With arms outstretched, Ashley lay on the lush green grass enjoying the warm winter sun and the soft chilly breeze that brushed against her face. She opened her crystal blue eyes and stared at the heavens watching the clouds lazily drift by, wondering if this was what life was all about. She was an imaginative, wild and adventurous child who could never comprehend why her entire family gave up their wings. Why her older brother who had made an oath never to give them up finally did. Curious with his decision, Ashley had questioned him time and again only to receive the same sentence repeated to her, “You will understand when you’re older.”
It wasn’t just her family, her society constituted of wingless adults holding onto cherubs with beautiful angelic wings. Why anyone would want to give them up was something she could never fathom. In her twelve years of existence, she had met only one adult who still retained the wings he was born with. In her eyes, he was beyond beautiful. His feathers reflected the light from the sun giving them a golden sheen which caught Ashley’s breath away as she stared at him in awe.
The only thing the man had said to the girl who was so enamoured by him as he soared into the blue ether was, “Find yourself and run away as far as you possibly can if you want to keep your wings.”
Those words stuck with her and ever since that encounter she pondered over them often. They were words a twelve-year-old didn’t understand but gave her an idea of the message he was trying to tell her. The future demanded a price and everybody had to pay for it willingly or not. They gave up their wings, what was she going to give up?
Ashley stood up from where she sat and stretched her wings to their full length while enjoying the view that spread below her. She took in a deep breath smelling the fresh grass and listening to the humming bees dance upon lilies. Ashley let out an exuberant yell as she sprinted down the hill and soared up into the sky. She let out a laugh as she flew past a startled dove and soared higher into the stratosphere and immediately folded her wings diving down towards the cerulean ocean. Her wings spread out just before she went under and she soared above the water enjoying the reflection she saw in it.
Giving up their freedom for a stable future was something Ashley considered as stupidity of the highest order. It was something she promised herself she would never do no matter what the situation was. Didn’t her parents miss this? Feeling the wind in their face, the adrenaline rush that came with it, touching the sky and diving through clouds. Did they even remember what it was like to be free?
Ashley flew over the horizon and eventually came to a stop when she landed in her overgrown backyard. She took off her soiled shoes at the threshold before calling out to her mother to let her know that she was finally home. The house she lived in was like any other ordinary house, big enough to fit a family of four. They weren’t rich but that never bothered her. Ashley had her wings and was content with that. She filled a glass tumbler up to the brim with water and gulped it down her parched throat.
She turned around and found both her parents entering the kitchen room with sullen faces, a rolled-up document clutched in her father’s right hand. He turned to look at his fair wife once only to receive a slight nod of the head.
“Ashley this is for you, it’s something we were supposed to give you on your birthday but we just didn’t have the heart to.” Her father said as he handed the document over to his twelve-year-old daughter.
“What is it?” Ashley asked, placing the glass tumbler on the kitchen table before opening the sealed document. As her eyes skimmed through it, her heartbeat quickened while her brain tried to grasp its full purpose.
“This document says that I have to sign this on the day I give up my wings and I have told you guys that that’s the last thing I would ever do!” Ashley yelled starring in disbelieve at her parents who stood there, neither of them saying a word.
Her mother who was dressed in her casuals stepped forward and placed her hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “On the day we turned twelve, we all got it and you’re getting yours now because we didn’t have the heart to give it to you on your birthday. Unfortunately, we have been ordered to give this to you whether we liked it or not.” She explained in a calm and collected voice while looking into her daughter’s bright eyes.
“Who ordered you to? Tell them to take it back because I’m never signing it!” Ashley thrust out the document back at her mother but she only shook her head.
“It’s yours now honey.” Her father added and continued, “I hate to be the one to tell you this but you might not even know when you sign the contract. You’ll just happen to look at it one day and find your signature on it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ashley asked in a quivering voice, her father’s words scaring her more than the document she held in her hand.
Her father sighed heavily as he pulled out a chair from underneath the kitchen table and sat on it. “You won’t know when it happens. You’ll be too busy living your life and making ends meet you won’t even realise the day you sign off your freedom.” He paused for a moment to look at his teary-eyed daughter and continued, “Your signature will appear on the document and they will come to collect your wings.”
I stared at the image that stood in the full-length mirror of my tiny room. Today my hair was a shade of blue, the next week maybe pink. It kept changing colours like a chameleon. Why did I keep changing my hair colour? It was my way of showing that I was still a dynamic person. With a towel wrapped around my lithe body, I turned around to observe my strong back. My eyes immediately shot to the scars that peaked out from the top.
I lowered the towel to my hips and looked at the two parallel longitudinal lines that started from my interscapular region and extended down to the edge of my ribs. A constant reminder of what I had lost. My father’s words came true sooner than later. Things took a toll on our family when my mother ended up diagnosed with breast cancer. My father and brother were constantly working while I was taking care of my mother, the house and making ends meet with school work coupled with the pressure of college applications.
I never signed that document. All I remember is waking up one day with this odd feeling in my gut that I’d done something I’d regret for the rest of my life. I took one look at the contract and there at the bottom was my signature in red ink. I tried my best to get rid of it in every possible way I thought I could. I threw it in the trash can, used a shredder, even set it ablaze. But nothing worked. The next morning I would find it lying on top of my study table unmarred.
They came to take my wings away and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I trashed around like a wild beast as they held my hands and feet while I tried my best to resist the manpower that held me down. Eventually, my vision blurred and darkened when they plunged a syringe filled with translucent liquid into my left thigh.
I woke up twelve hours later with an excruciating pain radiating all over my back. I was lying face down on my bed with bandages wrapped around me like a mummy while I cried my eyes out finally realising what they’d done to me. I couldn’t move for days and had to rely on pain killers just to get out of the bed.
My father said I could get back my freedom by living life the way I wanted to. But deep down I knew that things were never going to be the same. The innocence, the ignorance, the absent responsibilities, the unburdened backs, I had lost it all. Life demanded it and I had given it all up.
This work has been published in Beetle Magazine's August 2020 Issue.