There was always someone who was more brilliant or faster or more clever, always. At least, that’s how Sharyn always felt. She kicked a rock out of her way as she walked home from school and dragged her backpack behind her. The rock skittered off into the bushes and startled a bird into flight. It was some kind of warbler. She wasn’t sure which kind.
The bird flew up to the lowest branch of the nearest tree and cocked its head to the side, considering her. “Why are you glum, human?”
Sharyn stopped so suddenly that her backpack hit her calves, but she didn’t notice the sharp pain. Her eyes went wide as her mouth dropped open.
“It’s rude not to answer. What’s wrong, human?” the bird asked again.
“Birds don’t talk.” Sharyn squeezed her shut and was sure when she opened them the bird would be gone.
Instead, it was closer, sitting on the top of the bush it had flushed out of only a minute before.
“Well, I don’t know about all birds. But I am a chiffchaff.”
“A chiffchaff.” The bird drew itself up to its full, small height and puffed its dull-yellow feathered chest. “The most noble of birds. And you still haven’t answered my question, human.”
“Oh, yes.” She scratched the back of her neck. “I’m not as fast or clever as the rest of the kids in my class.”
“And that’s why you are sad?”
“I’m not sad.” Her words sounded like a lie even to her.
“Of course not.” The chiffchaff, whose name was George, but they weren’t friendly enough yet for first names. “But they can’t be that clever.”
“Why?” Sharyn screwed up her face in question.
“Well, they’re not talking to me, now are they?”
“No, but how does that make them not clever?” Her head began hurting her like when she was trying to solve a long division problem with a remainder.
“Think harder.” The chiffchaff seemed to smile.
Sharyn started gnawing on her bottom lip. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m confused.”
George laughed and it came out as a rolling twitter. “Oh, no. A confusion is a bunch of us. You haven’t experienced that…yet.”
And she forgot all about feeling dull or unhappy as she smiled. And George chatted with her entire way home before he took off and joined his flock in the tree in her front yard. She knew then if she remembered nothing else, she’d remember it the chiffchaff and its flock, a confusion.