Boris did not want to grow up. Ever since he’d hatched, he’d listen to his brothers and sisters boast about all the things they would do once they were out of the nest:
“I’m going to fly higher than the sun!” Queenie squeaked.
“And I’m going to eat the fattest, juiciest worms I can find,” Buster said.
“I’m going to make my own big, beautiful nest. I can’t wait to grow up,” Fantine sighed.
“And I’m going to smell all the beautiful flowers” Minnie said. Minnie was the smallest sister. “They look so pretty, they must smell very nice. I can’t wait until I can fly over and see. How about you, Boris? What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“Nothing,” Boris said. “I don’t want to grow up.”
His siblings stared at him in shock.
“Why not?” Queenie said.
“Because I like life the way it is,” Boris said. “Mom and Dad bring us food every day, we live in a comfy nest, what else do we need?”
“Adventure!” Queenie said.
“More food!” Buster added.
“Your own space!” Fantine said.
” I don’t need adventure, I have enough food, and I’ll have my own space once you all move out,” Boris said, and turned to head back into his cozy spot of the nest for a nap.
“Time for flying lessons!” Dad announced one day after breakfast. Queenie, Buster, Fantine, and Minnie perked up. Boris yawned and swallowed another worm.
“Really?” Queenie fluttered with excitement.
“Right now?” Fantine said.
“Yes, right now. Okay kids, come with me.”
“Yay! We are finally growing up!” Minnie squeaked as the siblings followed their father out onto the giant branch outside their nest.
“Okay kids, watch me first, and then you guys will have a chance.” Dad said, and then spread his wings and took off.
“Whoa,” Buster said as their father made a loop then swooped back.
“Okay, who’s first?”
“Me! Me!” everyone clamored. Everyone, except Boris. One by one, Dad nudged Queenie, then Fantine, then Buster, off the branch and flew next to them as they fumbled and fluttered through the air. When they got tired, he would pick them up and fly them back to the nest.
“Okay, it’s just Minnie and Boris left. Who wants to go first?”
“Boris can go,” Minnie said, although it was very obvious she wanted to go.
“It’s okay,” Boris said. “Go ahead, Minnie.”
Minnie had the hardest time flying of all the rest. Not five seconds in the air, and she plummeted to the ground. If not for her father’s quick dive, she would have hit the pavement. Boris shuddered and turned around.
As Dad flew Minnie back to the safety of the nest, he called for Boris, “Your turn, son!”
“That’s okay, Dad, maybe next time,” Boris said as he turned to go.
“What are you talking about? No time like the present! Come on, son!” Dad called cheerfully. Before he knew it, Boris was airborn–thanks to a swift kick in the behind when he wasn’t looking.
“Aaaah!” Boris screamed as he fell.
“Open your wings, son! Catch the wind!” Dad called, flying beside him.
Dad swooped in and grabbed Boris before he hit the ground.
“Come on, Boris, you can do better than that. Let’s try again.”
Before Boris could stop him, Dad swooped back up and dropped Boris again.
“Aaiiiieeeee!” Boris screeched, shielding his eyes.
“No, no, no! Don’t cover your eyes, kid, open your wings!” Dad snapped as he snatched Boris, once again, right before he hit the ground.
“Time to eat!” Mom’s voice sounded far away as Dad returned a shaking Boris back to the nest.
“I am never doing that again,” Boris said to himself.
Over the next few weeks, then months, the other kids clamored for opportunities to go flying, get out of the nest, and learn all that it would take to become fully fledged and mature adults. Boris, however, did his best to hide in the nest and sleep.
“Come on, Boris, it’s time for flying lessons!” Buster would cry, nudging his chubby head into Boris’ wing.
“Not going,” Boris grunted.
“Stop moping, Bor-Bor,” Fantine said, joining the fray. “Come out and fly with us!”
“Still not going,” Boris said.
“Hmph. One day we’ll all be flying around and you’ll be stuck here by yourself,” Queenie said. “Even Minnie will be flying before you do!”
“I’m not really that good yet,” Minnie said, tentatively.
“You’ll get there, little sister. C’mon, gang! Forget this mopey chicken, we’ve got flying lessons with Dad!” Queenie summoned the others.
“Yay!” They all cried, hopping out.
Minnie turned back at the last minute. “Boris, you coming?”
“No, you go ahead.” Boris said. “I’ve got other things to do.”
As the others left, Boris wondered what he would have to do. Tap-tap-tap.
“Who is it?” Boris said.
“It’s Mom.” Mom came in and sat next to Boris. “What’s wrong, Boris? Why aren’t you taking flying lessons with the others?”
“I don’t want to learn how to fly.”
“Because I don’t want to grow up.”
“Hmm. How come?”
“I don’t want to do the things you have to do when you grow up.”
“Like what?” Mom asked.
“Build your own nest, find your own food, run from predators…”
“…and listen to your own hatchlings talk about how much they don’t want to grow up?” Mom said, with a knowing smile.
“Hrmph,” Boris said.
Mom bent and kissed him on the head. “One day,” she said, “you will find something worth growing up for.”
Then she left.
One by one, first Queenie, then Fantine, then eventually Buster, all mastered the art of flight. Minnie, though, being the smallest and weakest, never quite got the hang of flight.
“It’s really hard,” Minnie would say. “Boris, will you practice with me?” Sometimes Boris would ignore her. But more often than not, he would acquiesce to her begging and accompany her to the branch outside, where they would practice jumping up and down and flapping their wings. Boris, being bigger and stronger than she, usually made it up higher.
A few times, Minnie would tip backwards and nearly fall off, but Boris would reach out and snag her before she fell.
“Careful!” Boris warned her sternly. “Don’t jump too high. Mom and Dad aren’t out here and I can’t fly. What if you fall down and there’s a dog nearby?”
“Oh! Do you think that would really happen, Boris?” Minnie said anxiously.
“Probably not,” Boris admitted. “But still. Careful, Minnie.”
“Okay, then,” Minnie would say, hanging her head. “Should we go home now?”
“Yes, let’s,” Boris would reply, relieved.
It happened on a bright, clear, sunny day.
Queenie, Fantine, and Buster were all out flying. Mom was visiting a friend, and Dad had gone off to look for food. Boris was taking a nap, when he heard a scream.
Boris hopped out of the nest. “Minnie? Minnie, is that you?”
“Boris!” his little sister’s voice sounded like it was coming from far away.
Boris looked down. Minnie was a speck of brown against the white sidewalk.
“Minnie! What happened?”
“I was practicing my flying, and then I fell,” Minnie said. She opened her wings and fluttered a few inches into the air, then ended up back on the ground. “I can’t get back to the nest!”
“Hang on, Minnie. Mom or Dad will be back soon. Or Queenie, Fantine, or Buster. They’ll get you.”
“I’m scared, Boris!” Minnie said.
“Don’t be scared, Minnie. Just stay there. I’ll talk to you.”
“But what if a dog comes?”
“There won’t be a dog, don’t worry–” Boris started, then froze. From a distance, there was the sound of barking.
“Boris! There’s a dog, there’s a dog! What do I do?”
“I-I don’t know…” Boris said.
Just then, a big black dog appeared about a block away. Boris saw it, and blanched. Worse, it appeared to be unleashed, and headed straight toward their tree.
“What is it, Boris?” Minnie said. “What is it-? Aaaah!”
The dog spotted small Minnie, fluttering helplessly on the ground, and started racing toward her. Minnie scrambled to run, to fly, but kept stumbling over her feet and feathers. “Help me, Boris! Help me!”
Boris didn’t think. Tucking his wings in, he leapt from the branch and plunged straight for the dog’s head. He felt his beak make contact with the canine’s tough skull, before he was thrown sideways into the air.
The dog whimpered and yapped. Boris opened his wings, flew up, and dove again.
“Get…away…from…my…sister!” he cried, dive-bombing the dog over and over again. Finally, the beast turned tail and ran away.
Boris snatched Minnie up, and with a few powerful thrusts of his wings, lifted them both up to safety. “Are you okay, Minnie?” Boris said, once he had placed his sister back in the nest.
Minnie gulped back a few tears. “I am now,” she said. “Thank you Boris–you were amazing!”
Boris cleaned his feathers shyly. “Yeah, well…I…didn’t know I could do that.” Boris said.
“I’m glad you did,” Minnie said. “Otherwise I would’ve been eaten alive!”
That night, as Mom was making her rounds saying goodnight to all the siblings, Boris held her back.
“I think I finally found my reason to grow up.”
“Did you? What is it?” Mom said, smiling.
“So I can protect Minnie,” Boris said. “And everyone else I love.”
“That is a fantastic reason,” Mom said. “The best in the world.”