It hurt to lift my head so I just raised my eyes. I looked at the little slice of sky that peeked in through the biggest crack of the shed. The others avoided this corner because it was too windy and wet. And that suited me, as I wanted to avoid them.
They were nasty. Their fun was to keep me away from the food, or let me drink only when it was already more dirt than water, and then they nipped at me all the time – just because they could. Just because they were bigger.
My days were all the same, always the same. No matter winter or summer, the pack woke, and started their games of torture on the loners. There was 3 of us, 4 of them. We had our turns but one never knew exactly when our turn was due. If you were lucky, you got the after-meal edition – they went to sleep after a few round.
But sometimes your turn was before the first meal in many days, and that could cause serious damage. Like that day when I met Irka.
She landed on that crack, all colourful, elegant – happy. Was I ever happy? I must have been. She was happy in that moment.
“I like your ears” she said, doing a little tip-top dance on the panel.
They were not bloody for a change. I had enough other body parts hurting, not sure how they missed the ears. I waved them at her, and she let out a happy little chirp. It made me feel warmer inside.
“What’s your name?” she asked after her laugh ended.
I didn’t know. I didn’t think I had one.
“I’m Irka” she said, without waiting for an answer. She flew inside, turning her head around curiously.
“This might do for a night” she stated, and came over close to me. I jerked away but was unable to move much.
“You look like my friend in the land of snow, soft, but dark where she is white. I’ll sleep here!”
She stepped into the tiny place between my legs and my body, turned around a couple times, then laid down. I never huddled with anyone before, feeling the warmth of her body, the fast beating of her heart, the funny touch of her feather was amazing.
“What is snow?” I asked her. She tipped her little head.
“It’s the cold, white powder from the sky. Have you not seen it?” she added with a mixture of amusement and pity seeing my confusion.
“Are you always here?” she asked looking around with definitely more pity.
“What else is there?” I wanted to be nonchalant but came out curious.
“Oh, the world is big, and beautiful!” Irka said excitedly. “There’s soft snow in the cold, bright yellow in the warmth, and flowers, fast rivers and tall trees, there’s songs and friends and love…”
She told me tales of salty water that makes big waves, the pull of the sun when it’s getting cold, the buzz of spring when she sees her mate, the exhaustion as she grows her eggs, all alien and unknown and exciting. Her world was just as colourful as her feathers, and mine was just as dark as my fur. But my thoughts were whirling now. There was another life. There was another world that was more than just hunger and pain.
When she got tired, she rested her head on my side, and fell asleep. It was different than I imagined the gang felt sleeping close to each other. They didn’t trust one another but Irka did. She didn’t see how I was wrong, only how I was right. Was this happiness, I thought as I drifted into sleep.
I woke to Brown’s growl. He was filling the whole of the opening, just about too big to enter. He did not like that. He laughed cruelly.
“Check it out, mates, the bitch is sleeping with the bird, instead of hunting it! What a sad bag of shit!”
Irka woke and flew around with fast, nervous wing beats. She got scared because now Gray pushed herself in, snapping with her strong jaws that caught me just yesterday.
I didn’t know where I had the strength but got up tall and straightened my back even as my broken bones resisted. I stood between them resolutely.
Gray was surprised. I was surprised. I never stood up against them.
“Get out Irka!” I screamed before Gray shook me so hard, I collapsed into darkness. But before it swallowed me, I saw Irka flying away.
“Be my colours, be my freedom!” I whispered, and lost consciousness.
When I woke, there was no shed, no pack. I was in a small crate, smells of cleanliness mixed with sick animals. It was scary but at least I was alone.
And not long after, things got better. I got a cage from where I could see grass, I could sunbathe, I didn’t starve, and wasn’t beaten.
And now, that I have the (supervised) freedom with Missy, I run to every bird, look under every bush because I know Irka is there somewhere. And one day I’ll find her, and tell her all about my adventures, my colours. Just you wait.