by: Emily Murray
As I strummed my hand along the bars of the white cage, the vibrations woke Rufus, who came to greet me by ruffling his feathers against my fingers, which protruded between the bars. His curved beak nuzzled into my palm and with a cock of the head and a sharp tap on the wires he signalled that he was ready to be released. I swung open the door and the budgie gingerly hopped on to my index finger. As I drew him from the cage, he outstretched his black and white speckled wings. I examined the specks closely, each one looked as though it had been individually painted with a fine brush. Stroking the outline of each fleck, they began to morph as he fanned his wings out to be admired fully. I gazed at his bold black wing tips, caressing them with my own dark fingers.
“How handsome you are, little Rufus,” I whispered to him, as he puffed out his brilliant blue chest. His eyes sparkled as he gazed up at me, gripping onto my finger with his tiny claws. It was then that my eyes began to sparkle too, having all those flamboyant feathers locked up in a cage was wrong. It was unfair that he should be so beautiful yet not be able to display his plumage to the world. The white cage stripped him of his ability to show his colours; it had stripped him of his freedom – just as the world of white supremacy had stripped me.
I looked at my own reflection in the mirror and cowered. I too wanted to be appreciated like my bird; for my colour to be admired and touched and no longer held in contempt. With my head hanging low, I stepped forward slowly as my feet would not walk straight for fear of what they would soon encounter. When I was presented with the image of my feet facing me, I began to look up, slowly uncoiling my vertebrae. A tired young girl with care worn ebony skin looked back at me. As I reached out to touch her face, tears cascaded down her cheeks. I shut my eyes to heal the burning sight. Rufus flew on to my shoulder and I lay my hand beside his claws. My skin felt warm. I opened my eyes to see the sun shining over my right side, where Rufus stood. My tears stopped. Suddenly, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of hope. With a swift motion, I pulled my shirt above my head and the bird fluttered to the headboard of my bed. He watched me curiously as I removed my trousers and underwear in a graceless flurry. I beheld the reflection of my form in all of its glory.
No longer. No longer will I be ashamed of my skin. No longer will I suffer shame from the burning glare of passers by. No more tears. No more pain. No more shame. With vigour and empowerment, I rotated towards the sun which led a path from my feet to the glass door. With one hand steady on the latch and one hand held by the claws of my friend, I slid open the glass and stepped out onto the balcony to embrace the magnificent morning sun. I shut my eyes and let the sun caress my naked skin. The warmth of its rays stroked my cheeks, pulling my face upwards. I sighed in contentment. I could feel Rufus adjusting his claws telling me that he too had itchy feet. Onto the horizon he would be welcomed by the brilliant blue sky and I would shine bright with the yellow sun. It was time. Together we flew from the ledge and into the sky with our wings outstretched, forever freed from the clutches of our white cages.