Manu loves the wind. The wind will set him free. The wind will lift him skyward from his rooftop. The warm northwester ruffles his hair and tugs at his folded wings as he perches high on the gable roof of his house. He’s gauging wind velocity, tempting the air as he leans into the breeze. Today he will fly!
‘Hey Manu! What are you doing up there?’ calls his father.
‘Eh?’ says Manu.
‘You heard me boy, what the blue blazes are you doing up there!’
The blue blazes is what his father says when he’s trying not to swear.
Manu tries to think of something to say but he can’t, so he just shrugs instead and says ‘Aw… nothing.’
‘Doesn’t look like nothing to me boy!’ his father says, ‘what’s that contraption you’ve got yourself strapped into eh? Is that what you’ve been up to in my shed? You get down from there before you fall off and break something! How’d you get up there anyway with all that get-up on? Jeez boy, what goes on in that head of yours eh?’
All the while the northwest wind is building. Manu wants to leap into the air and open his wings and fly away. But the wind isn’t strong enough yet so he keeps his wings folded and tries very hard to ignore his father’s yelling.
His father of course, is right about the shed. Where else was Manu going to find all the wire and wood and screws and glues and pulleys and hinges and nylon chords and old belts and harnesses and leftover wallpapers and various other little bits and pieces needed to construct his wings? His father kept all kinds of interesting things in the shed. It’s also where he kept the ladder.
‘…You’re trying to fly again, aren’t you! How many times have I told you boy? Just because we called you Manu doesn’t make you a flaming bird! When are you going to learn? You’re a flaming human being boy…!’
Flaming is worse than the blue blazes on his father’s trying-not-to-swear scale.
‘What’s all the shouting?’ Manu’s mother shouts. She could hear his father’s yelling from inside the house so naturally, she comes outside to see what all the racket is.
‘Have a look at your son…’ bellows Manu’s father, pointing to the boy perched high on the roof of the house.
‘Oh no… Not again!’ his mother sighs, ‘Manu! Don’t you remember what happened last time?’
‘LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER!’ his father roars.
‘What’s all that shouting about?’ inquires the neighbour from over the fence, who happens to be the noisiest neighbour in town so it isn’t long before everyone knows what Manu’s father is shouting about.
People begin to gather outside Manu’s house, curious about the boy on the rooftop.
Meanwhile Manu waits upon the apex of the gable, appearing not to notice the steadily growing crowd.Soooooon the wind blows softly into his ears. Sooooooon….
Anyway, last time doesn’t count. Not really. His first wings weren’t real wings, which was why they never worked. They were flimsy things made in a hurry out of broken umbrellas and pieces of string. They werepretend wings. They were not meant for the rooftop. But Manu didn’t know that at the time. He just got carried away with the idea.
And so as he lay on the lawn after last time with the wind knocked out of him and a twisted ankle and ‘lucky not to have a broken leg!’ (According to his mother), he realised that pretend wings were useless.
His name was Manu after all. He should have the wings of a bird!
And even as he lay there thinking these things, the warm northwester blew softly into his ears,Soooooooooooon….
One day, a little while after last time, Manu asked his father, ‘Dad, which bird is the best at flying?’ His father thought about it for a moment before answering, ‘The Albatross boy! Flies for days y’ know. Weeks at a time even. Flies in its sleep the albatross does.’ Then his father eyed him suspiciously, ‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Just curious’ said Manu.
That was it then.
Manu would build himself albatross wings!
He searched ‘Albatross Wings’ on the Internet at the library. He had a look in a big heavy book about birds. He discovered something wonderful. Albatross can fly without flapping. Albatross can ride the wind. Albatross can soar. Those were the wings for Manu all right.
He made notes and drew up plans in the back of his Homework Exercise Book. He measured and figured and calculated. He started fossicking in the shed. He worked in secret, hiding his wings in the dark at the back of the shed with all the other junk.
Slowly his wings came together, one piece fitting another according to the plans until each wing, when extended, was as twice as long as he. And not only that, but Manu’s wings were patterned in wallpaper stripes and red roses.
The wind sweeps over the rooftops of the town, through the TV aerials, chimneys, and satellite TV dishes, through the power lines and trees, between the houses, down the street, through the crowd outside his house, promising Manu as it blows, Soooooooon….
‘He won’t jump!’ scoffs Lucy Fox from three houses down, and one half of the Fox twins from Manu’s class at school.
‘He will!’ says Lottie, the younger Fox by three minutes twenty-five seconds, who thinks she just might marry Manu one day when she grows up.
Lucy of course, thinks Manu is completely stupid, ‘like most boys are stupid as far as I can see. This just proves it!’
‘He’ll jump all right!’ says the nosy neighbour, who isn’t going to miss the show for anything, ‘He’s done it before… He’ll do it again!’
But most of the gathering crowd agree with Lucy.
Someone else does wonder aloud, ‘Should we call the fire brigade?’
Another someone else replies, ‘Why? He’s not on fire.’
Manu’s mother tells his father urgently ‘Go up there and get him down before he hurts himself!’
Manu’s father, finally done with all his shouting by the gradual appearance of half the town, obediently heads off round the house looking for the ladder that Manu must have used to climb up onto the roof.
Snowman Stan the Whippy Man can’t believe his luck as he drives the Whippy Snow Freeze van slowly down the street - a crowd in need of snowfreeze ice cream gathered on the roadside! He pulls up outside Manu’s house with the Whippy tune blaring and the snowfreeze machine churning.
The Fox twins each buy a double-cone dipped in chocolate sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. Small children pester their mothers, ‘Mum - can I have an ice cream?’ Snowman Stan the Whippy Man has no idea what Manu is doing up there on the roof, he just hopes that whatever it is, the boy will keep on doing it for a while.
The Whippy tune clangs and chimes like a tui that’s forgotten the words to its own song, each note happily flicked away by the wind so that if you were not far away down the street the tune would make no sense whatsoever, and yet to Manu’s ears the wind says only, ‘Soooooooooooon’.
Manu’s father finds the ladder. Up he goes. Carefully he climbs the roof to the apex of the gable. Manu stands at the northern end with his wings still folded, leaning slightly into the wind as it sweeps across the sky growing stronger as it comes.
Until at last, just as his father is about to call out to him, the wind blows Nowwwwwwwww to Manu.
A gobsmacked Lucy Fox drops her double-cone dipped in chocolate with sprinkled hundreds and thousands. Lottie cheers along with the nosy neighbour. Manu’s mother worries ‘Oh please be careful son’.
Manu’s father stands on the rooftop and scratches his head in disbelief, watching as his son soars away into the distance over the treetops and the town, carried aloft by the northwest wind and his wonderful wings as if he was born in the sky. ‘How the flaming blue blazes did he do that?’
© Ben Brown
Read our interview with Ben Brown.