My Bird

This is a piece I wrote a couple of months back for a competition. It was not so much a creative competition, it was more of a humanities competition that allowed students to exhibit their ability to research certain historical and classical subjects. Now I am not a history student, so I wasn't going to do this competition at first. But then I read the conditions and saw that it allowed people to submit creative writing entries as long as they followed a prompt, so I said why not. This competition also happened to be hosted by Girton College at the University of Cambridge (which it is my absolute dream to study at) so I gave it a go and submitted a creative entry. 

The historical prompt I chose for the piece was a ancient Chinese statue of a sacred bird the Feng Huang. I thought I would share the piece with you as it actually won me a 'highly commended' award in the competition, which I am extremely proud of! 


I knelt there on the floor. In between the closing chaos. Amidst the dormant danger. I knelt and I cried as I saw the carnage before me, and I screamed when I remembered how violently the ground shook. It was only seconds before that the ground so vigorously shook. Those angry seconds of the earth were so easily forgotten for a moment because of the new stillness. Yet they were easily remembered because my limbs still swung, and my eyes still watered.

 I looked up and I saw *Shaanxi, although it was no longer Shaanxi. It was no longer the Shaanxi I loved and admired. It was only a mess of old houses and new corpses. I knew I was lucky, and my mother would say as she watched from her new home in heaven ‘at least you have your life my daughter’, but all I knew to do with this life and with this voice I had was to wail. And so I wailed. And the wind wailed with me.

I saw the crumbled houses and the crumbled bodies before me, alas my tears were not enough to blind my eyes from the death and destruction, and my mind was not enough to stop my heart from the agony. I looked up and our home was gone. Reduced to rubble by the earth’s vengeance. From dust to dust. And oh it was beautiful when it stood. Strong and high, tall and mighty were its four walls when it stood. And where its foundations fell its presence was respected. Nothing remained of our home now, nothing of its walls, or its halls, or its corners… only that of its crown. Only the *Fenghuang roof tile that I now held between my fingers remained.

I stared at that bird’s golden eyes in the silence. And within that silence I could feel the wind blowing against my skin softly, and in my ears it was singing the Fenghuang’s song. In that moment I prayed, I prayed that my grandmother would rise up from her debris grave, and take a new life like my Fenghuang could. It was her who acquainted me with the Fenghuang; it was her who made its spirit my friend. I remembered how she told me of its entrancing beauty and its captivating song. How she made my eyes shine and my ears tingle when she spoke of my bird’s utmost grace and elegance. I remembered how her eyes shined, how her smile would stretch to the corners of her face when she illustrated my bird’s glowing colours, with only the simplicity of her words. I remembered how quickly her tongue flicked when she described to me my bird’s features:

She told me of its stripes like a dragon; how it claimed the dragon’s grandeur and flame and with its own small, humble stature. She told me of its head like a hen and its chin like a swallow. Of its twisting snake’s neck and of its fish’s tail. She told me how its chest was like a swan, graceful and pure, and its back was of a tortoise, strong and indestructible. Indestructible. I sighed just then, and I wished my grandmother was indestructible like my Fenghuang.

My grandmother would tell me how my Fenghuang only danced when the air was happy and warm, how it only sang in times of peace, and only showed itself in times of prosperity. “My darling *Lei” she would say “You are my own little Fenghuang, you sing so sweetly, your eyes shine with happiness and joy pours from your heart”. Now my grandmother was gone and I could no longer be her Fenghuang, rather I would be likened to a raven or a crow, whose heart was as dark and lifeless as the soil on which it stood.

As I recollected the smiles and words that escaped from my grandmother’s mouth when she lived, the tears flowed quicker from my eyes. My eyes that previously shone with happiness and contentment were now wet with sorrow. The shouts and screams that my lungs gave were carried by the flying wind, only no one heard them. I knew not what to do, for there was no one left to guide me. If only I had remembered then the most important of my grandmother’s words.

“Lei, I will be gone one day. Maybe tomorrow or in a hundred years, but there is something you must remember and something you must never forget. I cannot live forever, and when I am gone you must try to be strong. Do not perceive me as dead, but as living, in the heart of the Fenghuang. She will be your inner guide when I am gone. Everywhere you see the Fenghuang you must remember me; in every statue, in every painting, in every robe with the her mighty feathers embroidered in its fibres, you must remember that I am with you”

And so now I remember my Fenghuang.

She was my bird. Not the Jabberwock of the fantasy, or the phoenix of the west. But she was my bird. My strength. My Fenghuang.


*Shaanxi - A province in China, where the piece is set
*Feng Huang - The sacred bird statue
*Lei - The character's name


  1. It is a very good piece indeed, although I didn't understand the Chinese terms. Congratulations on the commendation!


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