The Boy with Birds
in His Heart

by Quentin Norris

I once knew a boy with birds living in his heart.

Those were the first words he said to me on the first day of school. He was tall and gangly for a first-grader, like a miniature scarecrow. His wiry hair exploded from his head and hung over his dark skin. He entered the classroom, walked straight over to me, looked me dead in the eyes and said:

“Hello, my name is Samuel and there are birds living in my heart.”

This was my first year as a teacher, and I’d prepared myself for kids to make some strange claims, but I wasn’t ready for it to happen so soon. I figured they’d wait to warm up to me a bit before unleashing all their First Grade Thoughts, but little Samuel wasn’t waiting around for anything, he just came right out and let me know exactly what was on his mind at that moment, which was that he apparently had birds inside his ribcage. I chuckled and gave him the warmest Teacher Smile I could.

“Hi, Samuel. I’m Mr. Everett. That’s very interesting.” He returned the smile and tilted his head to the side.

“Yeah, I just wanted to let you know because sometimes it might cause me to miss a few days or leave early or something.”

After that, he turned on his heel, found his seat, and sat down. He folded his hands and quietly waited for class to start. To say I was puzzled by the interaction would have been an understatement, but I logged it in my mind as nothing more than a quirky interaction with a child with an active imagination, never thinking I’d hear anything about it again. I would be very wrong about that assumption.

Samuel was absent from class more than any other student. Sometimes there would be full weeks without Samuel in class. I would call his mother every now and then, expressing concern. She would always react the same way, saying thank you, but Samuel’s just not feeling well. Once when I called, I scoffed and replied “The birds again?” There was dead silence on the other line for a full ten seconds. Finally, she responded with a cold “yes” before hanging up.

Once, during naptime, I heard the sound of birdsong coming from the huddled mass of blanketed first-graders on the floor, interspersed with the giggling of children. After further investigation, I found out it was coming from Samuel’s cot. He appeared to be sleeping, but each time he exhaled a little chirp would escape his lips. I sat him up and told him to cut it out. Sometimes he would run up to me while I was in the middle of writing up a lesson on the board. I would feel a slight tug at my pant leg, look down, and see his little frame standing next to me, his right hand clutching his chest. He’d tell me he had to go to the bathroom right away. I felt bad denying him this, so I always let him go. He usually wouldn’t come back until five minutes before the bell rang.

I caught students bullying him much more often than I cared to. They would corner him by the water fountain or in a secluded section of the library. “Open your mouth” they’d yell. “We wanna see the birds.”

Once I caught a student prying his mouth open and trying to peek inside. I had the little creep suspended for a month.

Although I felt for him, I grew tired of his obsessive delusion. If he let go of these fantasies, maybe he wouldn’t get picked on so much.

Then, one day at recess, I realized I couldn’t see Samuel anywhere on the playground. I peeked around the corner of the building and saw a group of boys huddled up against the brick wall. Samuel’s hair was sticking up over their heads.

“You know how we can get those birds out of you?” sneered one of the kids. He didn’t wait for Samuel’s response and started hitting him over and over again in the stomach. My vision went red, and I stormed around the corner, screaming at the boys. They scattered in different directions, including Samuel, who ducked around the side of the building. I followed him and peered around the corner.

He sat against the brick wall, alone, hands on his knees, head down, breathing heavily. I was about to approach him when he started to gag. I stopped. He hiccuped and coughed. A strange gurgle came from his throat. He lifted his head back, and something started pushing its way up. A small beak poked out of his mouth. He brought down his head and vomited up a small songbird that plopped into his cupped hands. The bird hopped up, shook off the bile that soaked its wings, and soared into the air. Samuel vomited up four more birds as I watched in dumbstruck awe.

He craned his head upward again and watched the birds fly off and disappear in the sunlight. In the distance, the bell for class rang. Samuel didn’t budge, still staring up at the sky. I left him there, giving him a moment before he had to return to the real world, a little emptier than before.

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