We are all born winged here. Wispy, paper-thin, thick...there are all sorts of wings.
Then there’s the new boy Gilbert, who never shows his wings. Theories abound among us as naturally concerned classmates, but lucky for him, we’ve outgrown flying class. Though we can all fly, only some are strong enough to fly far. Somewhere in our evolution, wings became ornamental (and all the more people liked to display their wings).
People wonder. It’s the question always hanging in the air whatever room he’s in. We’d call him the fallen angel because he doesn’t lurk in the shadows, he lurks in the light. With his clean, fair face and mirthful eyes, he looks like an angel through and through. It's a memorably attractive face, I'll admit.
Imagine my surprise when I see him in class, and my further intrigue when he has seemingly no wings. No one is born without wings here, it’s too strong in our genetic history. However, the initial surprise quickly morphs into distaste when he joins the drama club I’m in. Any other time I’d be happy, but this year? We’re performing a play about wings.
I plead with our president, Kavin Skye. “He’s got NO wings, I swear. We can’t have an actor who can’t even fly!” Kavin’s inscrutable, his eyes serious and dark. “We’ll make do, he’s a good one.”
“Well, your opinion doesn’t matter anyway.” Kavin smiles self-satisfactorily, that pompous boy! “The roles have been cast and I’d like to inform you,” he declares — is that a smirk? — airily, “that your partner will be Gilbert. Now,” he flashes me a warning glance when I open my mouth in objection, “I’m the director here. I think you two go nicely together aesthetically. No dissensions! I’m only preventing a commotion later. Are you clear? Absolutely no unnecessary drama this year.”
I give a deep, long curtsy. “Of course, Director Kavin.”
“Where’s new boy?” Connor looks around. “Stock check,” I grin as I hop onto a nearby seat, stretching my feathered wings — viridian green with traces of sapphire blue. Not the most lightweight or prettiest, but definitely practical and strong.
He whistles. “Already abusing the new kid.” Stock check is notoriously time-consuming and tiring because of our haphazard arrangement of props and costumes. Although we have a low budget, we do have a lot of hand-made items. “He says he doesn’t mind organising things.” I upturn my nose defensively.
“Please, Stacey. We all know how fierce you get.” Jacqueline preens at her wings. They’re like a monarch butterfly’s, black-lined with vibrant colours of hot pink and gold. Their stares get pressurising.
“Fine,” I snap. “I’ll go check and see how he’s faring. Inform me when Kavin’s ready to end today’s session.”
I huff, taking big, broad strides. It’s only Gilbert’s first day in the drama club and he’s already painting me as the bully! I slow as I notice black feathers littering the entrance of the props room. We don’t have many props with black feathers — white ones are cheaper. He was explicitly told not to make a mess.
I fling open the door with great gusto, ready to (righteously) demand some answers.
Wait. I don’t recognise the props room. Black feathers like those at the entrance are everywhere. The room is incredibly stuffy and it is only when I hear laborious breathing that I notice the collapsed body on the floor: a heap of tangled, dark wings amongst a pool of black feathers. I don’t scream, but I almost do.
Gilbert is curled into himself on the floor, clutching his stomach, hair matted with sweat. His eyes are closed tightly, his decidedly black wings having ripped the back of his white cotton shirt clear across. If ever was there a picture of how a fallen angel lands, this would be it.
His wings are stunning, broad and expansive. The feathers are raven black, long and spiky, edged with shimmery silver. His paleness makes the black especially deep. I’d like to admire, but moulting…molting is never a good sign for anyone our age, when our wings are yet in their prime.
“Gilbert!” I shake him frantically. He’s feverish, moaning slightly, not stirring.
I pull him up into a sitting position, almost slipping in the process. Finally, he opens his eyes blearily, which widen impossibly when he sees me with the feather tufts stuck to my cotton top and the box of feathers at my feet. “Are those...mine?” he asks dumbly, incredulously. I give an aggravated sigh. “Mine, obviously. Care to explain? Moulting this amount of feathers in an hour! Have you seen anyone about this? Is that why you keep your wings hidden?”
He fumbles for an answer. Impatient, I thrust him a shirt I find stuffed inside a box. “Never mind. Dry off, wear this. I won’t look.”
The room is silent for a while as I keep my back turned while he changes. Absently, I pick up a feather, letting my finger run over the downy texture. His are so incredibly soft. “Whoa,” his voice, strangely hoarse, is suddenly in too-close proximity to my ears. I start in surprise, half-turning around before remembering. He clears his throat. “You can turn around now, but don't — don’t do that."
“Do what? Touch your feathers?” I wave the criminal feather around for emphasis. He catches my wrist in the air, frowning.
“I don’t suppose you’ve ever moulted, but even after feathers have been separated from your wings, you still feel them. The feeling goes away the longer it’s separated, but since I’ve just moulted…” He coughs, looking away.
My face reddens, mortified, desperately push it towards him. “Keep it, keep it! I don’t want it!"
“Never mind that now, Stacey. Promise me,” he says soberly — quietly, fiercely even, as I look into his greyish eyes. His grip on my wrist tightens, too strong to wrest away. “Promise me you won’t tell a soul about this.”