There was once a village where the people enjoyed many years of prosperity. The rains came regularly and their crops flourished. In time, their grain bins were so full, one of them collapsed and the grains scattered. However the people had so much stored they left the grain where it was.
In a short time, birds found the grain and decided the village was a good place to live. When the people finished working in the fields, the birds flew down and began eating. The next morning, when the people saw how much grain the birds had eaten, they began to worry that the birds would find a way to eat the stored grain. So, when the birds flew down to eat, the people tried to shoo them away with noise. When this didn’t work, they shot arrows into the air, but this too failed to deter the birds.
The villagers called a meeting to discuss how to get rid of the birds. Although no one wanted to be the first person to mention the Old Man, he was on everyone’s mind. They looked at the Headman who said, “We shall soon starve if we do not rid our village of these birds. We have tried but nothing worked. Perhaps the Old Man will once again help us.” Everyone was silent. “It is true we chased him away because we were afraid of his magic but he is our only hope. I will go to him. Perhaps he will take pity on us and agree to return to help us.”
The next morning the Headman went in search of the Old Man. Although he was dressed in worn clothes and had little in the way of goods, the Old Man was not pleased to see the Headman, nor did he want to return to the village. But, when the Headman told him the children would starve if he didn’t help them, the Old Man agreed to return.
Before returning to the village, the Old Man collected roots and plants to make a powder. That evening, after the village thanked him for coming, he showed them how to dip their arrows into the powder and how to use them.
The leader of the birds saw the people with their bows and arrows, but he was not afraid and continued to eat. When the Old Man quietly said, “Now,” the villagers shot their arrows into the leader of the birds and killed him. Seeing this, the other birds flew away in fear.
The villagers held a great feast to honor the Old Man and for a time, all was well. Then, whispers began. People said, “If he has magic to kill the birds, he can kill us. We must tell him to go.” The whispers grew into a loud chorus and soon, the villagers forced the Old Man to leave.
In time, the birds returned. The villagers watched helplessly as their grain disappeared. Once again, they tried, but nothing stopped the birds from eating their grain. The villagers decided there was nothing to do but ask the Old Man to come back to help them.
The Headman told the Old Man of the village’s troubles and how sorry they were they asked him to leave. The Old Man listened carefully. Then he said, “No.”
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.