By: Bethelhem Teame
On a lazy Sunday morning, on the ever busiest streets of New York, I met my friend of longtime after a very long time. Our eyes locked and moments passed by…..while everything else around us was a blur of lively activities and seemed irrelevant.
After what seemed an eternity of paralysis of surprise, he came running towards me, arms stretched wide……….and it was 1990 all over again.
This is why I love New York, no body bothered to stop and look at the giant weirdo who lifted up on air another weirdo who couldn’t stop squealing and begging him to put her down.
He didn’t change a bit. He still thinks I am the little girl next door. He still looks, talks acts and feels the same.-That unruly curly dark hair of his still stands him out from the crowd, his dark eyes are still mysterious and deep as the heart of the sea, his smile and that dimple it creates are still his handsome hallmarks and his most powerful boyish charms.
Call me crazy but I still think that, that day we were able to slip through the time corridor and went back in time to the good old days. To the times when we were two friends, neighbors, classmates and at same time also paradoxically, opponents and rivalries of each other in academic achievements, sports and life in general.
I still can’t understand how conveniently we used to slip from one role to another just with a change of our cloths. Once we both don our school uniforms, we were merciless competitors and challenged each other to the max, but after school hours we were best friends who sat under that big tree in the neighborhood and watched the stars that twinkled from the night sky- dreaming of reaching the stars one day- He was to become a well-acclaimed architect and I, a well-renowned author. He was going to design my house for writing him his biography in return.
High school was fun and brought us even closer when we ended up having the same backpack that has a huge watch on it- it was a novelty that created a buzz as we passed by the students. But the competition between us continued till the sophomore years in campus which by then we have both decided to join different streams and the competition cooled down a notch or two.
Graduation was tearful- joyous tears. We took what came to be our last picture together with our gowns but still making funny faces like children, just like when we met for the first time, when he moved to our neighborhood from Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.
Life happened. You know how sometimes life swings at a full range and charge, without us realizing, and before long, we are standing on the opposite sides of the road? We drifted apart. Lost contact. No reasons, no quarrels or fights..it just happened as we each threw ourselves into the battles of life, each trying to come out victorious- sheer stupidity or innocence?
But despite all the time that has passed, despite the ups and downs of life, despite all the disappointments in life, despite the heartaches and heartbreaks that scarred our innocence..despite the whole shebang of things that come with growing up..he and I are still the same in each other’s eye. He said I haven’t aged a day since he saw me last.
We sat at a pleasantly classic bistro at the corner of the street and we tried to catch up on everything that has happened in our lives since after graduation. A lot has happened. A lot.
Shocking, alarming, enraging, challenging, trying, exhausting, hurting, relaxing, rewarding, healing times. ..a lot has happened since we hid behind his garage, when we sneaked out of our own graduation parties from our houses.
“Okay, I understand life was pretty tough and ugly for the past decade but now you can pursue your dreams again and you still can reach the stars.. don’t be such a wuss!” I chided him after learning how he has given up on his dreams and plans in life. It broke my heart to see my friend broken and wounded like that. At a close inspection, I can tell his eyes have lost their zest and he has grown a lot pessimistic- life makes us this way- I don’t blame him.
“ B dear, I am too old and too tired to chase my dreams now.” He paused and tapped my hand and went on to say, “ Yes, now I might be in a place where dreams come true if you venture out and fly but caged birds seldom learn to fly.” He gulped down the water with his eyes closed, he ought not need to do that, his eyes were mysterious enough wide open let alone with closed lids like that. “ Life has this funny way of caging us prisoners of its unfolding circumstances behind bars of fears and unavoidable, demeaning, imposing circumstances that are beyond our ability to fly our way out. Once uncaged and set free somehow, we still choose to paddle our legs on the ground than fly. Because that is all what the caged birds know to do..didn’t you hear that caged birds seldom learn to fly?”
Wow! I did’t recognize this person sitting across from me. He looks a lot like my friend from afar but doesn’t really have the one thing that made my friend special- his zeal towards life.
So that night when I climbed on my bed all tired and beaten up, I went over the conversation I had with my friend in my mind and cried my eyes out. Life is mean and cruel, how can it not show some mercy for my friend, who wanted nothing but the best for the rest of the world and the human race at large? Instead it has embittered him, soiled his childhood dreams and finally have broken him. I cried even more when I realized that there was this part of me- however little part it might be- that believed what my friend said. I remembered how overwhelmed I was when I was suddenly presented with options and choices for the first time in my life, and how I still choose to play it safe and never venture out or risk spreading my wings and fly-lest I fall down. “OMG! Am I a caged bird?” I asked to no one in particular in the middle of the night.
I realized the trauma and scars from any forms of cages in life are a lot deeper than I have chosen to believe or have acknowledged . The scars they imprint in our minds follow us to our freedom land. We become physically free but mentally, caged and scarred. And their invisible bars and chains remain evident in our lives- vivid and all clear for everyone to see through our actions and decision in our daily life.
Personally I have came to realize that in my life these cages that had held myself prisoner inside the walls of their stronghold influences still are the factors behind my choices in playing safe in everything I am doing now. Its ghosts still haunting me and clutching their ruthless claws on my back, holding my wings tight.
I realized that getting out of the cage doesn’t necessarily mean you can fly…..my friend is right, caged birds seldom learn to fly even after the cages are broken down.
But what is more important is that caged or not, a bird is a bird and is meant to fly. Even if it is a short distance..need not necessary learn how to fly. It is in the bird’s nature to fly. If you are created to fly, then spreading your wings is the only thing that is needed and expected from you, right after believing that you can fly- nothing more or less. Will you try..? Should we try today?
Spread your wings..instinct will kick in and before you know it, you are high above the grounds,-the same ground that pulled you down with the logic of gravity and what not……..and look beneath your feet now, did you realize you are floating on the skies…that your wings are alive..?