Fly Away Birdie
by Leonard Rego
One morning, before the alarm could go off, I was awakened by the sound of a sweet chirping coming from my bedroom balcony. It was not the kind of sound you'd expect to hear on a Monday morning - this was such a pleasant change from the newspaper vendor ringing the doorbell and the din of cars honking on the streets outside.
I looked at my watch and saw that I had another 15 minutes of shuteye to roll about lazily in bed, but the whistling was so melodious, it decided to get up and investigate. Peering through the curtains, I saw two pretty little birds, mostly black and grey, but with striking scarlet feathers on the underside of their tails, perched on the balcony railing. Thinking back to my school days in India, I remembered that we'd learned about these birds, and even had a few who visited our garden on occasion: these were red vented bulbuls! I was a bit surprised to see them here in Dubai, especially since most of the birds you see here are pigeons and sandpipers.
Immediately, the words of Edgar Allen Poe in his poem 'The Raven' sprang to mind: "'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door". Now while in the poem the raven actually tapped upon the door of the poet's house, I had no such luck. They just sat there coyly, as if asking if they could wait awhile and be on their way after they got their second wind. Of course, I said they were more than welcome, but they cocked their heads and looked at me quizzical as if to ask what on earth I was mumbling on about. "Bird brain," they seemed to say!
Hey, can we stay at your place?
But they weren't quite ready to leave yet. Mr. B looked like he was surveying the place, as Mrs. B cheerily hopped onto the artificial seven-foot tree that sits in my balcony. "They're staying?" I wondered, and then it hit me - of course they were! They were looking for a home for little Baby B, who was obviously on his way. Now who was I to refuse!
Over the course of the next few days, Mr. and Mrs. B feverishly gathered together every last bit of straw, thread, plume and twig they could find to make a cosy little nest so that 'on-the-way B' would be comfortable when he arrived. And that has always fascinated me about birds - they're such responsible creatures, they never wait for the last minute to find a place to lay their eggs (with the exception of the cuckoo, who sometimes lays her eggs in other birds' nests). Even when the chicks have hatched, they spare no effort in bringing them the choicest morsels of food, including worms. Yum!
Baby B did eventually arrive in a few days, from the only egg Mrs. B had laid. And was he ever a greedy little glut! With a mouth that seemed to open wider than the size of his head, he greedily swallowed every last bit of food that mommy dearest brought home, and wasn't very fussy.
The Bs seemed to have settled in quite nicely, and I think I was more eager than anyone else to see little B take off on his first flight. In a few weeks, he had sprouted a fuzzy bunch of feathers, and even ventured out of the nest onto a small branch to take in the view from the first floor.
Then one day, I heard a shrill cheeping coming from the balcony, and ran to investigate. The crook of Baby B's leg had gotten caught on a branch, and he was hanging from it upside down, utterly confused and probably in a lot of pain.
His mum and dad were away, and obviously didn't know what had happened, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Stepping out into the balcony, I gently lifted him off the branch while being careful not to hurt him any more than he already was, and took him inside. He didn't seem to like the idea too much and cheeped loudly in protest - I realised not everyone gets along well with their landlords.
Gently turning him tail-up, I saw that his leg joint was swollen and slightly bruised, so I placed him in a box lined with a soft old tee-shirt and punched with small holes for ventilation. Next, I called the vet, and told her the whole story. She informed me that the parents might abandon the baby because I had touched it, and also because it was bruised, and that I should be willing to nurse it back to good health. I was more than willing, of course, but also felt sad at the same time that this might have caused the little chick to lose its parents. That night, I fed Baby B some mashed rice and a little water, and hoped for the best in the morning.
As soon as the sun shone brightly the next day, I placed the box next to the open balcony door to see if mom and dad would return to get their son; his leg had gotten better, thanks to the rest he'd got - he didn't have to balance on a branch with one leg that night.
Hardly six minutes passed when, on hearing their baby's cheeps, the Bs arrived, chirping and whistling frantically. I let them be, and stayed at a good distance to observe. Eventually, the mother gathered up the courage to actually hop into the house, and sat by the box, at which point my faith in good nature was renewed! These parents really did care for their baby, never mind what the vet said!
I approached slowly, and carefully lifted the chick out of the box to place him on the branch. At this point, I felt that the parents would swoop down and peck at me, but they seemed to know I was a fine featherless friend who only wished them well. Once he was safely perched on the branch, he even grasped it with the leg that was previously hurt, and I moved away quickly to get back into the house.
It was a reunion that could've made a fine Kodak moment if I'd had a camera handy! Mommy and Daddy B whistled the sweetest tunes I've ever heard, and I was speechless. I decided to leave them alone for some bulbul bonding, and promised to check on them soon.
Unfortunately, I had to leave home for a few days, and hoped everything would be alright when I got back, but decided not to worry too much about lil' B, now that I knew his parents were around.
When I arrived home five days later, I made a beeline for the balcony to check on the feisty feller - only to discover that the Bs had left without saying goodbye. It seemed that Baby B had finally found the courage to take wing and fly away with his folks to begin life outside the nest, in the wild blue yonder. I consoled myself that that was the way of the animal world: you gotta do what you gotta do, even if you're a bird.
I wasn't looking for thanks, just a simple goodbye. Deciding to take one last peek into the nest, I raised myself on tiptoe and peered in. And there it was, a bright, crimson-coloured feather - the most beautiful thank you note anyone could ever have left behind.
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