Imagine a proud peacock without feathers . . . foolish to the end. This Short Story details this very scenario and how that pride led to his early demise. It is an allegory in that all of us suffer from this affliction – pride. Whether we can accept it, then deal with it or not is the quandary for us all. Will we have a happy life or an early trip to the cooking pot? While not an exact parallel with the Christian world-view, it has similarities.
The bird man had been playing with birds since he was, well, his son’s age. “I’ll never forget the time the stranger spoke to me as a child”, he was saying pensively. “He was there beside me like he knew me all his life, actually!”
His son looked over at the stranger, and asked his father who the man was. “Go and ask him, if you like”, the father prompted. “Ask him about the bird farm and how it all began. He knows.”
The boy walked over to the stranger and started talking to him.
“Your father was a good man with the birds even when he was a boy your age”, the man explained. “He had a duck in his hands once, and it had a broken leg. He fed it and nursed it back to good health. Then that duck brought his friends down from up in the hills to stay. It all started from there . . . ”
“When the geese arrived and he fed them, they left their huge big eggs behind, which he sold. The turkeys arrived and stayed too. As he sold them off to the village people (mostly at Christmas time actually) he then built hen runs with the money and planted trees. Eventually people came from all around to see him with his birds. It was almost like he could talk to them and they understood.
“When he married your mother she helped him sort the bird farm out and started charging the people to see them all. The visitors all liked different kinds – some liked the white doves; others the pigeons; others the fantails or the native birds. Some people couldn’t wait to see the talking parrots and especially the one who said the naughty words!”
The boy was listening to the man talk as if he too had known him forever. He asked about the peacocks. “When did my father get the peacocks?” he asked the stranger.
“Hmmmm . . . not long ago, actually. He had a huge bird farm by then and people kept telling him that he should get some. Your mother hated their screeching and it took a long time before she got used to their arrogance.
“Speak to your mother when you get a chance and ask her what she thinks about them!” the stranger suggested.
The boy bid the stranger farewell and walked through the bird farm a little wiser now. He saw the huge hen house that gave up hundreds of eggs every day and looked at it differently. Instead of complaining that he had to work in a stinky hen house, he saw it as something his father had made – every single piece of roofing iron his Dad had nailed on.
When he walked past the duck pond he knew that those ducks had all come of their own volition and stayed. He now knew that they were all there because of just one duck that his father had cared for back into health. “That’s my Dad!” he was now proud of.
Then as he got to the peacock enclosure he watched as the ones with huge big tail feathers in the air strutted their stuff. Talk about showing off! He could see the two sides of those peacocks now that the stranger had got him thinking – “Why did Dad take so long before he got them?” and “Why did the people all want to see these peacocks, but his mother didn’t want them?”
What did Dad know? What did his mother know?
It was a few weeks later that he saw the funniest thing in the peacock paddock. There was one of the peacocks with only a few feathers in his tail! This peacock was strutting around like all the others showing off like he always had, but he had nothing much to show!
The boy laughed his head off. “You look so silly!” he shouted out, but the peacock just ignored him and kept trying to show off. The boy returned to the peacock paddock every day after that and watched as the peacock not only lost his tail feathers but also his other feathers too.
“Mum, the peacock that lost his tail feathers is now naked!” the boy explained. “He looks so stupid – skinny and yet he keeps on acting like he’s got a huge pretty tail, but he hasn’t!”
His mother joined him and as they walked down the path she whispered hate towards those “noisy showoffs”. She almost spat the words out, “Just you wait until I get my hands on them!”
They watched the naked peacock together. “Stupid bird!” his mother whispered, so that the customers couldn’t hear her. “Doesn’t he look silly – trying to show off but he’s got nothing to show!”
The boy wandered over to the stranger once he was alone again, and said the same thing to him as his mother said, “Doesn’t he look silly – trying to show off but he’s got nothing to show!”
The stranger was quiet, and never spoke for quite a long time. They looked at the naked peacock together, then eventually he spoke, just one word . . . “Sad!”
This made the boy think. He hadn’t seen the situation that way before. “Sad? Why so?” he asked his friend.
“Your father understands. He should explain it to you,” the stranger replied.
After dinner, the boy asked his father why the stranger thought it was sad that the naked peacock still thought he had something to show off, when he didn’t.
His father told him the story, about how things were not always fair in this world; about how we think we know it all, and how when we grow up we tend to think that the world revolves around us. He explained that we are all like the naked peacock to come extent and that even though we grow old and lose everything that we used to be proud of, that it’s a hard lesson to learn later in life if we’ve allowed to be a show-off when we were younger. He then talked about patterns of behaviour, and getting trapped in one line of thought.
Then the father scared his son a little when he suggested that the naked peacock would probably end up in his mother’s cooking pot if he didn’t change his ways pretty quickly.
The boy had come to like the naked peacock and didn’t want that to happen to him now. He’d changed from seeing this bird as something to laugh at, into something that he felt sad for, and now was really worried about.
The next day he took some of the best bird seed down to the peacock paddock and threw it around for them all. When the naked peacock came close he slipped a little more in his direction. “Please, Mr Peacock, can you learn to be quiet? Try not to show off, otherwise you’ll end up in Mum’s cooking pot!” he would try to say in bird talk.
Every day for the next week he would slip down to see the naked peacock but because he was giving the bird so much attention, it only made things worse. Sensing that he was getting special treatment from the boy, the naked peacock got even more cocky and made more noise than ever.
It wasn’t working and he was sad, and, yes, if he was honest about it, frightened. Frightened that the naked peacock would become peacock stew in short order.
The stranger seemed to understand and suggested that pride can be an ugly thing in the end. It was like he knew all along that the peacock would never change his ways. He knew that the peacock would get worse and that nothing he could do or say could change that – didn’t he?
“All you can do is accept it, son,” the stranger said, “And enjoy the stew when it is put on the table in front of you!”
That got his attention and he looked up at the stranger who was looking down at him with a lovely caring smile. It was almost as if it was okay to eat the naked peacock!
Now he truly was confused . . . first the stranger called it sad that the silly bird was still trying to show off; then his father taught him to be kind and patient to the poor bird; then all his mother wanted to do was to cook his little friend; then he had done his level best to help the naked peacock and that only made it worse; and now after all of that the stranger was telling him that he should enjoy eating the peacock stew that was surely about to happen, and probably very soon too!
The visitors weren’t really interested in his friend. They came to see the beautiful tail feathers of the big peacocks, not some scrawny, naked, noisy little thing waltzing around the enclosure as if he owned the place.
The guests were ready for anything, roast duck, fried chicken or a mystery stew – nobody knew what his mother had arranged for this special evening meal. Or so she thought. The boy went white with dread. He knew. His father looked over and winked. He knew. The guests dug in and loved the succulent peacock stew. “Eat up son, it’ll be good for you!” his father was saying. But how could he eat this particular stew, after all he had gone though?
“Yup! This is a fine stew my dear. Bet you enjoyed cooking this old bird tonight eh?”
“You betcha I did!” his mother replied with a huge grin on her face.
“All you can do is accept it, son,” his father said, “And enjoy the stew when it is put on the table in front of you!”
That was exactly what the stranger said! His father knew about that too?
The stranger was understanding the next day. He didn’t speak a lot, but what he did say helped the boy understand things a great deal. We’re all proud people . . . we all tend to think about our own lot in life . . . we learn to look after ourselves and how to get what we want when we’re younger, which makes it harder to humble ourselves when we’re older. The other peacocks that lost their plumage escaped the pot but the noisy one that wouldn’t listen to the boy and his desperate pleading to . . . well, STFU . . . that was his fate – an inevitable, untimely end.
“My Dad’s not like that silly naked peacock is he? That’s why he’s so quiet and the birds love him so much, eh?”
“Uh huh!” the stranger agreed.
“I hope that when I’m like that proud peacock that somebody tries to warn me, like I tried to warn him!” the boy thought aloud.
“Would you listen to them if they did?” the stranger asked the boy.
He thought, long and hard. Would he? Could he?
They spoke together . . . “Yes!” and the boy added, “If I want to!” at which the stranger smiled. He knew!