Jillian was just a little girl with a braid. Her chocolate hair would get frizzy multiple times in a day. Especially when the sun is straightly above her head. “The braid would help”, said her mother, whom in broad daylights she rarely met. But “the love is there”, said TJ, whom in days and nights, would fix her tea and put her curls to sleep. As the only child with a braid, she was surely famous around the block. Aunt Danty at the house right next to hers would say, “Your granddaughter is a beautiful bird, TJ. She flies. I wonder what song she does sing.” Thus TJ would always call Jillian, my sweet little songbird.
Jillian was still a little girl with dreams to fly. She said that one day she would go around the world by flying, and she never wanted to come back. Except on TJ’s birthday. When TJ asked, “Why won’t you comeback? If you have invincible wings, you can fly anytime to anywhere you like,” she would answer that her wings were not functioned to turn backwards, so once she fly upright, that will be exactly where she headed. TJ would nodded with a little smile, like he agreed. Then TJ asked, “So how come you can come back on my birthday? Our house is in the East, let’s say you are enjoying a snowball on the North, how could you navigate your wings?” Jillian would say, “If it’s for you, there’s nothing impossible for me to do, TJ.”
Jillian was just growing up, when the raids come and started to knock doors to doors. TJ would hide her in the closet, and said “I live alone. There is no one else here.” People screamed everywhere “Do not leave your house!” The days went by with bang.. bang.. bang.. gunshots paraded like Christmas choir. She could no longer see the streets, but the sound of people and missiles filled the dead air, every single day. The children playing around the block was no longer there. She could no longer touch the bird outside her window. Sometimes she would eat one bread for a day, and TJ said, “I already ate so much eggs and bread from the men! I am so full I could fall asleep right now! Haha!” and she would laugh because TJ always tickles with his joke. He is a funny man. She would eat the bread so feisty then go to sleep. When her bedroom door knocked twice, she would go to the closet and wake up only when she hears TJ whistles, the sound of the songbird.
Jillian was now mature and wise. Though her body was still small, and her braid now long gone, she was no longer hiding in the closet. Her mother was no longer there. Since the day they spreading “The Good News” of the new promised land, among the lonely and tired, her mother left and never turn back. TJ said, “She finally found her wings. If she is happy, then we should be happy, letting her be happy. You see, your mother, she is a songbird too.” The raids was no longer knocking doors to doors, they now knockdown the system and held the seats at The Golden View. The streets were no longer silent, but the people were. Children were playing again in the streets, Dough the Milkman was roaming around again with his feet, TJ was breathing outside again every morning, but nobody, nobody, is free. The people knew, that there were eyes everywhere. Nobody could trust anybody no more. Aunt Danty said to Jillian, with a careful whisper when they cross each other in line at the Sunday Mass, “This is what they have been planning to do. All this time, we were fooled. It is not the banging doors we should be afraid of. It is the quietness, it is the silent.” Then they would part ways as they never even knew each other.
Jillian hair was now blowing with the wind. Her frizz was turning gracefully as she turn her head. The day of the Lord was also TJ’s birthday. She once said that she would fly back, but to that day she never even leave the house. When evening came, she cooked seventy breads with cheese cream on it, because nothing is impossible for TJ. The smile on TJ’s face when the breads loomed up in front of his eyes. For once again, TJ would tell Jillian the story about the day she was born. How the songbird were singing the second she became a part of the world. On that night, TJ said;
“Songbirds… They are the tiny ones. Not so big, just simple birds with strong mouths. They are the noisy ones, even annoying sometimes. Those mornings when you just want to have a peace of mind in bed, not yet waking up, but there they are, always opening their mouth, like what they say matter. Sometimes we couldn’t see them, but we could hear their sound. We looked around and they were nowhere to be seen, we couldn’t tell if they perch far or near. Yet we could always hear their sound… Loud and near. First I thought they were just chattering nonsense. But on the day you were born, I finally able to hear their voice. Not rambling, not chattering, but a clear voice, of a perfect melody. That day, I knew. Songbirds, they are just small birds with strong mouth, always making a sound. But my child, they sing. Do not let them silence you, my sweet little songbird.”
Then they would laugh until they cry, for TJ was indeed a funny man. TJ told Jillian that Pearson, the Newspaper guy, had a thing for her. “I knew it when I look into his eyes. Pearson is a good man. You should marry him. I give you both my blessing.” Then Jillian would scream and her face turned red, saying that it is not an important thing, as her face turned more red. They laughed for once more. They raced to eat the entire seventy loaf of bread, but tomorrow was still another day. So they only ate up to twenty five at most, and saved the rest in good care. Jillian cleaned up the mess. TJ took his medicine, walked slowly with his stick towards his bedroom. The strength that he once had was no more, yet his spirit remains the same. What the eyes see must change, but there are some things that will never change. He would stop for a second, turn his head, look back to Jillian, and pray. How loud is the unseen.
On that night, TJ went to sleep first. Jillian was still awoke, in her bedroom, looking out the window. After all those years, she started to remember the dream that once hers. She wondered to herself if that dream is still alive. Then she heard gunshot from across the street. Twice. She wondered either it was two bullets or two people. But she could not care less. Suddenly, it worried her, how she could no longer feel fear, and how her heartbeats no longer run for miles. She remembered those days inside the closet, how the only thing she could see was pitch black. Her heartbeats ran so fast, tears would come every single nights. How she prayed and prayed to hear TJ whistling her to go out. Of all voices, she knew TJ’s. But then she realized, she never knew her own voice. Never. She never sing. Not even a whistle. But how come TJ always have faith for her? Then tears started come down from her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she cried. It was a long time ago. She started to remember things that she forgot, like the face of her mother, her braids, her dreams, and her own name.
On that night, just when everything started to come back to her, when TJ was started to close his eyes, when the sound of gunshot was heard four times nearer, when the rebellion was finally yelling their first songbird, when suddenly there is a beautiful fire in the sky, when she finally realized that the only song she ever knew was the songbird whistle outside the closet, when she knew that tomorrow everything will never be the same anymore… Jillian started to sing.