One of a Kind
A rare, black flamingo is born in the Caribbean and he is shunned by the flock until he becomes a hero by saving their habitat from human destruction.
The time had come. In the warm darkness of his egg, the flamingo chick moved.
His mother stood up. She fussed about, touching the egg gently with her bill.
He looked through the crack. All he could see was the soft, blue Caribbean sky.
He heard his mother outside. Everything was new and strange. He thought that he would burst from excitement. Then he found his voice.
“Mama,” he cheeped.
“Son,” she answered.
He thought that his mother’s voice was the most beautiful sound he would ever hear.
He fought for a long time to be free of the egg. Darkness came then light again. Whenever he needed strength, he called and his mother urged him on. Sometimes another voice answered. He knew it must be his father.
At last, he was free.
He looked up at his mother. Her scarlet face was filled with love. Then a shadow of surprise passed across her pale yellow eyes.
She turned towards the lagoon and called. “Ka ha. Ka ha.”
His father stopped feeding and came up to the nest.
“Jose, look at our son.”
His father stretched his long neck to look closely at the chick. He drew back and said, “There is something wrong with him. We must watch carefully how he grows.”
“What should we call him?”
Father looked again. His son’s downy coat was midnight blue. “He looks black so let’s call him Naygro.”
Naygro felt that his parents were unhappy, but he didn’t know why. This made him unhappy.
After eight days, Naygro’s mother said, “It’s time for you to explore, Naygro. Come down to the lagoon and watch how I feed.”
Naygro was so excited that he tripped over his large, black feet and rolled down the side of his cone-shaped nest.
His mother laughed. “Stay close and come when I call. There may be gulls or sea-eagles around.”
They reached the edge of the lagoon. All around, Naygro could hear the low, gabbling noise of the other flamingos as they looked for food.
Suddenly, the noise stopped.
A group gathered around Naygro and his mother. Many tried to look closely at Naygro. His mother kept them away by hooking her bill and swaying her neck.
“What have you got there, Maria?” they asked, honking and grunting with laughter.
“Leave him alone.”
“I don’t think you turned the egg over enough, Maria. He’s the wrong colour,” said a young female.
“You’ll have to feed him double to get that one red,” said a large male.
“Maybe a crow slipped into the nest when you weren’t looking,” said an old female.
They all honked with laughter.
Naygro looked at the other chicks. Their down was pale grey, almost white. He looked at his midnight blue down with surprise. He burst into tears and ran back to his nest.
His father stopped preening his feathers when he saw Naygro running towards the nest. Naygro flopped into the nest cup and cried as though his heart would break.
“What’s wrong, Son?”
“They’re laughing at me, Papa. I’m a freak.”
Father’s neck shot straight up in anger. “I’ll teach them to laugh at my son.”
Mother arrived. “Save your breath, Jose. They are laughing because they’re frightened of Naygro.”
Naygro and Father looked puzzled. “Frightened?” they asked together.
“Naygro is different. Flamingos are frightened of anything different.”
“Perhaps when he moults, his second down will be normal,” his father said, hopefully.
Naygro felt sorry for his parents. He wondered how he could make them proud of him.
After 30 days, Naygro’s second down was not ash-grey as his father had hoped. 10 days later, he grew his first feathers. They were not grey-brown like those of the other young flamingos. Naygro’s new feathers were so black that, at times, they shone purple like wet grapes.
The young flamingos were spending less time with their parents. They moved around in large groups, playing and learning to find food.
Naygro wanted so much to join in their fun. He hoped the young flamingos would be kinder than their parents.
“Can I join your group?” Naygro asked.
“We don’t want to hang around with a crow,” the group’s leader replied.
“I’m not a crow! I’m a flamingo!”
“Naygro is a crow-boy. Go away, crow-boy!” they teased.
“My bill is turning down. My legs are growing long. I am a flamingo!”
They didn’t listen. They just kept chanting, “Crow-boy! Crow-boy!” louder and louder.
Naygro lost his temper. He ran at the leader, flapping his tiny wings and hooking angrily with his bill.
Then a larger bill pushed Naygro away. It belonged to his father. Naygro looked up. Some adults had come to see what the trouble was. Naygro’s father stood in front of him to protect him.
“Your son is a troublemaker,” a large male said.
“Yes, keep him away from our children from now on,” a female said.
Back at the nest, Naygro told his parents, “I am going to live on the far shore of the lagoon. I will only cause trouble for you if I stay with the flock.”
His mother cried. She whispered, “I’ll sneak down to feed you when I can.”
His father tried to look brave. “Watch out for vultures and eagles.”
“I will, Papa.”
Naygro walked away. His father called, “Son, take special care if you see people-creatures.”
Life was lonely for Naygro. During the day, he taught himself the ways of the flamingo, but, at night, he missed his parents very much
One day, a loud noise made Naygro look up from feeding. Further up the lagoon, thousands of his flock were performing a group display.
The flamingos marched quickly back and forward. They were tightly grouped. They called loudly as they waved their heads from side to side. Then they stopped and stood very straight. Thousands of wings opened and closed quickly, flashing red to black. The flock made low, grunting noises. Then they changed to loud calls again for a new part of the display. As the display went on, the excitement of the flamingos grew.
Naygro’s excitement grew too. He longed to be part of the display.
Suddenly, a sound like a million, angry bees filled the sky. The biggest bird Naygro had ever seen swooped low over the lagoon.
The adult flamingos took flight. Naygro could not fly yet so he ran to hide in the mangroves.
Inside the plane, Roger and Jenny Castle were taking pictures of the flamingos in flight. They were too busy to notice Naygro. But their eight-year- old daughter, Grace, had.
“Mummy, back there! I saw a black flamingo.”
“Don’t be silly, Grace. There’s no such thing as a black flamingo.”
A few hours later, Naygro heard another frightening noise.
Naygro peeked over the mud bank to where the noise was coming from. He could not believe his eyes.
There were monsters with people-creatures riding on them. The monsters had wide, flat bills and legs like caterpillars. They scraped their bills along the ground and pushed the mud up to make banks. If anything got in their way, they just pushed it over.
What enormous nests they must build, thought Naygro.
Naygro ran as fast as he could to warn the flock.
“Monsters! There are monsters near the lagoon,” Naygro panted as he ran up to some adult flamingos.
“What trouble are you causing now, crow-boy?”
“No. I saw monsters with people-creatures on their backs. We must fight them before they attack our lagoon.”
One wise, old flamingo said, “You can’t fight people-creatures. We must leave the lagoon.”
“But some of us can’t fly yet. I’m going to fight,” said Naygro.
The wise, old flamingo said, “If I were you, Naygro, I would run as far away as I could.”
Naygro ran back to where the monsters were. His heart was beating so fast it was nearly bursting out of his chest.
He walked down the mud bank towards one of the monsters. He hooked his bill to warn the monster off. It ignored him so he swayed his head and neck from side to side. He grunted like he had heard his father do.
He was staring so hard at the monster that he did not see one of the people- creatures picking up a stone. The people-creature threw the stone at Naygro to chase him away. The stone hit Naygro under the right wing where it joined his body.
Naygro ran back over the bank. He felt warm, sticky blood running down his leg. He could not feel his right wing. The world seemed full of stars and his head was full of noise. It sounded like the sea roaring up and down the sand.
Just as he reached the mangroves, he fell over. His world went black.
When he woke up, he was lying on something cold and smooth. Two people-creatures were looking down at him. One was old with feathers around his bill. The other seemed to be a chick because she was small. She had long, yellow down on her head.
Naygro tried to get up and run.
The old one held him down. “There, there, young fellow. You’ll be sore for a while, but nothing’s broken,” he said.
Another one of the people-creatures appeared. He seemed to be the father of the chick. He said to her, “Mum and I are sorry we didn’t believe you, Grace. No one has ever seen a black flamingo before.”
“Can I keep him, Daddy?”
“No, Grace. He belongs in the wild. Scientists will come from all over the world to study him.”
“Does this mean you won’t build your salt-works in the lagoon, Mr. Castle?” asked the old one.
“Doctor, this black flamingo has won the fight for the conservationists. The lagoon will stay just as it is.”
The old one looked down at Naygro and said, “You’re a hero, young fellow.”
Grace stood on the mud bank. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She watched Naygro walking along the shore to join his flock. It was easy to see his small, black body as he made his way through a sea of red bodies.
Now there was no teasing and cruel laughter. The flock pressed around Naygro. There was silence as he told his story.
When he finished, the wise, old flamingo said, “Naygro, the next time the flock breeds, we want you to lead the group display.”
Naygro looked at his parents. Their eyes were shining with pride.
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