I was a young man when I first saw the Phoenix.Yes, the Phoenix, that mythical bird from antiquity. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking the Firebird – the beautiful bird whose wings literally are fire, whose beak is a sparkling ember. Nor am I talking about the Thunderbird – the stunning avian whose wings are so vast they stir up storm clouds and elicit peals of thunder from the sky. No, the Phoenix is, to most people just a plain, dun-coloured bird somewhat larger than a raven. There are, of course, certain aspects that identify the Phoenix from other birds but, to paraphrase a great man, I’m a doctor not a bloody encyclopedia.

When I first saw the Phoenix, I admit I didn’t recognise her as such. I was at… some drinking establishment, I suspect, somewhere up North of here. I was at a meet up of various like-minded folks, many of whom had brought along their animals. The Phoenix was merely another of the many interesting fauna I met that day. These meet ups where a regular occurrence and over the next few months, I came to better know the Phoenix and her…

Well, here’s the rub, what to call that person to whom the Phoenix chooses attachment? For now, I shall say owner. That is how I used to refer to Roy; I now know better, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I never really knew a lot about Roy. He was a slim, foxish sort of man. I don’t know how he came upon the Phoenix but I know they were happy together. They lived in a house together in that northern city, the one caring for the other. The situation seemed, at least to me as an outsider, a good one. The Phoenix seemed happy and, though her plumage is not exactly stunning normally, she seemed pretty to my eyes.

This situation remained for some years and then I heard, through the grapevine as it were, that the Phoenix had left Roy. She had, apparently, flown out and simply never returned. I was rather concerned about the whereabouts of the Phoenix, naturally. I talked with Roy a couple of times but I never really had much rapport with him. Without our mutual interest in the Phoenix we drifted apart. I don’t believe I’ve seen Roy since.

Then, out of the blue, the Phoenix contacted me. Apparently, she’d met someone new and had flown out to the country side to be with him. We talked for a while and, again, she seemed happy with her new owner, but it was about now I came to realise that ‘owner’ was a misnomer in relation to this bird. One didn’t own the Phoenix. One didn’t even really have any hold over her at all. Instead, the Phoenix chose you; if she stayed with you it was by her will alone. I came to learn that the Phoenix is an old soul, somewhat of a lonely soul, too. The Phoenix of antiquity, as known by Ovid and Herodotus, as revered by the Persians and Armenians, was the same Phoenix who now chatted to me in a modern context. She had chosen many people over the centuries; those blessed men and women who the Phoenix felt would make good… companions is, I suppose, the best word. Sometimes, the Phoenix would stay with the companion for many years, as she had with Roy; sometimes though, the pairing was brief and, in some cases, spectacular.

A little more explanation of the Phoenix’s time with Colm.

One day, the Phoenix and I arranged a meeting. We met up on the moors, away from prying eyes. We walked together for a while, the light bird resting on my wrist. The Phoenix told me that she was not entirely happy with Colm; it turns out he was not the paragon of virtue she has initially thought him to be. I lent a sympathetic ear and, where I could, provided what I felt was helpful advice on how the two of them could proceed. She thanked me and we agreed to meet up again.

At that second meeting, I began to be concerned about the Phoenix. Her plumage was starting to dull and her movements weren’t perhaps as sprightly as they once were. So, I did what I felt was the chivalrous thing, I fed her and we talked long and late into the night. She fell asleep on my arm and, I see now, she and I bonded that night.

However, as I said before, the Phoenix chose her companion and it was Colm she had chosen. So despite our bonding that night, the Phoenix flew back to her roost at Colm’s house in the morning. I don’t know if she told Colm about our chat because, frankly, I didn’t want to know. I suppose I was becoming jealous of Colm. How was it that the Phoenix had chosen him, he who was… well, not treating her badly, but certainly not treating this wonderful bird as well as she deserved? Maybe I am a fool, but I never asked her about this. To my mind, this bird knew her thought better than anyone. If she had chosen to roost with Colm, that was her will and there was no changing it. To ask why she stayed with him would be like asking why the sea stayed with the shore.

We met again and again, though. And as the Phoenix and I talked, we became closer. She told me of her desires and I… Well, what did I do? I was just a regular Joe compared to this mythical beast. She seemed to glitter on my arm, confident and capable of anything. I was… never really good at anything – I had an average car. The best I could really provide was a sympathetic ear and a comfortable arm.

Through all this, though, I wanted more. I am, of course, only human. I had heard the stories of the Phoenix’ magical powers and I wanted to experience them for myself. I knew, both in my own mind and from talking to the Phoenix, that I could not ask; if she chose me, she chose me and if not, then I would have to live my life never seeing her glory. I was happy with that, though.

And then…. on one of our meetings, Oh glorious day! Our talking turned to something more. Perhaps it was her increasing frustration with Colm or perhaps it was her increasing comfortableness with me. Whatever the cause, as the night fell, the glorious bird on my arm began to smoulder. Her song rose and began to sparkle. I joined in as my heart began to soar in response. She turned and encouraged me to join her. We sang – or rather she sang and I was a mere echo. Such notes as I have never heard before or since. I tried to follow her lead and that sparked her off. Before I knew it, this wonderful being before me began to blaze. She flew around me, her wings so bright… so bright…

I’m sorry… I could go on for hours about that wonderful night but… really… words just don’t come close to the magic. Even now, many years later, when I close my eyes I can see that incandescent body above me, soaring on wings of…. of…

Oh, you’ll have to forgive me getting all emotional. Ah, thank you, thank you my son….

Ah, now. Where was I? Ah yes. Well, as I’m sure you’re aware this story doesn’t end there, nor does it have a happy ending – for me at least.

The Phoenix stayed with Colm despite our friendship. And why shouldn’t she? As I say, ours was a friendship, but she had chosen to live with Colm and I could not break that bond. But, the bond did break. Some months after… what happened earlier… the Phoenix left Colm. Once again, she simply flew out of the window and never returned to him. When I heard this, my heart gave a leap. I hurried back up to the moors, hoping that maybe I might find the Phoenix there, ready to land on my wrist, ready to choose me.

And this time I know I was a fool. The Phoenix was indeed there. I saw her brown wings fluttering high over the hills and, recognising her immediately, gave a call. She wheeled and descended to land just before me. Her song was light and gay and I didn’t immediately spot the significance of her not landing on my arm. She told me what had happened between her and Colm but, no, I shan’t reveal that. These things are, I believe, told in confidence.

Then, she dropped the bombshell. A trader from a nearby town had… had bought her. Perhaps I stood there with my mouth open, perhaps I was speechless for several minutes, but I don’t believe the Phoenix noticed. There was the brightness to her plumage – her regular feathers, that is – that I’d not seen for some years. Her song was bright and happy, too. I know that I expressed my congratulations, my pleasure that she was so happy. But inside I was in turmoil. Surely this was some spell that the trader had worked on the Phoenix. No one in the history of the Phoenix’ history with mankind had ever managed to ensnare her before. Many had tried – with cunning artifices and traps of the most exquisite finery – and even more had, like I, desired to. But none had ever been able to.

And now here was this bird whom I thought I knew so well hopping about with delight at having been… purchased, like some flea-bitten cur from the market.

I was invited to the ringing ceremony a few months later. Out of my affection for the Phoenix, I attended. Here I met this trader and, even as I shook his hand and congratulated him on such an auspicious day, I seethed inside with jealousy, with anger. I could honestly not understand how the trick had been done. He was no great sorcerer who had done a deal with the devil to clip the Phoenix’ wings, he was no thief nor locksmith who had finally devised a trap the irrepressible Phoenix could not escape from. He was, simply, a trader who had earned his money in the usual way and then purchased possession of the Phoenix.

I looked around the gathered townspeople as the ceremony began. Many were in awe of the Phoenix, several seemed proud that this trader had bagged such a prestigious prize. No-one, as far as I could see, seemed to see anything wrong. Maybe the same went for me, though. I smiled and I applauded the happy couple, though inside I wanted to yell out that this was completely wrong.

But, I didn’t. The moment came when the dignitary fastened the ring around the Phoenix’ leg and I didn’t cry out. The moment even came when the Phoenix, singing that same gay tune I had heard on the moors, was shut away in a cage, and I held my tongue. That night though… I am ashamed to admit, I did cry. The world is indeed a strange place where there Phoenix can be locked up – not against her will but very much by it – and yet a man such as I who would relish what the Phoenix seemed to love the most – her freedom.

I have not seen the Phoenix since that day. I don’t know if she is still caged, but I do hope that, whether she is or not, she is still singing gaily and that she is still afforded the freedom she deserves.

Why did I lose the Phoenix, you say? Two reasons, I suspect. One, she was out of my league. I mean, look at me, why would such a fabulous creature stay with a simple, dull bloke like me. Second… ha… oh, this is perhaps the most ironic. Why did the Phoenix fly away from me, from Colm and Roy… from those Greeks, those Armenians? Why did she gladly go with that trader? Simple… Buy me another drink and I’ll tell you…

He asked.