Abigail the quail is wailing. Poor little bird, she’s weeping her eyes out. Yes, birds can cry, and Abigail can’t stop crying. As she creeps and flails beneath the undergrowth, her pale brown and gold feathers look tattered and unkempt. Our Abigail is frail.
“Chirp, chirp, CHIRP” chirps Abigail. “I am overloaded with emotion! It’s too much. I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!”
Abigail hides herself away in the bottom of the cereal fields, next to the woodland. She hopes no one will notice her, because she looks so shabby, but at the same time, she wishes someone would notice her and offer a magic solution to her problem.
“HELP!” she chirps, a bit louder. “HELP, HELP, HELP!”
Abigail has been diagnosed (by Dr. Owl) with Seasonal Affective Disorder. This means she feels sad and blue when the weather is glum, and she feels slightly merrier when it’s sunny. Abigail has had all the tests. She has seen multiple specialists. They all say the same thing: migrate with all the other quails. Go somewhere hot. Africa will do. Don’t come back.
Abigail hears this advice, but she takes it as a personal insult. “Everyone just wants to get rid of me,” she says. “No one really cares. Wherever I go, my condition will come with me.” She is determined to stay put.
When her flock prepares to migrate to Africa, it is a brisk, cold, dark morning. Will, the head quail, calls for Abigail. “It is time. Come along with us. You know it will make you feel better in Africa.”
But Abigail is in a black mood. She is feeling very unhappy and can’t really think straight. “No! Stop bothering me! Go away! Abandon me, like you always do!”
All the quails try to coax Abigail, but she pretends to be deaf. “I can’t you!” she says. “Go away and leave me alone!”
The quail flock are not very happy about leaving one of their kind in grey, dark, wet England. But she won’t listen. There’s nothing more they can do for her. So they fly away, and leave Abigail to her own devices.
Dr. Owl has promised to check on her from time to time. There are many other birds nearby. “I’m sure she’ll be fine,” says Bill, who is Abigail’s father, as the other quails worry. “She’s always fine,” he goes on. “She just says that she’s unhappy because she is attention seeking. She says it’s something to do with the weather, but she is making it up. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
Abigail is not fine, and she is most definitely not making it up. She’s all on her own. It’s very dark, and the rain is turning to snow. She is freezing cold, and her nest is damp. She feels lonely, lost, and abandoned.
She really is trying to hold things together. She has spent the last forty-five minutes doing some serious problem solving. This has involved thinking very hard about her available options – things she can do to cope with her Seasonal Affective Disorder, having been abandoned by the entire quail community. She writes down the pros and the cons of every solution she can think of. She has weighed up every conceivable eventuality. The process of working all this out has been utterly exhausting, leaving poor Abigail feeling confused, disorientated and lost. Her conclusion is that there is no solution. Full stop.
Abigail learned this problem-solving technique during the course of psychotherapy sessions that she once had as a service user of cognitive behavioural therapy for quails (‘CBT–Q’). To give her due, she’s testing it out, but she remains convinced that it won’t work.
One of Abigail’s potential solutions to the problem of loneliness and to Seasonal Affective Disorder is to find a friend. Abigail has never had a friend. She’s had her flock of quails, but they leave every autumn. They try to force her to leave with them, but she always resists, so now they have given up on her, saying it’s all her own fault.
“How do you get friends?” wonders Abigail (out loud). She thinks about this for a long time. She would like to know if any research has been done, evaluating the best methods to obtain a friend. Abigail is very pensive and has an awfully long think about this problem. After a while, she conjures up some sort of plan.
“Yes,” says Abigail. “I will sit here, and every single animal, bird or insect that comes past, I will invite them to be my friend. Every single person that goes past could be a potential new pal of mine. Hundreds of people will go past me, I must find a single friend. I will give it a try.”
In this way, Abigail tries to make herself look very pretty and nice, perching on a low branch next to her nest. To every insect, bird or any kind of being who walks past her, she poses the question: “Will you be my friend? My name is Abigail. I am a quail. I’m very pretty and popular and intelligent and I’m very good at cross-stitch. My favourite food is baked beans which I once found in a rubbish bin. Never had it since, but it’s still my favourite food. Have you tried baked beans? Delicious.”
This is the sort of thing that Abigail says to everyone who walks past her. Most of the time, the animals look in a different direction and pretend they haven’t heard her. For instance, Harold the Sparrow is in a hurry. He flies past Abigail with the purpose of catching a worm to eat and to take morsels back to his nest for his offspring.
Roger the badger snuffles past our Abigail. She goes through her spiel and ask him to be her friend. But Roger is a dodgy badger. He couldn’t care less about some weird quail. “Have you got any eggs?” he asks her. “Let me eat them!” That’s all he’s interested in, his own stomach. Abigail replies, “No, no eggs. Just me. I am a nice person.”
Roger responds, “I’m not interested in you. Couldn’t care less about you. I’m hungry. Isn’t everyone hungry?”
The next bird that goes past Abigail is Maggie the magpie, who is the school teacher. Before Abigail can say anything at all, Maggie calls out in her loud, ugly voice, “CHILDREN? Where are the children? Have you seen Reception class? We’re on a school trip, and I can’t find anyone. They’re lost! Quite lost. Gosh I’m so busy. What are you talking about? I must carry on. If you see any young magpies, make sure they get back to school.”
Maggie the magpie the school teacher rushes off very quickly. Abigail has made no friends. “This plan isn’t working. Oh no,” she says. “No one wants to be my friend. I feel very sad. It is so dark here. What am I to do?”
A creepy creature has crawled below the hanging branch where the quail is seated and perching. “Who are you?” he says. It is the sound of a giant ant.
“My name is Abigail. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. It makes me very sad, most of the time. Who are you?”
“My name is Grant. I am a giant ant. I don’t have anything; I don’t think I do anyway. I wander around trying to find an ant family, but I failed. All the ants around here are tiny. They won’t make space for giant and like me. Do you have a pencil sharpener?”
Abigail replies, “Hello Grant ant. Thank you for stopping to talk with me. I don’t have a pencil sharpener. Sorry. I’m useless. Why do you need it?”
“I’m trying to make a quill as of this piece of straw. In my spare time I practice calligraphy. I make beautiful artworks. What do you do?
“Mostly,” replies Abigail, “I just sit and mope. Poor me.”
“It’s quite easy to do that, isn’t it,” replies Grant. “I’ve been in that cycle. I’m too big to fit anywhere. Poor me. But then I thought to myself, well maybe I can make a new existence and a place of comfort, all on my own.”
“That’s a brilliant idea,” says Abigail. “I’d like to do that.”
“Let’s go and do some calligraphy,” suggests Grant.
“I’m really bad at things like that,” says Abigail. I’ve got very dodgy feet and claws. I have bunions. I’m also colour blind. I have lots of deficits. Many problems. You’ve got to know what you’re getting into with me.”
“It’s okay, Abigail quail,” soothes the giant ant. “Come with me. Let’s see what we can do and make together.”
Abigail realises that she is on the cusp of an extraordinary adventure. Not only has she made a friend, but she is doing something completely new. The black layer of sadness surrounding her has lifted a fraction. She is nervous, a bit anxious, but excited. “Where are we going?” she asks.
“Follow me,” says Grant.
The giant ant leads the quail, as they traverse ever deeper into the undergrowth. It is hard to see where they are going. Abigail crouches and inches her way forward on her stubby legs. “It’s a bit narrow for a quail,” she remarks. “I don’t know if I can get through. I’m not built to do this.”
“You are built to do whatever you want to do,” says Grant. “You’ve got this! We are nearly there.”
The tight, cramped pathway suddenly opens out into a clear, round space, which holds a circular, blue lagoon. The water is very muddy.
“Where are we?” asks Abigail.
“This is my secret place,” says Grant. “We can find bark from the trees nearby, and use the silty mud as ink to draw upon the bark with calligraphic strokes!”
Abigail thinks this idea sounds really interesting and fun. Unlike anything she’s ever seen or done or known about before. “How do we do that?” she asks.
“I make quills using straw leaves. Here’s one.” Grant pushes a stick of straw towards the quail. “Hold it with your feet in your claws,” he says. “Or your beak. I usually hold mine in my mouth. I have his awesome fangs. They can be really useful for calligraphy.”
Abigail tries her hardest to hold onto a piece of straw dipped in the salty mud, and keep balancing upright whilst drawing patterns and letters onto a piece of bark. This is easier said than done. “I can’t do this,” says Abigail, all flustered and upset. “It’s too difficult. I have no technique. I don’t know what I’m doing. You made it up just to laugh at me didn’t you!”
“No I didn’t,” replies Grant. “I’m not laughing. No one is laughing. It might help if you keep breathing. You stopped breathing. That’s why you have become so flustered. Keep breathing. Breeze with me, in for three, pause, out for three pause…”
“Stop bossing me about.”
“I’m just trying to help.”
Abigail argues with the giant ant for a while. She thinks that everyone is out to get her. She thinks badly of everyone. Abigail is seriously upset. But our Grant is a kind ant, and he really does want a new friend.
As they attempt to co-create calligraphy, all that Abigail makes is a mess. She can’t balance holding a piece of straw, she falls over and lands splat in the mud pile. Eventually, she gets up, as soon the mud dries to her tawny coloured feathers. She looks awful. Soon enough, Abigail starts crying. “I can’t do this. I can’t do anything.”
Evening approaches. We are approaching Abigail’s dark time, which triggers her Seasonal Affective Disorder. “I can’t take it anymore, she says. “I think you are a kind giant ant, and I think you’re trying to help me, but no one can help me. I’m a lost cause. I’m going to leave you now, Grant. I don’t suppose you’ll ever see me ever again. Goodbye!”
Abigail leaves the chamber with the lagoon and the calligraphy. She walks back through the tight, cramped passage. She doesn’t know where she is going. Soon enough, she becomes very, very lost. It is completely dark now, pitch black. The air is thick with clouds, so Abigail can’t even see the moon or the stars to guide her way.
She wails, “I don’t know where I am. I am lost. I am very upset. No one will help me; I am beyond help. There is no way forward.” In the end, Abigail decides to try and roost anywhere she can find, and then in the morning, when it is late, hopefully she will feel a bit better and with the sunshine she may be able to find her way home.
Abigail crouches underneath a low branch in a hawthorn bush. She falls backwards, into a hole, where she falls asleep immediately. In her dreams, Abigail is a happy bird. She’s someone that Abigail in her waking state does not know. In her dreams, she does everything. She is eternally happy. She plays frisbee, she plays chess, she learns calligraphy.
It is a beautiful dream, and then – with a sudden start – Abigail is awoken. She is back in the dark, creepy, damp hole. She hears a cockerel crowing. It must be dawn. “Time for me to find my way home,” she says. She pushes out of the hole, through the low branch on the hawthorn bush, and she blinks. The rising sun is a beautiful colour – shooting purple and pink across the horizon.
Abigail shakes herself and looks around her. The first thing she sees is the giant ant. It is Grant.
“Grant,” she says. “You found me?”
“Yes of course. Are you okay? Let me walk you back to your home.”
Abigail is immensely flattered and taken aback by Grant’s gentlemanly nature. “Thank you,” she says. “I have no idea where I am. How did you find me?”
“Oh,” replies Grant. “I didn’t stalk you if that’s what you mean. I just wanted to check that you’re okay. I know where you live, that’s where we first met. I’ll take you back there now. If that’s not too intrusive. Do you mind?”
“No of course not, thank you.”
The quail and the giant and amble through the dark thick forest, until they reach Abigail’s perching nest. “I’m really sorry I was so bad at calligraphy,” she says.
“Not at all,” says Grant. “You are brilliant at calligraphy – you are brilliant with everything you do. I wish we could be friends. It’s quite lonely being a giant ant amongst all of the middling mini ones. When I was born, I was the odd one out, and no one wanted to have anything to do with me. Sorry, I speak too much. So sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, I would love to be friends with you.”
The quail and the giant ant become bosom buddies and business partners. They turn the secret lagoon into a retreat centre, offering meditation courses and calligraphy classes for all beings who feel they are ‘outsiders’ in society. Abigail offers special workshops on coping with the seasonal changes in the weather, which she is herself still learning how to manage. She qualifies as a CBT-Q psychotherapist, offering a special clinic for quails, and anyone else, who are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Abigail quail becomes known as ‘Dr. SAD’, although she is not sad at all; she has never been happier or more fulfilled. One Christmas, Grant gives Abigail a miniature, solar-panelled lava lamp, which he found, randomly cast aside as litter, on the edge of a nearby road. The lamp lights up when everything else is dark. This instrument helps Abigail open some sunshine in her life, whatever the weather.
In the end, Abigail realises that she can create her own luminescence, in all seasons. She still has very strong emotions, and sometimes she wails and cries for no apparent reason. But Abigail is brilliant; she is unbeatable.
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