Flight of the Swifts by T. D. Harvey
A story for Simone Swift
In the square of the old market place in Mansfield, Simone sat at a table with her dear friend, Sharon. The constant rush of water from the fountain and the din of market traders selling their wares to the hundreds of shoppers made the place vibrant and lively. Simone and Sharon ate and laughed, shopped and laughed, sat and laughed, despite both suffering a debilitating and painful condition. Soon the cacophony was accompanied by a large flock of swifts circling the square and the monument that sat at its heart. To Simone it seemed as if their screeching cries pierced all other sounds, calling directly to her. She listened intently, trying to understand some message in their cries.
“Sorry,” she said, a little startled. “Miles awa – ouch!”
“What’s wrong?” Sharon asked, alarmed.
“I…don’t…know.” Simone answered, falteringly. “Pain…needles…in my skin.”
“Everywhere! It’s all over…like…needles…bursting out…from in…my…skin.”
“Yes! Not the…fibro. Not…like normal…something else.”
“I’m getting you to a doctor,” Sharon said, alarmed.
“No…I’ll be okay. Just need…to get home.”
Sharon tried to argue but Simone would not be persuaded and finally Sharon agreed to take her home with the proviso she would check in after the school run.
Simone struggled to her bedroom and undressed. Needles pressed through her skin and the pain was excruciating, a sensation she had never experienced. Carefully, she stroked her arm, wincing at goose bumps that stung as she touched them. With effort, she slowly pulled off her top to take a look and was shocked by the sharp bumps blanching the skin of her arms and torso. They looked exactly as they felt; needles trying to pierce the skin from the inside. Horrified, Simone took off her trousers and saw her legs covered in the strange marks also. The pain intensified in her right arm as one of the swellings erupted, a waxy needle pushing through her skin. Crying out in pain and shock, Simone checked the rest of her body. All over, the protuberances were bursting through with dark, waxy needles. As they grew, the wax fell away revealing what looked like feathers. Simone had seen footage of baby birds close to fledging; cleaning the protective casing from their new wings and Simone knew she was seeing the same thing now. Simone closed her eyes, wanting to shield them from the horror happening to her body.
When Simone opened her eyes once more she was outside. The fresh summer breeze that softly brushed her was sweet with jasmine and roses. She no longer felt any pain; neither the pain of her illness, nor the sharp stabbing pain of earlier. Surprised, she realised she was sitting on the roof of her home and wondered how. She saw Sharon arriving in her car, the girls sitting in the back and called out to her, but instead of Sharon’s name, she elicited a high pitched screech. Shocked, she tried again, only to screech once more. Sharon looked up at her briefly before stepping to the front door and ringing the bell. Simone was confused, why was Sharon ringing the bell when she had just looked directly at Simone? Slowly, Simone looked at her body. She no longer had a human form. She hadn’t just grown wings, she had changed…into a swift.
She heard calling above and looked up to see a flock of swifts. Without questioning why or how, Simone took off to join her brethren. She felt weightless, her strong wings pumped furiously to join her compatriots, then stopped to soar in a warm current of air. She had never experienced such a sense of freedom as she wheeled and dived, soared and spun, at speeds she had never dreamed of. Together her group of swifts flew back towards the old market, weaved in and out of the arches of the viaduct and swept through the square, circling the monument. The sensation of flying was miraculous, effortless and beautifully pain free. The warm air rushed past and through her plumage and every feather of her wings could feel the force of the air as she pushed through it. They circled the square several times and Simone could see the seats she and Sharon shared earlier. They surrounded the giant stainless steel stiletto heels of the sculpture by the viaduct and Simone marvelled at their reflections. She could not see which of the tiny birds was her and yet she was happy to be one of the group and unconcerned with individuality. Simone felt a reassuring sense of safety and belonging as she flew the skies, surrounded by the swifts. The screeches from each bird not only served to tell her direction and speed but also to tell her she was not alone. Her heart swelled with the acceptance and certainty that life in the flock gave her. It was magical, emotional and above all, it was home.
As one, the birds moved off, Simone with them, to what she recognised as the King’s Mill Reservoir. Simone dived to the water, skimming across its surface and opening her beak to scoop up the cool water. With no idea how, she knew they were travelling eastwards, towards the coast. With the same innate understanding she also knew that her flock was beginning its long migration. She wondered if she could really leave her family and friends; the people she loved. She knew she must make a decision; stay free and healthy as a swift, or return to her human life and live with the pain, both physical and emotional, of suppressing her true avian self. As she gambolled through the air currents, shrieking with her flock, she said goodbye to the joyous experience of flying with the swifts. As the flock turned southward, Simone returned home, to her family.