The Parrot and the Tree of Youth
Pictures in My Heart is a collection of personal stories that illustrate how Hazara families who arrived in 1999 and 2001 persevered in Afghanistan, and how they have found new hope in Australia.The publisher of Pictures in My Heart has kindly permitted The Point Magazine to feature some of the book’s personal stories.This is a story told to Saeed Kazim Mosawie by Khoda Rahim
Please note: This story relies on the knowledge that in Islam it is prohibited to eat any animal without knowing the cause of its death. In Islam animals must be killed in a specified way. Only then is the meat fit for consumption for Muslims, or Halal.
Once upon a life, there was a young boy who lived with his old mother in a little hut. Every day he would go out to the nearby plains, hoping to trap birds for food. One early spring morning when the plains were still covered in snow, he ventured out with his trap. He found a likely spot, cleared the snow and spread a few grains to set his trap. Then he sat hiding behind a rock, pondering what luck would bring and soaking up the pleasant warmth of the sun. A few hours passed uneventfully, until he fell into a deep sleep.
Soon after, a flock of 40 parrots came to feed on the grains and, in doing so, fell into the trap. Caught, the parrots cursed their recklessness and foolishness. They prayed that the grains they had eaten turn into poison inside, for they had unwittingly embraced death. Finally, one said, ‘Being regretful will not help us. Let’s find a way out!’
To free themselves, they decided to feign death, knowing their bodies would be of no use to the hunter. It was also decided that until all were freed, none should fly off. As planned, they spread their wings to look dead.
Before long, the boy awoke and looked over at his trap. What a bounty! Not one, not two – a whole flock of parrots had fallen into his trap! Delighted, he ran towards it. But when he saw the parrots, he began to moan, ‘What a pity they’re all dead!’
His joy turned to sorrow. One by one, he began to untangle the dead birds. He was about to free the very last, when the other 39, thinking that the boy had freed them all, flew away. They had been too hasty. Realising what had just happened, the boy cringed. He held tightly the 40th parrot all the way home.
Seeing the game was up, the parrot began to cry. Unmoved, the boy put a knife to his throat. He pleaded desperately, ‘If you kill me, there will not be enough blood to wet a pebble, nor enough meat to fill even a small pot. I was about to give my daughter’s hand in marriage … As a matter of fact, we were on our way to the groom’s when this happened. Please, I beg you! Give me only three days to attend my daughter’s wedding. Please, please let me do this! I promise I will return. You will be duly rewarded, I assure you.’
Hearing this, the boy was moved to pity and was about to let go of the poor parrot when his mother intervened: ‘Don’t do anything so foolish! Birds and beasts are not to be trusted! Once gone, they will never return.’
The old woman’s words made the boy change his mind. The parrot began to cry. He cried so loudly and for so long that the boy again took pity on him. ‘What if this parrot is telling the truth? Perhaps I should trust him.’
And before his mother was able to stop him, he let go of the parrot. It flew off, soaring high into the sky until it disappeared from their sight.
The third and final day was drawing to a close but still there was no sign of the parrot. The old woman who had bitten her tongue until then began to reproach her son.
He could say nothing. Each of his mother’s words was like the stroke of a dagger sinking into his heart. He began
to think she was right about his foolhardiness: ‘Why ever would a freed bird fly back to embrace death? Life is so sweet, after all.’
It was exactly at this moment that he noticed a black speck far up in the sky. Mother and son kept looking at the approaching dot until the boy screamed, ‘It’s the parrot!’
The old mother was visibly embarrassed. Tired and breathless, the bird landed nearby.
‘I hope I‘m not too late.’
The boy, with tears in his eyes, said, ‘No, you arrived just in time.’
The parrot said, ‘Thank God I have kept my promise. I am happy to die, now.’
He then opened his beak fully so that a seed fell to ground. The boy looked at it with great curiosity.
‘I have brought you this seed from a far away land. It is the seed of the Tree of Youth. Plant this seed and a tree will grow, the fruit of which will make the old young again.’
The old woman frowned upon hearing this but the boy eagerly went and planted the seed behind their hut. Soon, news of the Tree of Youth spread in the village, upsetting the envious; for, if it were true and the boy had got hold of such a treasure, surely his standing would rise in their community. He would command such respect that to them it would be intolerable. Secretly, in the dead of night, they poisoned the fast growing young tree.
"Days and months passed. The ‘Tree of Youth’ became known as the ‘Tree of Death’. Its fruit would ripen and fall without anybody daring to touch. As time passed, the effect of the poison gradually wore off."
When the first fruit ripened, one old man who wanted to be young again came and ate it. But sadly, he dropped dead instead.
At this, the old woman set about scolding her son, telling him that if he had killed the sinister parrot they wouldn’t be in such a predicament. The boy turned to the parrot angrily: ‘Is this my reward for being kind to you? I let you live and in return you bring me the fruit of Death?’
‘I swear to God that I brought you the seed of the Tree of Life! I don’t know what happened.’
‘Don’t listen to the nonsense of this cunning parrot. Cut off its head before it causes us even more harm!’ demanded the old woman.
The boy was beginning to have doubts. Perhaps the parrot really was cursed. Nevertheless, not fully convinced, he pleaded on its behalf: ‘What if this is the result of the trickery of some narrow-minded people?’
He tried but couldn’t convince his mother to investigate further. Finally, he had no alternative but to take the parrot out of its cage, put a knife to its throat and shed its blood.
‘You kill me but you will regret what you have done – I promise you that!’ said the bloodied dying parrot.
Days and months passed. The ‘Tree of Youth’ became known as the ‘Tree of Death’. Its fruit would ripen and fall without anybody daring to touch. As time passed, the effect of the poison gradually wore off.
One day, an old man and woman who were sick and tired of living decided to eat the fruit to end their lives. But when they did so, they didn’t die. Instead, they were transformed into a 14-year-old boy and girl. The news spread amongst the villagers and the old came and ate the fruit and became young.
The boy, realising the truth, became inconsolable. But it was too late … all the regret in the world would never bring back the parrot.
This story was written in Farsi by Saeed Kazim Mosawie and then translated to English by Mohammad Amirghiasvand.
Excerpt from Pictures in My Heart: Seeking Refuge – Afghanistan to Australia
Edited by Fiona Hamilton
[Wakefield Press 2015]
Read stories of hope and survival by Afghan Hazara refugees from South Australia