Grotesque. It was the word that defined his whole life – his whole self. From the day of his birth he had been made to feel that he was an anomaly and an outcast. The cold, polite puzzlement of his mother was almost as rejecting as the sneers of his siblings. ‘Ugly’ was one of the first words they learned to say, and it still echoed in his head. He had become so used to being called ugly that it was only now, looking back, that he realised that his mother had never even given him a name. The others had all been given normal sorts of duck names -- Jackie, Bubbles, Pondie, Wiggler, Billbop – but he didn’t have a name at all. Just “Ugly”, and later on, when their vocabularies got a bit fancier, they started calling him things like Trollface and Featherfright. Did the fact that his mother never bothered giving him a name,( and never tried to stop the others from being mean to him) prove that she had never loved or wanted him at all? He knew she was terribly ashamed to have produced such an ungainly child, one that even the pigs could laugh at.
Why was he so different? He hadn’t set out to be ugly, he certainly hadn’t designed his own face or body! Maybe he was just the punch line of some obscure joke the universe was playing? For the thousandth time he told himself to make an effort to think positive, but he was running out of ideas to find anything to be positive about. Being nobody wasn’t so bad, there were plenty of nobodies around all merrily going about their business: the fish in the lake, the worms underground, the ladybug on a grass stalk who wished him a cheery good morning before she saw who (what?) he was when his shadow fell across her. Most of them were nobody important, some species didn’t even have names, but none of that stopped them from living with a twinkle. But he couldn’t. There was a secret here that he didn’t understand, something important that was hidden from him.
To call himself the reject of the universe seemed absurd – he wasn’t important enough to be the anything of the universe. In the old barnyard they probably didn’t even remember him. Spring was coming, the wind was growing sweeter every day, and somewhere, back in the old barnyard where he used to live, his mother would be checking her eggs to see if they were ready to hatch into a new family of ducklings. He hoped they would all be small and neat and yellow, and waddle the right way and that his mother would love them. It would be beyond bearing that there should be another one as sad as him in the world.
Winter had been hard, and lonely beyond bearing but it was over now, and he couldn’t be quite so desolate when the sunshine caressed his feathers like a whisper of kindness. The ice had almost gone, it would be good to get back in the water. But when he approached the lake there were two swans gliding across it. He looked for some rushes to hide behind, no one so beautiful should have to be offended by the sight of himself. But there were no big beds of rushes to hide in, and the swans had seen him. They were moving towards him, and he was too scared to raise his eyes to see the expression on their faces. Ah well! Maybe this was the best answer he could hope for, that these glorious white birds would kill him, and the whole sorry story would be over. He bowed his head and waited....
“Hello,” said one of the swans, “won’t you join us? You are so lovely!”
He looked around, who could they possibly be talking to? But no one else was there. As his head turned, he caught sight of his reflection. It couldn’t be!!!
He stared and stared, trying to take in this discovery. No wonder he’d been such a hopeless duck – he’d been born to be a swan! This was the secret that had puzzled and eluded him – the truth about himself. He did not have to sidle through the world in shame any longer. He had come into his birthright. Raising his head towards the dancing sky, he slid into the water and went to meet his new friends.