A Peacock’s Tale

Image courtesy of Dr. Mohammed Munshi (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Been a while since my last post, life being pretty hectic of late. Still, that hasn’t kept me away from writing, with all sorts going on at the moment. My last writing group project was to write a short fable. I was fairly happy with the result, so thought I would share it.

A Peacock’s Tale

In the middle of Gujarat, just outside Madhapur, there lived a peacock. In many respects he was typical of his species, given to gossiping noisily with his friends, enjoying the warmth of the sun as it rippled through his feathers, and watching the slow rise of the moon before retiring to the safe branches of the Mango trees that surrounded the lake.

However, in one important way Arju, which happened to be the name of this particular peacock, was very different. While his companions would strut and preen, flashing their extravagant tail feathers at every opportunity, Arju was painfully shy when it came to his appearance. He fanned out the feathers of his train very rarely, and when he did summon the courage to do so, it was for as short a time as possible.

While his friends had grand plumage that reflected the sunlight in a myriad of beautiful colours, rainbows of polished quartz or burnished copper, Arju had been born with feathers that had never fully matured. He’d asked his mother about them shortly after his third birthday, when he had realised he was a little different to the other peacocks. Arju could still remember the sorrowful look in her eyes when she had spoken, not completely able to hide her disappointment despite her love.  

For a while he had held tight a secret hope that one day he would grow into his feathers, or that they would somehow catch up with him. That he would awake one day to discover a hitherto undiscovered and glorious plumage that had remained hidden until now. But he had now reached maturity, and with it that hope had been lost.

It had made courting a tricky affair. When the biggest of the local peacocks, Casanova, had been strutting up and down the dusty track at the edge of the village, preening and posing, waggling his raised train like an oversized fan to impress all the giggling peahens, Arju had stuck to watching from the side lines.

“Don’t worry,” Mrs. Mushaka the mouse had told him, standing alongside Arju one sunny day, as Casanova was joined by the slightly smaller, but equally showy, Don Juan.

“They look like a right couple of ninnys, waddling around and flashing their behinds at everyone like that.”

Arju had smiled politely, knowing that Mrs. Mushaka was trying to be kind, and appreciating that kindness, but to him the swaggering pair were exactly what a peacock should be, proud and bright and vibrant and alive.

As the summer wore on an increasing ripple of excitement ran through their small community, spreading outwards from Gallus, the rumour mongering Cockerel who lived right in the centre of the village. Word had it that the Princess Mayil, daughter of the King of the Peacocks, would soon be passing through their little village, on a quest to find the most handsome Peacock in all of Gujarat.

Cas and Don got particularly carried away with the idea that one of them would be chosen and had spent countless hours preparing themselves, standing in front of the clear, still waters of the nearest lake where they could check their reflections from every angle.

Even Arju, who loved his friends dearly, despite their vanity, eventually got bored and left them to their preening.

“You going to put yourself forward when she visits?” Mrs. Mushaka had asked Arju when he wandered back to the village alone, although she hadn’t been all that surprised when he shook his head.

“Well perhaps you should,” she had told him firmly. “Your every bit as much a peacock as that pair of posers.”

He had promised her he would give it some serious thought, but even with her poor eyesight she could clearly see his talons were crossed.

Nevertheless, Arju couldn’t completely escape the euphoria that flooded through Madhapur the night that Princess Mayil and her retinue arrived. The whole place was buzzing with excitement, everyone looking forward to the following morning, when Mayil would meet them all.

***

That night the wind picked up and dark clouds rolled in, filling the sky and rumbling with scarcely contained thunder.

“Just my luck,” muttered Cas miserably to himself, as the Peacocks sheltered in the relative comfort of the Mango tree, its thickly packed foliage shielding them from the worst of the rain. “The first storm in years, just when the Princess chooses to visit. The sun better be back tomorrow, otherwise Mayil won’t get to see the way its light reflects off my beautiful feathers.”

“It’s alright for you,” Don added, shuffling a little further under the shelter of the leaves. “The cold plays havoc with my complexion, I bet by tomorrow I’ll be all puffy and the Princess won’t get to fully appreciate my chiselled beakline and piercing eyes.”

Arju didn’t say anything, he was too busy listening to the sounds outside their little shelter. The wind was increasingly violent, enough to make even the thick bows of the tree shake, and he thought of Mrs. Mushaka the little mouse, and her young offspring in their tiny nest. He imagined that it would provide meagre protection against the sudden storm.

“I’m just going to pop out,” he told his friends. “I’ve just thought of something that I really should check.”

“You’re mad,” Cas told him with a shiver. “It’s horrible out there, no weather for a peacock to be out in.”

But ignoring his companion’s advice, Arju decided to brave the storm anyway, unable to shake the thought of his friend caught in the storm.

It didn’t take him long to find the mouse family, they were stood shivering in the rain, their nest flooded out.

“Why don’t you find somewhere else to shelter?” Arju asked, but Mrs. Mushaka just shook her head and pointed at the youngest of the mice children.

“They are exhausted, and I can’t carry them all,” she stammered, tiny teeth chattering with cold and eyes glistening with worry for her offspring.

Arju looked around, but there was nothing nearby and the rain was coming in even more heavily than before. Gritting his beak, he lifted his train and spread out the ragged feathers of his tail, angling it just enough to shelter the mouse clan from the worst of the wind and the rain. The wind was harsh and buffeting, but Arju dug into the soft ground with his claws, lowered his head as far as he was able, and settled in for the night.

When morning came it brought clear sky, bright sunlight, and a truly exhausted and bedraggled peacock. Wishing Mrs. Mushaka a fond, but very tired, farewell Arju returned to the Mango Tree, just in time for the arrival of Princess Mayil.

Cas and Don were already there, stretching, practicing their strutting, and generally trying to find the perfect angle to make the best of the morning brightness.

Then there was a muted fanfare as the Princess and her entourage arrived. She was smaller than Arju had expected, petite and pretty. Her feathers were almost pure white and dazzling.

As she passed Cas, he flipped open his tail feathers with an almost audible ‘Ta-dah’. Arju wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw the glimpse of an amused smile on Mayil’s refined features. Don went one step further, almost levitating in excitement on the very tips of his talons, but didn’t get any more of a reaction.

Finally, she came to Arju, who was so exhausted that for once he didn’t worry about sharing the sight of his shabby feathers with the rest of the world. They still hadn’t completely dried out from the night before, and looked even more scruffy than normal, the vanes of his feathers limp and lifeless.

“This one… he is the one… he has the most beautiful train.”

Arju presumed his weary ears had misheard her words, but then she spoke again.

“That is a train that means something, and that makes it the best of all the displays I have had the pleasure to see.”

Whilst her louder words were meant for the bevy of peafowl; her next sentence was just for Arju.

“I heard about what you did last night… bravo young Peacock, bravo indeed.”

Tilting his long neck in embarrassment, Arju caught sight of Mrs. Mushaka out the corner of his eye, who gave him a cheery wave, and a tiny mouse-sized wink. From that day on Arju was proud of his tatty feathers, happy to be seen in all his individual and lopsided glory, finally comfortable in the knowledge that kindness could be far more beautiful than fancy looks or a showy appearance.

x The End x

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