Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Brave Little Parrot

A tale from Jataka; adapted by Rafe Martin

Once a little parrot lived happily in a beautiful forest. But one day without warning, lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and a dead tree burst into flames. Sparks, carried on the rising wind, began to leap from branch to branch and tree to tree.

The little parrot smelled the smoke. "Fire!" she cried. "Run to the river!"

Flapping her wings, rising higher and higher, she flew toward the safety of the river's far shore. After all, she was a bird and could fly away.

But as she flew, she could see that many animals were already surrounded by the flames and could not escape. Suddenly a desperate idea, a way to save them, came to her.

Darting to the river, she dipped herself in the water. Then she flew back over the now-raging fire. Thick smoke coiled up, filling the sky. Walls of flame shot up, now on one side, now on the other. Pillars of fire leapt before her. Twisting and turning through a mad maze of flame, the little parrot flew bravely on.

Having reached the heart of the burning forest, the little parrot shook her wings. And the few tiny drops of water that still clung to her feathers tumbled like jewels down into the flames and vanished with a hiss.

Then the little parrot flew back through the flames and smoke to the river. Once more she dipped herself in the cool water and flew back over the burning forest. Once more she shook her wings, and a few drops of water tumbled like jewels into the flames. Hissssss.

Back and forth she flew, time and again from the river to the forest, from the forest to the river. Her feathers became charred. Her feet and claws were scorched. Her lungs ached. Her eyes burned. Her mind spun dizzily as a spinning spark. Still the little parrot flew on.

At that moment some of the blissful gods floating overhead in their cloud palaces of ivory and gold happened to look down and see the little parrot flying among the flames. They pointed at her with their perfect hands. Between mouthfuls of honeyed foods, the exclaimed, "Look at that foolish bird! She's trying to put out a raging forest fire with a few sprinkles of water! How absurd!" They laughed. But one of those gods, strangely moved, changed himself into a golden eagle and flew down, down toward the little parrot's fiery path.

The little parrot was just nearing the flames again, when a great eagle with eyes like molten gold appeared at her side. "Go back, little bird!" said the eagle in a solemn and majestic voice. "Your task is hopeless. A few drops of water can't put out a forest fire. Cease now, and save yourself before it is too late."

But the little parrot continued to fly on through the smoke and flames. She could hear the great eagle flying above her as the heat grew fiercer. He called out, "Stop, foolish little parrot! Stop! Save yourself!"

"I don't need some great, shining eagle," coughed the little parrot, "to tell me that. My own mother, the dear bird, could have told me the same thing long ago. Advice! I don't need advice. I just" cough, cough "need someone to help!"

Rising higher, the eagle, who as a god, watched the little parrot flying through the flames. High above he could see his own kind, those carefree gods, still laughing and talking even as many animals cried out in pain and fear far below. He grew ashamed of the gods' carefree life, and a single desire was kindled in his heart.

"God though I am," he exclaimed, "how I wish I could be just like that little parrot. Flying on, brave and alone, risking all to help, what a rare and marvelous thing! What a wonderful little bird!"

Moved by these new feelings, the great eagle began to weep. Stream after stream of sparkling tears began pouring from his eyes. Wave upon wave, they fell, washing down like a torrent of rain upon the fire, upon the forest, upon the animals and the little parrot herself.

Where those cooling tears fell, the sparks shrank down and died. Smoke still curled up from the scorched earth, yet new life was already boldly pushing forth shoots, stems, blossoms, and leaves. Green grass sprang up from along the still-glowing cinders.

Where the eagle's teardrops sparkled on the little parrot's wings, new feathers now grew: red feathers, green feathers, yellow feathers, too. Such bright colors! Such a pretty bird!

The animals looked at one another in amazement. They were whole and well. Not one had been harmed. Up above in the clear blue sky they could see their brave friend. the little parrot, looping and soaring in delight. When all hope was gone, somehow she had saved them.

"Hooray!" they cried. "Hooray for the brave little parrot and for this sudden, miraculous rain!"
Adaptation by Rafe Martin

[from an ancient Jataka tale from India. Found in More Best-loved Stores Told at the National Storytelling Festival (August House,1992.) Martin has published other versions of this tale in The Hungry Tigress: Buddhist Myths, Legends and Jataka Tales (Yellow Moon Press, 1999) and as a children's picture book, The Brave Little Parrot ( G.P. Putnam's, 1998, illustrated by Susan Gaber.]


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