Hummingbird hated how she looked—drab, utterly colorless—unlike the beautiful flowers, the brilliant sky, and the glorious shades of grasses and leaves. Nothing she did changed the color of her feathers. One morning, while feeling glum and miserable, she heard a loud groaning, a horrible noise. Much to her horror, it was Panther, an animal who always terrified her. His sharp teeth were almost as big as she was. As he moved closer, his moans grew more unbearable until Hummingbird blurted out, “Why are you making so much noise?”
Panther told her, “Last night, I accidentally stepped on Mouse Mother’s children as I was running through the forest. To punish me, when I was asleep, she put mud on my closed eyes. Now the mud has hardened and I cannot open my eyes. I cannot see. I’m blind. How will I ever find enough food to eat?” He began to wail louder than ever.
“You’re not the only one with a problem,” snapped Hummingbird, “I’m so dull and gray no one even notices me.”
“That’s not a problem. I know exactly how to help you become more colorful.”
“You do?” asked Hummingbird, not at all sure she believed him.
Panther said, “I’ll make a bargain with you. If you peck the mud from my eyes so I can see, I will help you become as colorful as you like.”
Although Hummingbird wanted this more than anything in the world, getting close enough to Panther to peck out the mud from his eyes was almost too frightening to think about. Yet, she yearned to be colorful.
So, despite her fear, she gathered her courage and flew to Panther, making him promise to keep his mouth closed. She pecked out the mud from his eyes as carefully as possible, hoping he wouldn’t open his mouth and eat her when she was finished. When Panther could open his eyes he danced gleefully. “I can see. I can see.”
Hummingbird grumbled, “What about your promise? What about our bargain?
Panther stopped dancing and looked at Hummingbird. Shaking his head, he says, “You really are drab. No wonder you’re unhappy.” Hummingbird was about to tell him that he didn’t have to make her feel bad, she already felt awful, when he said, “Follow me.”
He led her to a clearing in the forest near a bubbling stream and told her to gather as many different colored flowers and grasses as she could find. He put a pot of water over a fire he built. Hummingbird filled the pot with flowers and grasses and seeds and leaves. Following his instructions, she stirred and stirred and stirred. When the mixture was cool, Panther told her to jump into the pot and wet herself all over. Then he told her to fly out and shake herself off. Panther looked at Hummingbird and said, “Better do it once more.”
After the third time of jumping into the pot and shaking herself dry, Panther said, “There, that’s more like it. Fly to the river and look at yourself.”
Filled with dread that Panther’s plan had not worked, Hummingbird made herself fly to the water, afraid of what she would see. “Open your eyes and look!” commanded Panther.
Hummingbird took a deep breath and did she was told. “Oh,” she gasped, hardly believing her eyes, amazed to see such a marvelously colored bird reflected in the water. “I’m beautiful,” she said, stunned.
“Yes, you are, and I’m hungry,” said Panther and he walked into the forest.
Nancy King is a widely published author and a professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she has taught theater, drama, playwriting, creative writing, and multidisciplinary studies with an emphasis on world literature. She has published seven previous works of nonfiction and five novels. Her new memoir, Breaking the Silence, explores the power of stories in healing from trauma and abuse. Her career has emphasized the use of her own experience in being silenced to encourage students to find their voices and to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with authenticity, as a way to add meaning to their lives.