“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild.”
― Stephen King, Different Seasons: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
Cages come in many shapes and sizes.
I stood at the foot of the gate, gazing at the grey cement road that shot as straight as an arrow into the distance. Like a window to another world, the view was framed by towering iron fences. I glanced at my feet. Boots, black, with a shine so deep, one could easily see their own reflection. I had spent most of last night polishing them to perfection. I wasn’t sure why. It didn’t really make sense, considering that this was probably the last time I will ever wear them.
Twenty-two years is a long time. The thought dawned on me. Twenty-two years of following orders. Not having to think. To simply just do. I had prided myself on my ability to carry out my orders to the letter. The row of glittering medals across my chest, proof of my deeds, demanded respect from all those who wore the same uniform. Yet before the day was out, these would become a relic of the past. Locked away in drawer, all but forgotten.
Turning around, I looked over my shoulder. Buildings, two-storied with red bricks, much like those you could find anywhere in this part of the world, stood in orderly rows. To an ordinary man, these may appear the same as any other building. But to me, they were distinctively different. Different, perhaps not in shape or design, but in the emotion they stirred within me. Feelings of home, of belonging.
“Left! Right! Left!” The voice of a drill sergeant marching his troops cuts through the air. “Platoon! Salute to the left! Salute!” The sergeant rhythmically calls to the ranks of men. With the kind of precision that only comes with years of disciplined practice, the Platoon snapped their hands to their forehead in unison. I return their salute, an action as natural to me as breathing.
As the Platoon marched into the distance, I returned my gaze to the road ahead. I was being ridiculous. I had led men into battle. Faced death itself. But this feeling deep in my stomach was one I hadn’t felt in a long time.
A pair of magpies flew overhead with joyful chirps and playful tumbling. Swooping from one side of the fence to the other, as if to mock my fears.
“It’s all my head” I muttered under my breath.
I was not sure what awaited me at the end of that road. But I knew it was a path I must take. Sink or swim, it did not matter. What lay ahead was endless possibility. Surely that is reason enough.
A small part of me had wished I had made this journey earlier, at a time when I was younger. I let go of the thought. It was too late for regrets.
With a cold sweat atop my brow, I grabbed my black case and stepped over the threshold. For the first time in 22 years, I was a free man.
This story was created as part of a writing prompt from the creative cafe on Medium.
Please let me know what you think in the comments and follow!