Butterfly house

A short story about a visit to the zoo, by Kolsuma Begum.

Butterfly feeding. Image credit: Marie Claire Danner

‘Ephemeral’ was my word of the day, after visiting the zoo with my friends. Although, I had spent my childhood afraid of most animals – I wanted to give them another chance as an adult (it helped that they would be behind their enclosures!). Despite my fears, I’ve always been partial to insects like ladybirds, butterflies, even bees, and they could usually potter around me without fear of being swatted away. I had told my friends on the train ride there, that I hoped a butterfly would land on my shoulder in the walk-through tent that the zoo had dedicated to these winged invertebrates. I’ve always believed that the mark of a good person is when animals are at ease around them. So, if a butterfly landed on me, maybe I was nice to be around or at the very least, non-threatening.

The butterfly ‘house’ was a small, humid tent in the middle of the zoo. It was on the verge of being too warm. There was a small gravel path in the middle of the tent, flanked on each side by bushes, trees and what looked like rotting fruit hanging from the branches. It was nothing like I had imagined. The butterflies that we could see were flying around too quickly and chaotically, for us to take the aesthetic pictures we’d planned. The sounds of rapid fluttering coupled with the humidity was overwhelming. I forced myself stay though, I came here to feel something exceptional, something poetic. I had romanticised this experience, and I wasn’t going to leave a second before I had to.

The single zookeeper in the tent was speaking to a small crowd of people about a sickly butterfly, coming to the end of her life. I followed the doomed butterfly in question with my eyes, but I could see no obvious ailment – she seemed gorgeous to me. Her body was white, tinged with soft yellow and patterned with black lines and dots. I Googled the species when I went home that night, she was a ‘Tree Nymph.’ How apt – she was the most mesmerising one. I stood for a long while watching and watching her, float high above to the top of the tent and then back down again in between people’s arms and legs. I got my wish when she landed on my outstretched palm. I was in complete awe for the short few minutes that she paced up and down on my hand.

Up close, she did feel frail but maybe that’s because I knew she was going to die. But I didn’t feel at a loss standing there holding this exquisite, yet temporary creature. Rather, I had felt more connected to the world, to nature, than I ever had. That’s the thing about rebirth, whether it’s a mythical phoenix rising, or the real metamorphosis of a butterfly – nature is constantly regenerating and evolving as people ought to. But we’re content with staying in the same place, the same situations even though our lives are just as short. Butterflies’ lives despite being so brief, are filled with immense transformation and wonder, teaching us that transition can be graceful and a thing of beauty.


Kolsuma Begum is a Publishing Assistant in the BES Publications team. This short story was first published in our membership magazine, The Niche, Summer 2020.