She landed on the daisy as daintily as she could, spreading her wings to keep her balance. The wind was blowing in gusts, which made landing a difficult process, but once her feet had taken hold of the silver petals, she knew she was safely home.
Her wings were faded when compared with the others who had settled into the daisy shrub for the night. They were worn and frayed. But most noticeably of all, they were torn along the bottom as though someone had come and ripped them in half.
But they were her wings, and she loved them dearly, exactly as they were.
‘Greetings, friend,’ cried a small voice. She looked down upon the ladybird who had spoken from the next flower. ‘What’s happened to your wings? They look like old leaves rotting on the forest floor.’
The butterfly was not offended by the ladybird’s brash way of speaking. She knew it was just their way. ‘Oh, it’s a long story,’ she replied.
‘Why don’t you grow another pair?’ asked the ladybird.
‘We can only make one set, I’m afraid.’
‘What luck,’ she exclaimed. ‘One set, and you ruin yours. How can you even fly with such little wing left? You must wish for the days you were a caterpillar, at least then you’d never know how much you’ve lost!’
‘Oh, it wasn’t so simple then, either.’
‘What can a caterpillar possibly fear? All they do is eat and eat, and then sleep in their cocoons until they’re reborn as butterflies.’
The butterfly laughed. ‘Would you like to learn what really happens?’
‘Sure,’ said the ladybird, ‘but make it quick.’
She was born upon a geranium leaf with bright pink flowers which faded to white at their tips. Her leaf was crowded with other young caterpillars who had hatched at the same time as she. All were hungry newborns. So they fed on those lush leaves which filled their tummies and gave them shelter in the early days.
One morning, a shadow blocked the sun above them. A huge figure loomed over their beloved geranium, its voice booming.
‘Oh, you little buggers!’
The monster reached down and began squishing her little playmates between its fingers. She crawled across the leaf as quickly as her clumsy body would let her, and dropped to the ground just in time. It was a long and arduous journey to her new home, but eventually she found a safe haven in a nearby apple tree.
The little caterpillar learned quickly. She made sure to stick to the undersides of leaves so that the birds won’t find her, and to keep still when the garden monster patrolled the grounds, searching for little creatures to squash.
With a keen eye and a sharp mind, she was able to survive.
She ate and she ate, until finally she felt some ancient stirring in her body that let her know the time had come. She wove her cocoon and closed herself within.
Most creatures believe that this is typically the end of the story. The caterpillar disappears and the butterfly emerges. But that’s not the case at all. Deep in the darkness of her cocoon, her body melted away around her in a way so painful, she could never describe it to one who has not experienced it for themselves.
She felt every part of her dissolving into nothing.
But she never once complained, or even made a sound. She let the ancient calling create new pieces for a new body, and it put her back together in a way that’s altogether different.
One morning she felt whole again, and the pain began to fade.
Just as the dawn began to lighten the sky, she pushed and fought her way out of the cocoon and emerged with her new, beautiful, painfully-bought wings.
Oh, how she loved her wings, even though the making of them had caused her so much agony. She looked back at how they shimmered in the sunlight and marvelled at how quickly she could travel from flower to flower with their help.
They worked hard for her, and she loved them in return.
She learned to dance with the other butterflies, and explored areas of the garden she had never seen before. Even the garden monster seemed hypnotized by the beauty of her wings, and simply watched every time she flew by with awe across its face.
One morning, she landed in her favourite apple tree, where the blossoms were just starting to bloom. A starling landed on the branch beside her, its head cocked on an angle as it admired her wings.
‘Those are some lovely wings you have, dear butterfly,’ exclaimed the starling. ‘May I have a closer look?’
The butterfly remembered the trickery of birds she had witnessed as a caterpillar, but perhaps as a butterfly their relationship had changed. They were both winged things, after all.
She moved a little closer for the bird to see her wings better.
‘Oh my, how radiant they are! And how intricate the pattern. But alas, my old eyes are not as sharp as they once were. Could you come just a little bit closer so that I can see them more clearly?’
The butterfly hesitated, but then she moved a little closer. And then a little more. With one sharp snap of its beak, the bird snatched up the butterfly’s wings and held on as tight as it could, shaking the poor little creature. The butterfly fought for its life, pulling against the starling’s beak, until it felt the tear across her wings.
She didn’t stop, even as pieces of wing floated down around her.
She flew as fast as her damaged wings would take her, desperate to get out of reach of the bird. Tumbling wildly through the air, she fell to the ground and landed in a bank of violets. Tucked away in the shadows, she caught her breath. It took a long time for her to gain the courage to inspect her poor wings. Both were torn across the bottom half, leaving them woefully short. She couldn’t balance properly and had to angle them just to keep her feet steady.
For a long time she lay in the dirt beneath those heart-shaped leaves, mourning her loss, too broken to fly, and too scared to leave.
The next morning she was awakened by a rustling sound somewhere behind her. She turned to see a lizard with its reptilian stare fixed upon her wings.
‘Why don’t you flee, little one? You know I can eat you before you’ve had time to blink?’
‘Eat me, then,’ she replied. ‘I have nothing left to lose.’
The lizard stared without blinking, the scales around its eyes glistening. ‘You know, I used to have the longest, most beautiful tail in the kingdom. But then a jealous cat took it from me. And just like that, I was left with…well, look for yourself.’
The lizard turned around to show a short stump where once a tail had been.
‘I too lost something dear to me, yet I keep going, don’t I? Your wings were a part of you, as my tail was a part of me. But perhaps it is our memories and the scars we bear which are more a part of us than our limbs.’
The butterfly felt a small rush of hope. ‘But how can I fly now?’
‘Let’s see, shall we?’ The lizard rushed at the butterfly, and as it did the butterfly flapped its wings as hard as it could, launching into the air. Her heart raced in terror. She flew so fast that she didn’t even look back to see how the lizard laughed beneath those heart-shaped leaves.
‘And that, dear ladybird, is what happened to my wings and how I learned that I could still be whole even though they no longer are.’
‘So you don’t miss your days as a caterpillar?’
‘Not even a little bit.’
‘And your broken wings don’t make you sad?’
The butterfly tucked her wings up before curling herself upon the daisy’s golden centre. ‘They’re not perfect,’ said the butterfly, ‘but they are mine, and they make me proud.’
She closed her eyes to go to sleep. But the ladybird stared for a little while longer.
‘To think,’ the ladybird muttered to herself, ‘I never even knew what the caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly.’
~ By Ekaterina