The Personal Awakening of uMuhle Whydah

The Personal Awakening of uMuhle Whydah

Muhle looked at himself in the still waters of the pond. A handsome face stared back at him; glossy feathers and sparkling eyes. But instead of feeling pleased with himself, he was overwhelmed by a deep sense of sadness.

​It was hard to explain to the other birds; their jealousy of his good looks and striking tail prevented him from sharing his real feelings. For in truth, his tail – that glorious accessory that rippled behind him, like a tall stalk of sugar cane bowing to the wind, was a hindrance. He felt ridiculous when he took to the air, because unlike the other birds that swooped and soared, he chugged through the sky like a large steam engine, towing a bulky carriage.

There he went, put-putting, stop-starting, rising and falling, while the other birds overtook him, leaving him behind as they played hide-and-seek, or catch-me-if-you-can. Oh, how he longed to soar above the tallest trees and swoop between the long, lean legs of a towering giraffe. But instead, he would stagger along, dragging his tail like a stone around his neck.

Yes, Muhle was sad, and he was lonely. If he could find a way to lose his tail, he gladly would.

One warm summer day, Muhle returned from a short flight around the fever tree forest. He settled on his favourite branch and began to think about his situation. Suddenly, a blur of brown went shooting past him, looping in and out of the yellow barked trees, yelling, “Whoooooooooooohooooooooooooo!” as it went.

​Muhle was captivated! The bird was as fast as lighting and unconstrained by ridiculous tails and good looks. Oh, how he longed to be that bird, as free as that bird! Eventually the vision, named Sipho, came to a stop, landing lightly on the branch next to Muhle.

“Wow,” said Muhle, “that was fantastic! You are faster than a chameleon’s tongue.”

“Thanks,” said Sipho, hugging himself. “I do love to fly high in the sky and low through the grass; I’m as free as the wind, nothing holds me back.”

​“Oh!” said Muhle. “How I long to be free of this tail of mine – I can’t fly high or low with it dragging behind me. I wish it were gone, then I’d be as free and happy as you are!”

​The bird looked at Muhle as if he were mad.

​“You wish you had no tail? Those beautiful, glossy, black feathers that flow behind you like a running stream – you wish they were gone?”

​“Yes,” said Muhle, “I want to soar like an eagle, and swerve like a kite. That is what I long to do, but with this tail, it is impossible.”

​“Well,” said the bird. “I would love to have your good looks, and beautiful tail. I am just a boring brown bird. No one takes any notice of me. I don’t even have a proper name. The bird-watchers call me an LBJ – a little brown job. That is all I am to them.”

​“Oh,” said Muhle, “imagine if I were you, and you were me! How happy we would be!”

​That night, with the moon high in the sky and shining upon them, both birds fell asleep. As they softly snored, the God of all things let forth a dream inside each of them and revealed what might have been.

​In his dream-state, Muhle looked down at himself in surprise. His body was no longer glossy black with an orange and red splash at his throat. Rather, he was as brown as the soil and lighter than a feather; his long, cumbersome tail – was gone. Muhle wasted no time! He took off at great speed, climbing up-up into the air, then spiraling down-down towards the earth. At the last minute he changed direction and hurtled between the trees at breakneck speed.

​Oh, what fun! What joy! How wonderful to finally be as free as the other birds! He waggled his short little tail with glee. He swooped from tree to tree, stopping to chat briefly with whoever he might find. He never stood still for too long, just enough time to say a quick hello to a new acquaintance, before leaping from the branch so that he could find someone else to share a quick word with.

​Nearby, Sipho, also fast asleep on his branch, dreamed that his dowdy body had transformed into a dazzling display of shiny, black feathers. And instead of his short tail, there, attached to his body, were the most glorious long, black tail feathers, with a rather large bump in the middle.

​Oh, how exciting! He was so beautiful, so gorgeous. He dropped from his perch in the fever tree and stared at his reflection in the tranquil waters of the pond. Beautiful, he preened, I am just beautiful. The little bird decided to take his new self on a slow tour around the forest, so that he could show off his gorgeous plumage to the other birds. Oh, how jealous they would be!

​Sipho never really got a chance to share his good fortune with the other birds, because as soon as he found a flock to join, they were off and away, dive-bombing each other with excited shrieks. He waited and waited for others to join him, but opportunities were few and far between. Oh well, he thought, at least I have my beautiful reflection to keep me company!

As Muhle dove and rose, Sipho chugged and stuttered, across the veld. Both birds were transfixed with their new bodies and spent the day trying out their new skills and new looks. This is the life! they thought. God had surely made a terrible mistake when the birds were born, and they were so pleased that he was making up for it.

​But as the sun tracked across the sky and the trees threw long shadows across the veld, the birds began to feel somewhat fed-up. Muhle was, quite frankly, exhausted. He was so busy flying around at high speed that he had no time to simply look at the sunset or sit quietly thinking to himself. The other birds, while friendly enough, were equally busy flitting from place to place; there was none of the deep conversation that Muhle longed for. And Sipho, by nature a friendly conversationalist, was getting quite sick of looking at his own reflection in the pond. None of the other birds bothered to talk to him – he’d been sitting on the same branch for ages waiting for someone to join him, and they just flew right on by. It was as if the other birds believed he had nothing to offer them in the way of friendship.

By the time the sun sank behind the Lubombo mountains, and the moon beamed brightly in the night sky, the birds were desperate. Muhle longed for his spectacular tail and his life of solitude and introspection, while Sipho longed for his average looks and life of high-speed adventure and social interaction.

​The birds continued to sleep, and as the moon made way for the sun, the God of all things put to an end the dream within each of them. By morning, both Muhle and Sipho, would wake with the knowledge that each had been made perfectly to suit their nature and spirit, and that the God of all things had made no mistake at all.