free, and felt the old familiar tug within me. I wanted to fly. I wanted to fly like them. “Believe, my child. My love. You were born to fly,” Toukou still whispered in my heart.
One day, not too long ago, I hiked to the top of a very steep, very tall mountain. So many times, I wanted to give up. I nearly did. Except that my good friend kept encouraging me. “You can do this. Believe.” Purple and golden wildflowers as tall as me decorated the path. The smell of wild sage surrounded me, filling my lungs with healing strength. We passed a grove of ancient Silver Oaks covered in Spanish moss. Far below and miles away, the ocean’s waves sparkled and danced in the sunlight.
And I believed. I kept climbing, kept breathing. It may have been the first time in my life that my eyes were wide open. The first time I had ever been completely present. My heart leapt. And I believed.
High above the summit, surrounded in the mountain’s lush glory, two Condors flew, their vast wings still as they rode the air currents.
My spirit soared and I understood dear Toukou’s words at long last.
Believe. You were born to fly.