Oscar Wilde’s fairytales always seem to come with a delightful twist. They do not comply with the convention that fairytales need a moral, and are not palliative or dreamlike worlds for escapism. This week I went creative with an attempt to write a short fairytale that subverts expectations.
The Swallow and the Merchant
Once upon a time in a far and distant land, secluded from the shores of our own, lived a swallow. He was a perky sort of fellow, he loved the outdoors and constantly, ceaselessly, dreamed of voyaging across the oceans to far-off lands. One day, he hoped, his dream would become reality. Alas, his dreaming was to no avail.
The bird always suffered from being imprisoned on the shores of his village, there was no escape from it for many years, and that is why he always slept. No perching himself atop a tree, no indulgence in singing a cheerful birdsong, no flying and scrutinizing the world from heights because the bird was chained. Shackled for a lifetime, he was unable to break away. The swallow would thrash and flounder and jerk, all in the effort to break free, to be able to taste some liberty over the magnanimous expanse of oceans or to flutter over the tranquil meandering rivers.
The bird had a pockmarked, poor, and altogether useless Master. The Master trailed the land of his residence in aimless wanderings. He once sailed around the world in tremendous voyages, searching out wonders of the world that could be added to the already lengthy list. The Master had been a wealthy merchant who dealt with trading the most sought-after objects, particularly revered and desired by royalty. He had been a well-travelled man and was infinitely respected. Onlookers branded the Master the next great explorer, who was bound for greatness. To pass into legend after the Earth has claimed his body, to reap infinite rewards, to even match the greatness of Achilles.
But as did Achilles, the Master had a weakness. Be it not a weak heel, he had a love of women, wine, and all things that culminate into the life of a hedonist. Alas, having lost all the great treasures of the world he had discovered throughout his voyaging career, the bird was the only creature left in his possession. The Master often pitied the sad fluttering wings of the creature bound to him for life, but he had not the heart to free the swallow. The poor bird was left to dream of freedom day and night. A liberty that would allow him to see the whole world as his Master had, to converse with animals he never knew existed, to feel the cheerful breeze of happiness from his beak to his tail feathers. He’d soar over foreign terrain like a storm, and like a storm he’d conquer the seas of the world. But, sadly, his feathers were to stay unruffled. He was to remain firmly on the ground.
The Master would say to the wretched swallow: “I love you, little bird. That is why I cannot release you to into the world. You are my companion, and for that I am sorry, but I cannot free you while trapped on the shores myself. We can both relish freedom only at sea.”
The bird heard this, but could not reply; the poor fellow was a mute and wouldn’t sing a note until he tasted liberty. It was never promised to him by his Master, and with every coming day the swallow weakened more and more, always frustrated by malady of imprisonment.
“My dear swallow,” continued the Master, “from poverty stems all the weakness of our world, and it is from the consequences of extreme austerity that we are forced into committing crime: a mother stealing to feed her starving daughters, a desperate woman marrying a rich man to survive, an ex-merchant imprisoning a friend to condemn him to the same suffering the lonely man feels. As long as the suffering of the majority benefits the few, there is no remedy to my suffering. When poverty ceases to advantage the powerful few, then, perhaps, change will come.”
The swallow shuddered at his master’s ponderings. Yes, his Master had fallen from the highest echelons to now be enshrouded by poverty, but before, was he not one of those influential figures who could alleviate the suffering of the poor? “Oh, how the tables have turned,” thought the swallow, “and I must suffer the consequences with him, until this world sees past its flaws and into the wide blue yonder.”