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Adult Runner-up Brightness of Black Written by Ishu Lakhiani

Johnny Bugeja

During the annual bird conference, Macau, Peacock, Swan, and Nightingale were seated on the stage. The peacock was the head of the conference and stood in its seat with all its majesty and glory. The crown on its head oozed bright colours and its slender neck craned higher every time a bird took the podium. All the birds offered beautiful pieces praising their beauty and the grandeur of their ancestry.

It was the nightingale that inaugurated the conference with its melodious song. All the birds shimmied and swayed with it. The Owl was the judge of the beauty contest. Followed by the nightingale, it was the swan that took up the stage.

The swan was the most beloved of all. Its shimmering white feathers, beautiful blue eyes, and sharp beak attracted everyone towards it. In the beauty contest, all the birds highlighted their beauty and skills. Up until now, the swan was the undisputed champion. It was pompous and vain. Of course, it had to be, not just the birds, even the humans held the swan m great rank. Look at their epic tale of the Ugly Duckling. The duckling had no respect or status as long as it was black. But the moment it turned into a beautiful white swan, everyone loved and worshipped it. Well, this was something swan had been boasting about every year and it needed to say something different this season.

“Why do you think you are the best’? What makes you say that?” All heads turned towards the croaky sound. It was the raven who had asked this question.

The swan took it as an insult and ignored the question. But when the Owl said, it had to answer the question to prove its worth, the Swan felt compelled to reply. “I am the most respected and beautiful of all. Not only the humans and fellow birds have confirmed this, even the religious scriptures call me the perfect one. I am the carriage of the Hindu Goddess of knowledge.”

The raven stated in its static voice, “But you are not the only one, even the Dove, Peacock, and Rooster are one of the many revered birds of different religions.”

The peacock craned its tall neck a little more making it appear extra-long, “What is it you want?” It came straight to the point.

The Raven looked down at its talons, and croaked again, “I want to enter the beauty contest!”

The entire field reverberated with various sounds of the birds. All of them laughed, booed, and hooted at once. The Raven stood its ground, undeterred by their derogatory comments.

The swan sniggered and said insolently, “Give me one good reason why you
think you are my equal?”

“The color of our blood is the same,” came the reply.

“Cliched,” the swan faked a yawn.

The Raven fluttered its wings the way a wrestler warms up his body before the match. Swiftly with awe-inspiring grace it flew towards the podium and took the mic. The flight of its dark wings had already intimidated all the birds around. The Owl fixed its glasses, its expression was indecipherable.

“Dark is the color of truth,” Raven started, “Don’t look down at dark for you must all know that before we come to this bright beautiful world, we remained hidden in the dark warm cocoon of our mothers. Less than 5% of this universe is in light. The rest is in dark. Sixty-eight percent of the universe Is dark energy and twenty-seven percent is dark matter. All this
bright, light and luminosity you keep talking about, with just a snap of dark’s fingers, all this brightness will black out.”

“So, dark is actually bad?” Macau tried to come to Swan’s rescue.

The Raven shook his head slowly. Clearly, it was disappointed by the low IQ of this bird with loud colors.

“If you think giving out charity in the blackness of the night is bad then dark is bad. If you feel hiding true love in the dark recesses of one’s heart is bad and public display of emotion in front of flashing lights is good then I will definitely agree with you. If colour is the validation of beauty and confirms black is ugly then trust me, there is nothing beautiful on this earth. Anything that generates biasedness, prejudice, and arrogance, can never be good. Color discrimination and cruelty is not only a sin but it is absolutely sick. I am not here to prove how beautiful | am. I know who I am and I don’t feel proud for pride is one of the seven cardinal sins. But I do feel humbled for this beautiful life that I got.”

All the birds began to flap their wings in applause. The nightingale sent out musical kisses to the Raven. The Owl took off its glasses and looked at the young bird affectionately. And finally, the peacock stood up from its throne and went to the Raven. It said in a choked voice, “When I sit on that throne every day full of pride and crane my head higher and higher, it is not confidence but total insecurity. | want everyone to concentrate on my crown.
I do not want anyone to look at my ugly feet. We are all dented and demented, all of us have follies and foibles, but this does not mean we should look down upon others.”

“Or kill those who look different,” the Dove cried.

The conference of the birds dispersed. There were no winners, there were no losers. All the birds were allies and friends. The Swan tried to apologize but the generous Raven hugged it affectionately. The Owl recorded everything in its book and released it in the monthly magazine under the heading “Brightness of Black.”

Judge Charles Durante’s comments:

“The animal fable is a well-established genre. It goes back to Aesop; Chaucer wrote one called ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ and Persian literature has ‘The Conference of Birds’ by Farid Ud-Din Attar. Usually, the story takes the form of a gathering of birds, with very human characteristics, discussing some thorny issue. Brightness of Black follows this pattern but in an original and pleasing manner. The discussion is going swimmingly, with the birds playing their traditional roles: the swan convinced of its unrivalled beauty, the peacock proud and disdainful, the owl fussily learned and acting as judge of the contest, until the raven butts in with its croak! In spite of its black colour, universally considered a hideous hue, it wants to enter the contest. But the raven is not just a spoil sport: he is a moralist, full of hidden wisdom, against racial discrimination, and with a deep knowledge of dark matter and cosmic processes. There is a touch of Ted Hughes’ Crow about the raven, knowing, eloquent, and perspicacious, but without the violence or death wish. Even Edgar A Poe’s Raven, with his insistent ‘Nevermore,’ may also lie behind our raven. Towards the end of the story, we learn the raven’s teaching has not been in vain: the proud peacock acknowledges her insecurity and has learned humility. It’s a pity we don’t get to read the owl’s undoubtedly hilarious account of the proceedings in the monthly bird magazine! A delightful story, witty, well-written and wise. Well done!”

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