Coming of Age

When I was thirteen years old, I began to feel the bird inside me. Crammed inside a pelvis too small for its wings, it was trying to unfold. It burbled something, hoarsely, a parody of birdsong, as I stared and pretended not to hear.

I was inside a tepid factory of scratching pens and clattering clocks, chalkboards bearing evidence of war, scuffed desk corners remembering the brutality of children’s nails. I was sprawled across my operating table, the fan blades slitting gashes in each thought.

We were all waiting for something in the heat.

“Destroy the establishment,” rasped my little bird in me, while I stared at chalk marks on deep green.

The room was boiling the sweat out of my skin and the howling fans could not hold out against the heat. Sweat stained the seats of chairs. Sweat smudged pencil marks. I could feel the groaning metal, could feel the windows straining inward.

And we were all waiting for something in the heat.

The pen nibs went scratch, scratch, scratch, like birds clawing at the windowpanes of my brain, drawing the coastal flyways they would never explore.

“They’re all sick,” said mine, gaining a semblance of a voice though it was still choked. “They are sick, in this infirmary, so bring them salvation.”

My heart boomed, blood shooting through the arteries in my ears. The teacher’s chalk began to scrape: S, O, C, I, E, T, Y, and then the white stick jammed against the black and with a bright snap the upper end went spinning through the air, stabbing the monitress in the cheek.

“I’m—” He picked the oppressive thing from the groove in her desk. "—sorry." His brow knitted behind his glasses as his eyes met the monitress’ unprotesting silence. The trees were cracking in the heat.

By now I felt a small thrumming stir where my bird had clawed its way through my gut into my chest. It was gasping, starved of air by the whir of fans beating the heat away.

“Destroy yourself,” it said then, levering at the pencil-spire that jutted into my spinal cord.

So I did.

I watched myself ascend into the higher air, volcanic heat lashing at my lids. I began to crush my pencils in my hands. I felt their splinters bury themselves in my fingers.

“Stop, girl.”

I watched eyes glisten.

The bird drove me, desk by colossal desk, as I split each prison and freed the hissing, beating creature inside. The heat burst through my blood. I watched the teacher try to spread his claws but his skull was too tight and his tiger had long taken to cowering inside its cage. And the class listened to no ringmaster.

In the thick of flying sheets I heard my bird, and it was barely breathing, but its throat filled with air every time I snapped a ruler as if breaking a murderer's neck.

“Stop right there,” the tiger mewled. I kicked him to his knees and drove a pen against his chin, grinning.

My bird had climbed onto my tongue. “You’ll pay,” it snarled.

“You’ll answer to the principal,” answered the teacher while my pen drew incision lines on his neck.

Then the little tiger found just enough strength in itself to fling me, chirping, to the tiles. He had his chalk again and he had wrenched his immaculate phone from his pocket, and I was lying in the remains of shattered desk legs and pen nibs torn from sockets.

By then the classroom was empty and I felt my bloodied hands uncurl, all chafed, as the bird fled me and began to destroy the school.