I finally broke out of the walls that had sheltered me for months. I peered curiously at the wide open world. What an intimidating amount of space! I thought. I tried to snuggle back into my cozy shell but alas, the pieces of the shell could not be joined back together again. There was also a fully grown duck which was standing next to my shell, staring joyfully at me. I felt a strange sense of warmth towards the duck even though I had never seen her before.
"Mommy?" I guessed.
"Yes, my dear child. And now it is time for you to learn how to swim with your siblings," said the older duck.
Before I could protest, I was already being urged towards the pond by one of Mother's wings. I plopped into the water, not knowing what to expect. Much to my surprise, nothing bad happened and before I knew it, I was already swimming alongside my other siblings.
The water felt cool and it was very clear. I could see the little fishes swimming under me and it was quite intriguing. I looked around me and I could see the shore. Though the pond was big compared to my previous home, I felt safe and reassured when I saw the shores close by.
"Sister?" asked one of the ducklings. There were 3 small ducklings swimming in the pond.
"Aren't you quite the strange one? You look nothing like us," asked another with genuine interest. I looked down at the reflection of the water. True enough, I looked nothing like the other ducks. I had also felt a tinge of unpleasantness towards my own appearance.
"Now, now, this is your youngest sister. You older ones must take care of her and dote on her as you would your greatest treasures," Mother interrupted. My siblings agreed readily and that was the end of the discussion of my appearance.
When night has fallen and we had played till we were all tired, I started to wonder about my appearance again. I went to the pond to look at myself when my mother and siblings had all fallen asleep. I am quite ugly, I thought. My beak is too big and my eyes are too small. This must be what my brother meant when he had said I looked nothing like them. As I went back to try and sleep, I could not help wondering why I did not turn out pretty like the rest of my siblings. I decided I would ask Mother when morning comes.
The following day, I proceeded as planned. I was careful to make sure my other siblings were elsewhere so that I would not be embarrassed.
"Mom? Why am I so ugly?" I asked sadly.
"Oh, my dear child. Who had implanted such bad thoughts in your mind? You are not ugly. You are different." Mother said in a reassuring manner.
"Why am I different? I don't want to be different. I don't like my big beak and my small eyes," I whined. I could tell this question had baffled Mother, for her eyes shifted and she paused momentarily before replying.
"Well, you are different because you are a beautiful little duckling. Your big beak and small eyes are unique features of your beauty. Now, go and play with your siblings and do not worry about such pointless things." Mother said hastily before pushing me into the pond.
I was unsatisfied with Mother's answer. I felt like she was lying. But why would she lie to me? Surely my own mother would not lie to me. Why then would she be nervous? I was frustrated at my own questions. I decided to confirm Mother's answers by my siblings.
I leapt into the pond and swam alongside my kin. I knew that I would create an awkward situation if I had just suddenly asked such a strange question. Furthermore, I had preferred to ask them separately. If their answer was that I am ugly, then I would surely be embarrassed among all my kin. We played for a little while until my brother, the second youngest, went off to the side to clean himself.
"Oh brother, do you think I am ugly? Mother said I was beautiful but I really don't think so," I asked fearfully. Surely my own brother would not lie to me as well. I was afraid of his answer, but I would very much like to know the truth.
"Hmm..." said my brother as he studied my face. "You worry too much. You are indeed as pretty as Mother has said. Come, let us go play." then my brother went to join our other siblings.
I looked back down at my reflection. All I could see was a beak too large and eyes that are too small. Do I truly worry too much? I wondered. Both my brother and mother have told me that I look beautiful yet I still feel differently. No, Brother has to be right. I worry too much, I told myself.
For the next several days, I tried to forget how I was feeling and believe I was truly beautiful. However, each time I had looked upon my reflection on the water, I felt I had looked the complete opposite. Finally, I could hold it in no longer. I decided that I should ask my sister. She is pretty and we are both female, she will be able to understand me and tell me the truth. She is also the second oldest and her words possessed more wisdom. Using the same strategy, I waited for my sister to be alone before approaching her.
"Silly girl! Of course you are beautiful. Trust me, I know how you feel. We all feel insecure about our appearance sometimes. Just know that you are the prettiest amongst us. Come, let us go play." My sister said before petting me lightly and then leaving to join our siblings.
I had definitely felt reassured. How silly I was to think I am ugly. I looked down at my reflection once more. Oh, how pretty I look! But what of the large beak and small eyes? They look horrendous! Perhaps I should ask my oldest brother, for he bears the most wisdom next to Mother. Again with the same strategy, I approached my oldest brother.
"Oh brother, I know I am beautiful but why do I have such an ugly beak and such small eyes?" I asked woefully.
"My dear sister, that beak of yours is not ugly but beautiful. How easy it is for you to eat! Those eyes of yours are beautiful but perhaps too small. No wonder you view things differently. Worry not, my sister, for you are beautiful. Come, let us go play." said my brother before going to join our siblings.
That had made perfect sense to me. No wonder I had always finished my meal before my siblings. My large beak must have helped with that. I must have appeared ugly to myself due to these delicate eyes. I guess not all is perfect. Indeed, beauty must come with a price.
One day, we were told by Mother that we were to visit some of Mother's friends. I was very excited to meet them. All this time, we had only ever interacted among our own family. Occasionally, we would see some other ducks at the far side of the pond but Mother had always warned us not to go near them. Mother had told us they were dangerous. We had never ventured beyond the pond. The pond was the only world we knew. Mother had often told us stories of other ponds and other curious creatures. It was all very fascinating. However, Mother had also often warned us of the dangers that lie beyond our pond. She had told us of a strange 4-legged creature with black stripes on its body. The creature would eat any stray disobedient ducklings.
Soon after, we were finally on our trip to meet Mother's friends. Mother had called them the 'Swans Family'. Mother would often tell stories of their grace and beauty. I was very excited to meet them not just because we were finally going to meet different creatures, but also because they were beautiful like me. I had hoped that perhaps the Swans might be able to relate better to me compared to my average looking siblings.
The journey was not a terrible one, as it was only a neighboring pond. We walked across some trees and forestry but I did not manage to spot anything peculiar. Though the journey did not take long, Mother had kept us very close to her and had often turned around to see if we were following her. When we finally arrived, the Swans were surprised but had received us very warmly.
Unlike our family, there were four Swan members, two children and two adults. One of the adults was a male. This was puzzling to me. Mother had told us that every family had only one adult and that the adult would be female. Yet here there are two adults, who I assume to be Mothers. The younger Swan members also consisted of one female and one male. Though this was all particularly interesting, what really caught my eye was their appearance.
Mother was right about their beauty. I had never seen anything that was quite so graceful as they are. Their long slender necks curved elegantly and their magnificent wings boasted virility. I was impressed and awed by the beauty they possessed. The Swans family would definitely be able to understand me better. Of course my duck family would call me beautiful. They were only ducks after all. They did not possess any true beauty. But, if the Swans family were to admit me as beautiful, then I would have truly conquered the virtue of beauty.
"My Swan friend, we both share qualities of the same kind. Maybe you can tell me if I was pretty?" I asked, masking my anxiousness with fake cheerfulness. The swan I had asked was the younger female. I had wanted to ask the older Swans but Mother had told us that it was rude to interrupt when adults were speaking.
"Sure, my little duckling friend. Indeed, you are very pretty. You would impress the little human children as we have," replied the Swan.
How happy was I to hear such a thing! Yet I know that I cannot live with these pretty birds because I know Mother would surely miss me. I had been contented to hear that I was pretty from my family members but hearing it from these magnificent creatures were of a different story. I knew that I was at the pinnacle of beauty because the prettiest creatures had approved of me. I was curious, however, as to what the Swan had meant by "human children".
"What are 'little human children'?" I asked curiously.
"They are two legged creatures who throw delicious food at you if you are pretty. You would surely be able to get delicious food if they had seen you." replied the Swan cheerfully.
I asked more questions about the 'little human children' to learn how to gain their approval. The more I learned about them, the more interested I became in gaining their approval. Indeed, I cared little for the food they supposedly threw. I was only interested if they would actually throw food as that would mean they approve of my beauty.
When the time to return back to our pond came, I bid farewell and left regretfully. That night, I could not sleep. I could only think of 'little human children' and how impressed they would be when they saw me.
The next day, I told Mother about the 'little human children' and how I wanted to impress them. I said I would bring back lots of delicious food for us. I expected Mother to be impressed and happy but she sang a different tune.
"What a silly child! Do not have such silly fantasies! The human children you speak of are dangerous and vile. They will throw stones at you!" chided Mother.
I was furious, "Of course they would throw rocks at you! You are ugly, unlike me! The little human children only throws delicious food at beautiful creatures!" I replied angrily before running off into the forest. The Swan had told me of the river under the bridge where 'little human children' constantly frequented. Though I have only ever been in the forest once, I was eager to prove myself. I could hear Mother calling me from behind. She had tried to chase me but my youth outmatched her speed. I had followed the directions the Swan had provided to me and finally I had arrived at the river.
True enough, there were the strangest creatures standing on the bridge, looking down at the river as if they were some kind of deity ready to judge the creatures who appeared before them. I examined the birds who were already there. The creatures were of the same breed of the Swans. Their beauty and elegance must have impressed the human children, as peculiar items started falling from their hands into the water. The birds swarmed to the food, devouring them quickly and quite unlike their usual self, quite ungracefully.
That must be quite a treat! I thought. I quickly joined them and imitated their actions in hopes of impressing the human children.
"There! Look at how ugly that bird is! Let's throw stones at it!" said the human children as they pointed somewhere in my direction.
Surely they cannot mean me, I thought, for I am as beautiful as these Swans. I looked around, trying to identify the ugly bird. Suddenly, I felt sharp and hard objects raining down on me. I uttered cries of pain as the objects pierced my beautiful feathers. I tried to escape, but my movement is impaired from injuries all over my body. Eventually, I was unable to move. As the light faded from my eyes, I cursed at that ugly bird. How unlucky I was to be next to him, for the human children must have missed and hit me. If only that ugly bird did not exist...
Languages and communities
6 months ago