The Birdcage

Connor must have been fifteen when he was killed. He used to deal to buy things he wanted: watches, rings, small items that he could hide from the public and could show off to his friends. But this was ultimately how he was found out, when the people around him started to ask questions and the men who hired him had to eliminate those questions. His parents never knew anything of his affairs; my parents didn’t know anything also. And yet, I am the victim. 

Since Connor went missing, Mum started to change: worrying about the possibility that he might be dead and then, of course, the police found his body. When the police found Connor, Mum quit her job and pulled me out of school, deciding for me that I was better off being home schooled. She then blocked me from “any potential treats,” as she described it, by taking my phone and throwing it away and even went to the extreme of installing bolted locks on every door of the house to lock the doors at nights, so no one could get in or out; she even keeps the key to the locks in an electronic safe, that only she knows the code to. Mum was always very protective, but never paranoid; Connor’s death changed that.

Dad on the other hand was stupefied, finding it hard to believe that something so disturbing could happen in our city, let alone happen to our neighbor. Since Connor, he had turned into an empty walking shell without any faith or hope.

Occasionally, Connor’s Mum would come over to ours to talk about everything she was going through with Mum; our house had turned into a place to vent. It seemed on the surface that these conversations were helping Connor’s Mum, but I don’t believe they actually were helping her and were just making Mum more anxious.

Connor and I never used to hang out. I was two years younger than him and he didn’t want to be associated with kids. And I didn’t mind; he never really treated me well. He never bullied me, but he would always give me these weird looks, that I had done something, especially when he was around his friends.

During the police investigation into Connor’s case, the police never found any evidence that he was into anything illegal. But there has to have been more to this shade of the story. All of the kids from our school knew he was a dealer, even if no one actually witnessed him dealing: rumors do have a way of coming true. If it was my guess, none of the kids wanted to be a tattletale and the police either closed the case because of a lack of evidence or they found evidence and decided not to pursue the trail; Connor’s Mum didn’t take this well. Someone might assume that Connor, being a dealer, would have had enemies with vendettas against him, but no one came forward. I guess, even though he did a bad thing, maybe, he was still a good person. I find it hard to tell what people are going through. 

**********

When Mum isn’t teaching me through online courses, I spend my time writing poetry. Mum cuts the internet off when she isn’t teaching me, so I don’t have the luxury of playing online games or chatting with friends. The only other time she allows me to have the internet on is when she assigns me homework where she stands behind me, looking over my shoulder, watching my every move. She also sold the TV, which Dad used to love, but he has become so shallow and complacent that he couldn’t stop Mum from doing anything she wanted. All I am left with is my own imagination, so I write down my thoughts as poetry. Plus, Mum was never able to understand poetry, so if she ever found my notebook, she’d give up trying to interpret me. 

Here’s my favorite, ‘Oil’:

Do not lose time,

You won’t get it back.

 

Security,

Entertainment,

Contentment,

These are things

That can be bought.

 

Feel the wind,

Play in the rain,

Listen to your call,

This is what

You must do.

 

Act now,

But act slow.

Embrace your life.

Give time your focus.

Don’t let the end

Show you your waste.

 

Once I ignite

I burn

And become

Hard to extinguish.

I inspire people to be ambitious,

Different,

To break free.

Some people call me oil,

I like to be called fuel. 

**********

A couple of months at home and the monotony of my life was beginning to suffocate me: everything turned to routine. One morning, I got the urge to go for a run, but as soon as I approached the front door, Mum was sitting there, almost as if she knew my plans. I didn’t know if I could talk my way through it, so I backed up and returned to my bedroom. My bedroom had become the only safe place in the house, unless Mum or Dad were there.

The next day, I was in the dining room, eating lunch with Mum and Dad, when some of my friends from school were standing outside, signaling me to come out and play. My heart raced, I wasn’t sure what to do. But then, Mum quickly noticed me looking outside and turned, sharply to see my friends. She got up, slammed the window and closed the blinds, declaring that I wasn’t allowed to see them. I sank in my chair and ate.

As summer started approaching, I was beginning to feel the heat come through my window, turning my bedroom into a sauna. I couldn’t sleep at night and I couldn’t breathe during the day, it was exhausting. I asked Mum if she could buy me a fan or a cooler, but she argued that we didn’t have the money, without explaining why we didn’t have the money. I wasn’t going to argue with her; I knew she didn’t have money because she decided to leave work and homeschool me, instead of going to work. 

When night fell, I quietly got out of bed, opened my window, felt the chill for a moment, then reached out my hand and pulled myself onto the large tree just outside our house. I climbed onto the branch and sat there; this was calming, just to be able to sit without having to worry for a long moment. But then, out of the blue, I heard a scream: Mum. She started to berate me, shouting at me to climb back into the house, waking up the neighborhood. I began to panic, seeing the attention surround me; the tree started to move and the wind began to pick up. I wrapped my arms around the branch and pulled myself back to the house. Mum quickly changed her attitude, giving me instructions as to how to crawl back: it wasn’t helping, in fact, it was making me even more cautious, feeling the distance between the tree and the window widening. I hesitantly made the long climb back and when I reached my window, Mum pulled me in and gave me a long tight hug. She kissed me on the forehead and didn’t let go. The next morning, she put a lock on my window and hired someone to cut down the tree.

But that night wasn’t going to stop me, feeling the night light was enough inspiration to escape again. I started to map out a plan in my head; I couldn’t write it down and run the risk of Mum or Dad seeing it. As far as I could tell, I had one of three options; either, I find a way to pick the lock on my window and climb down the side of my house at night or I somehow slip into Mum and Dad’s bedroom at night, crack the code to the safe with the key and unlock the lock to the front door or I somehow distract Mum during the day and sneak out the backdoor when the door is unlocked. The issue with the first option is that even if I was able to figure out how to pick the lock on my window, I wouldn’t be able to climb down the side of the house; the drop is too far and there wasn’t anything along the side of the house I could grip onto. The problem with the second option is obvious; the chances of getting into their bedroom, finding the safe and guessing the code to the safe were so slim, that it wasn’t even worth the attempt. Which just leaves option three, sneaking away during the day in plain sight. But I would need a distraction to buy time; that I was certain on.

Since the night I climbed the tree, Mum had been harder on me, giving me more chores during the day; even when there wasn’t a chore to give, she’d make up one for me to do. This time, she wanted me to dust my bedroom during one of my study breaks, even though I had cleaned my bedroom the day before. I started dusting the bookcase, as books pick up dust easily and finished in no time at all; to be honest, I didn’t bother with most of it. But then, as I left my bedroom, I realized that the door to Mum and Dad’s bedroom was marginally open. Mum hadn’t let me in their room since I’d been kept at home and an impulse urged me to have a look. I quietly crept inside and scanned the room. At her desk, she had a large drawer that she used to keep her valuables in; necklaces, rings, bracelets for fancy occasions, though we didn’t have those anymore. I opened the drawer and had a peek inside, finding the safe; at least, I knew where she hid the safe now. But then, I looked deeper into the drawer, behind the safe and found a tablet. I turned the screen on and found CCTV footage of our house, with an installed private security system to lock the doors in case anyone tried to break in; but also, in case I tried to break out. I couldn’t believe it. I was trembling, hesitating as to what to do; it was definitely going to be tougher for me to escape with her able to see my every move. I quickly realized on one of the cameras that she was heading back to her bedroom; I didn’t have enough time to sneak back into my bedroom. I turned off the screen, put the tablet back, behind the safe, closed the drawer and started dusting the desk. Mum popped in and questioned what I was doing in her bedroom. I made up an excuse, claiming that I thought she said to clean her bedroom after I was done with mine. But she criticized me, insisting that she never said that and told me to go to my bedroom. I didn’t add another word, walked to my bedroom and shut the door. She then locked the door behind me, to make sure I couldn’t leave. I didn’t react in anger. I didn’t react at all, as I knew that wouldn’t help me or anyone. I had to accept whatever I was handed to me in that moment. However, what interested me was what followed. As she locked the door behind me, I could hear Mum crying; it was only slight, but I could hear her. It didn’t occur to me that maybe she never wanted any of this and that she didn’t know how else to handle herself. Maybe, she was her own victim.

Day turned to night and I was still locked in my bedroom. My stomach was eating itself, as I laid in bed, trying to fall asleep, hoping that tomorrow would bring me breakfast. But all I could do was shut my eyes, I couldn’t even dream. The only way I could get to sleep was if I eased into it. I thought, maybe if I could come up with a plan as to how to get out of my house, then I might get some shut-eye. It still astounded me that I was attempting to escape my own house. There isn’t a safe place in the world for the person who has to leave their own house.

Continuing to think up a plan, I was still inclined to come up with a distraction; my gut told me that was what I had to do. But no ideas were coming to me; I felt blocked, clogged, my mind was inundated by its thoughts. Maybe, that was the problem: that I was thinking about how I couldn’t think of a plan, instead of actually thinking of a plan. I had to alter my focus. I had to go back to basics: first, think of where I need to be in relation to the backdoor and Mum and Dad; second, think of when is the best time to create the distraction; third, within that vicinity, think up a list of possible distractions; fourth, compile the resources that I would need for this distraction; fifth, pack a bag with my notebook inside; sixth, execute.

Since I needed to be close to the backdoor, which is in the kitchen, I couldn’t create a distraction in the kitchen; that’d be too obvious. But I had to create one close enough to the kitchen, in another room, which really left the living room. Our living room has two large windows to accommodate distractions from outside; though the issue there is that I would have to contact someone outside to create a distraction and without a phone and internet, this was going to be difficult. The other idea that came to mind was, as terrible as this sounds, to make Mum sick. She still allowed me to cook the breakfast from time to time, although under her supervision. But if I managed to put something into the breakfast, then she might get a little sick and that’d be enough to enable me to run out the backdoor. Also, if Mum got into trouble, Dad would be there to help her and the doors would be unlocked before breakfast; it seemed like the ideal time.

It was just a matter of coming up with what I could use to make Mum sick. I was in my locked bedroom, sitting on my bed, staring at a blank wall as if an epiphany was going to magically appear. Obviously, nothing happened and I needed to clear my head. I knocked on my bedroom door and asked Mum if I could go to the bathroom. She took her time, but told me to make it quick. Once there, I used the toilet, washed my hands and then my face and dried myself with a towel. After wiping the water off my face, I noticed the liquid soap staring back at me. Maybe, that was enough to make Mum sick, I thought. I contemplated attempting to try it before another thought went through my mind: that it might not work. The indecision was killing me. Mum started to knock on the door, asking why I was taking so long. I told her I wouldn’t be long, not giving myself much time; not smart. I began to quietly talk myself through it, thinking of the worst case scenario: if Mum didn’t get sick, she wouldn’t realize it and things would go back to the way things were; that was enough to convince me to at least try. In a frenzy, I looked for a smaller bottle, something that I could pour the liquid soap in. And after sorting through the cabinet, I found an empty black canister, used to store batteries. I quickly grabbed the canister, poured the liquid soap into the canister, shoved the canister in my pocket and opened the door. Mum was looking concerned, asking if I was okay. This was where I found Mum to be so difficult; she loved me, yet she treated me terribly. I said that I just needed a minute. Mum let me go and I went back to my bedroom.

That night, I packed a bag and got myself ready. But I had my doubts; not so much questioning if I could go through with it, I was confident that I could, but more over if what I was about to do was the right thing. Making Mum sick was definitely not the right thing to do; as controlling as she had become, to make anyone sick by drinking liquid soap of all things isn’t nice to say the least. But maybe, in order to get what you want you might have to do things that you’re uncomfortable with. I tried to convince myself that she was going to be fine, yet, how I was feeling wasn’t matching what I was telling myself. Indecision and uncertainty, these ideas really can kill people. As the sun was beginning to rise, I concluded that I would apologize for whatever came my way, after I was gone.

Mum had me pour the mix in; we were making pancakes. Everything was going to plan; I had the canister in my pocket and my bag was near the kitchen bench, after I brought it down and lied to Mum, telling her that my homework was in my bag; I was amped to go. But then, in the middle of our cook, Mum smiled. I was a little confused; I couldn’t remember the last time Mum smiled like that. Mum began to tell me how Grandma taught her how to cook and how they bonded over food. She was feeling nostalgic, as she continued on about the different foods she would make with Grandma and how it helped her deal with certain things. “Certain things,” I didn’t understand, but it didn’t sound positive. Eventually, Mum paused and without commenting, headed off to the bathroom. This was my chance, but I hesitated. I could have had this all wrong and maybe, I was making a terrible mistake; maybe, Mum really was her own victim. But either way, something had to change. After the initial hiccup, I pulled the canister out of my pocked and poured all of the liquid soap into the pancake mix. The mix started to change to a much darker color, but not so dark that it would raise suspicions; at least, I hoped it wouldn’t raise suspicions. I suddenly heard Mum flush the toilet and quickly closed the canister, hid it away in my pocket and finished mixing the liquid soap into the mix, taking deep breathes to calm my racing heart; I had now committed to my cause. Soon after, Mum came out of the bathroom and saw that the mix was a different color. I lied again, claiming that the coloring didn’t seem different. She rebutted and insisted that we should start all over with a new mix. In that moment, I froze; I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to convince her to use the mix. Just telling her to use the mix would have raised suspicions. The only thing I could think of was to go with the wind, ask Mum if she thought we should start over and hope for the best; and that was what I did. To my surprise, Mum let it go; Mum’s wistful mood must have softened her enough to drop her line of enquiry. As we finished off the mix, I told Mum that I didn’t feel like eating, even running with the excuse that I was sick, so that I didn’t actually become sick also. Mum wouldn’t allow it, telling me that I had to eat something. I accepted an apple and took my bag to the living room, while Mum took her and Dad’s stack of pancakes to the dining room.

While I was pretending to go over homework and eat an apple, I listened in on Mum and Dad to see how they were feeling. Initially, they were feeling okay, even though they didn’t like the taste of their pancakes; it seemed that the liquid soap wasn’t doing its job. However, as they continued eating, Mum’s stomach began to react. Dad quickly stopped, recognizing that he wasn’t feeling too good also. That was enough of a cue for me to run to the kitchen and out the backdoor.

For the first time in months, the sun’s heat touched my skin; it felt amazing to feel warmth again. But I couldn’t reminisce for too long, I had to get out of there. I turned around to run back to the front of the house, since our backyard fence was too high to climb. As I ran along the side of the house, ducking below the height of the windows, I could hear Dad calling for me. But it was definitely too late now to turn back. I blocked Dad out, got to the front of the house, started pacing down the street, to not come off as suspicious and walked down several streets, turning many corners until I was out of reach from Mum and Dad. But standing on the corner, breathing the fresh air, a question hit me: what do I do now? I had been trying to escape for so long, I never thought about what I’d do if I actually escaped. It’s one of those life lessons: be careful what you wish for, you might get it. And once you get what you wished for you begin to feel lost, even though feeling lost wasn’t what you wished for. It felt so pointless, looking back now; the whole scenario made me feel like an idiot, standing on that corner. The moment made me think about Mum and Dad; what I had done. My mind was beginning to play tricks on me; I guess, this is what happens when we feel empty, when we don’t have anything to strive for. That was what I really wanted! I wanted something to strive for; it was the want to escape, not the actual escape, that I wanted. But now, that’s gone and I have nothing to strive for. At least, I got to feel life again; that was a sweet reward. And I also know how to escape; if I needed to escape, for whatever reason, I could escape any time I wanted; I had that option. Perhaps, I had to go back, to do it all over again.

Feel free to share The Birdcage with your family and friends or anyone, you believe would be interested in the read.

Also, feel free to subscribe below to get my How To Begin Growing Your Understanding guide!

If you happen to be a filmmaker or a producer and wish to adapt The Birdcage into a film or if you happen to be acquainted with a filmmaker or producer that would be interested in adapting The Birdcage into a film, then you can reach out to me through the Contact Me page to purchase the non-exclusive rights to The Birdcage for $1 USD, a credit at the end of the film and a link to my website (the link to my website can be negotiated).

And finally, thank you so much for taking the time to read my short story. I feel so grateful to get to do what I do and it’s thanks to you for taking an interest in the content I create. So again, thank you.

Keep growing. Keep creating.

Ewen

Accepting Donations!