by Matthew Rodriguez

“Little Italy, Boston,” a photograph by Maya Hernandez.

Now in all the world there was no color to human sound, and speech was all that came out of the people’s mouths. People toiled in the fields day and night wordlessly, engulfed in their exhaustion and misery. The animals were not subject to such a curse, and the Hummingbird in particular was heralded among them as the one who could produce the brightest and most beautiful melodies. The Hummingbird, being a generous bird, took pity on the humans. “Let us perform for the humans, and raise their spirits with our songs,” he said to the other animals.

So, one day, he gathered the birds, the most mobile of the animals, and flew to the fields and gathered all the birds in one spot. The workers came to find out the cause of the commotion, and once he saw that most of them had arrived, the Hummingbird sang a loud and piercing note, captivating the attention of everyone in the area. And he continued to sing as the other birds began to join in one by one. The performance enraptured each and every human, and the people, who had before known no rhythm nor song, began to dance and work with more vigor than they ever had. As the song drew to a climax, all the birds sang and chirped and tapped their feet with everything they had, seeing the joy in the people’s faces. Then, finally, each quieted themselves one by one just as they had joined in at the beginning until the Hummingbird was left singing one last soft set of notes. As he concluded, the humans felt an inexplicable mix of emotions well up within them, and not one person’s face was dry when the Hummingbird let out his final pitch. The fields that day were tended to faster than they ever were, and the humans begged the birds to return the next day.

Thus, the Hummingbird and the rest of the birds returned each day and motivated the people to work the fields and allowed them to do so with lightness in their hearts. But the humans, in their natural greed, gradually came to be unsatisfied with the daily performances. Some did not enjoy the songs played on specific days, and others wanted to hear music more frequently. Eventually, they came to the consensus that they wished to have control over colorful sound, and one of them, a man named Dissonan, hatched a plot to kidnap the Hummingbird. One day, when the birds came to sing, the humans distracted the birds by asking them to explain how they were able to produce music. The Hummingbird and the rest of the birds found it difficult to answer this question, and thus were occupied with trying to come up with an answer. The Hummingbird’s compatriot, the Woodpecker, decided to use her knowledge of both singing and craftsmanship (as she frequently carved wood) to show the humans what it was like to create music by creating a tool the humans could use, and flew off. While the birds were distracted, Dissonan snuck up from behind and bagged the Hummingbird with a burlap sack. The birds, shocked, attempted to rescue their friend, but Dissonan and the humans kept the sack away from them despite their pecking and clawing. When the Blue Jay was killed in the fighting, the birds realized they had no choice but to retreat, and reluctantly fled.

Later that night, the people opened the sack in a barn. They had expected the Hummingbird to attempt to flee, but instead he weakly flew out of the sack. Paying no heed to this, the humans demanded that the Hummingbird play a song for them. When what came out of the Hummingbird’s beak was not a melody but an ear-damaging sound, Dissonan and the humans realized that Dissonan’s violent movements as he tried to protect the sack had evidently hurt the Hummingbird. Seeing the sad sight, a bird who had once prided himself in his singing now unable to produce a single note, the people realized that they had done a terrible thing, and guilt washed over them. They freed the bird, but the Hummingbird collapsed and perished only a few feet away from the barn.

The Woodpecker, having finally returned with her creation, saw this and dropped the stick she had meticulously carved in shock and despair. Dissonan, in a rage after his plan had failed, attempted to take his frustration out on the Woodpecker, but the rest of the humans stopped him, not wishing any more bloodshed on their hands. The Woodpecker flew off, forgetting her stick, to bring news of the Hummingbird’s death to the rest of the animals. In their grief, they vowed never to perform for the humans again.

The people later noticed what the Woodpecker had left behind. It was a cylindrical stick, with multiple holes in it. When a human picked it up and tried to use it, it sounded exactly like the Hummingbird’s voice, and they quickly realized they could play music with it. But when Dissonan attempted to use the tool, the sounds that came out were ugly and painful to listen to, and they named the terrible sound Dissonance. The people eventually learned how to reproduce the tool and create melodies just as beautiful as those of the birds, but for many generations their songs were sad and lamenting due to the guilt they and their descendants felt about their horrible deeds.