And within myself I’ve heard
day and night
in the company of countless birds
a homeless bird speeding through light and dark
from one unknown shore to yet another.
On cosmic wings a refrain echoes through space:
‘Not here, no, but somewhere, somewhere else!’
Tagore– Homeless Bird
“Mummy! Mummy! Come quickly!” Mister pleads skidding into the kitchen a mini-cyclone of raw energy. His arms and legs are flapping all over the place and he is either about to take flight or fall over both feet.
Something has captured his attention. That’s hardly unusual and I barely look up from my breakfast. Mister is an excitable, enthusiastic seven year old boy. He is always running or rushing somewhere. Usually, he’s chasing lizards and he is pretty good at catching them too. They’re then shut into old Chinese containers and taken off to school for news and hopefully released. At the moment, he is madly pursuing White Cabbage Butterflies, chasing them all around the garden with his butterfly net. I reach out and try to stop him but the juggernaut just ploughs on and now I’m just trying to keep him away from the road. He doesn’t seem to care where he’s going.
Mister is still in his pyjamas even though he knows full well that he has to get dressed before he can play. He is also barefoot, even though he knows he’s not allowed outside without his shoes on. The back lawn is carpeted with jacaranda flowers at the moment no doubt buzzing with bees. He could get stung but possibilities and warnings won’t stop him. The juggernaut will have to learn the hard way.
I suppose I should be putting something into time out but that hasn’t crossed my mind. I haven’t woken up yet.
It’s Monday morning and I’m slumped over the table like a sack of old potatoes. My Weetbix is stone cold and hardly inspirational and would really make great cement. My coffee, which is never strong enough, hasn’t percolated through yet.
“Mummy’s lost in space again,” Miss giggles. She’s about to shine a torch in my eyes… “Mummy! Mummy!”… No response. “Time of death…”
I don’t know where I am. I’m not up in space as in watching stars and planets or anywhere beyond the sky. It’s difficult to explain but I am somehow lost in the space just beyond my nose.
More coffee required.
“Mummy!” Mister repeats emphatically. He grabs hold of my arm and tugs hard almost jolting me out of my chair. “Mummy! Come on!” There is a real urgency in his voice… a desperation. He is puffing, short of breath. However, he is just a little prone to exaggeration and I’m not quite sure whether I really need to move or not.
“Mummy! There’s a bird in the house and it’s stuck. Mummy, we’ve got to save it! Come on!”
Miss is dust. She’s off to help… any excuse not to eat her breakfast!
Meanwhile, I am still motionless. Frozen to my seat, I can’t move.
“There is a bird in the house,” I gasp!
I can feel its wings flapping all around me… flapping in my face, in my eyes…. flapping, flapping, flapping. I can hear the bird from here. Its wings are beating against the glass desperately flapping, trying to get out. I have no compassion or empathy whatsoever for the poor stricken bird who can’t understand why it can’t fly through the glass. Instead, I feel like I’m about to die any minute myself if that damn bird doesn’t get out of my house! My entire body has turned to jelly wibbley wobbilly jelly with no spine whatsoever.
“Mummy! Come on!” I’m sure it’s only been a couple of seconds but for the kids, it’s the usually eternity and Mister is particularly persistent.
“Hurry up, Mummy! The bird is going to die!” He shrieks.
Miss joins in. “Mummy! Come on! We’ve got to save the bird!” she pleads in her wee, irresistible voice. Her big blue eyes are swelling with tears and her whole body is starting to quiver. “It’s going to die!”She is now quite overwrought.
“Shit!” I think to myself. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“I’ll get it out!” Mister says matter-of-factly, taking matters into his own hands. He marches out the front with this look of focused determination. All of his senses are switched onto red alert. A man of action, he is going to do whatever it takes to save the bird. I mean whatever it takes and that’s what concerns me most. Any boy small enough to still call me Mummy, is usually more dangerous than useful in a crisis.
Mister returns with his stick….a little boy’s solution to almost any crisis. This isn’t good. I picture him poking the poor, exhausted bird with the stick, ever so kindly plunging the stick through its brain.
“I know what to do!” He is so confident and so sure of himself… full of boyish exuberance. He is trying to get the bird to jump onto the stick and use it as a perch but I don’t get it. I’m in too much of a flap myself. I just want the stick out of here before disaster strikes.
I still haven’t actually seen the bird. I can’t look but I can hear it. Feel its distress….the panic. It is absolutely petrified.
Miss grabs my hand and drags me towards the bird. She has such faith in me. I am MM… Mighty Mummy! I can do anything! I am fearless. Unstoppable. Incredible. I can almost leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Her faith is so misguided but how do I explain to her that big people, the people you trust with your very life, are also afraid? I’m supposed to be the strong one, tough, infallible. Do I dare admit that I’m weak too? That my feet are made of clay? Or that Mummy, even Mummy, could indeed be human?
I feel so incredibly small, such a little girl. I wish my dad was here and he could just come and take care of it all. I don’t want to be brave or have a personal growth experience. I just want to disappear. My legs are like jelly and I’m on the brink of collapse. I am gripped by some very deep, very dark primeval fear. Fear so deep that it wraps its tentacles around me and drags me deep beneath the surface. I’m drowning in the darkness and I can’t breathe. There is no escape.
Things are really heating up around here!
I soon forget all my motivational talks to the kids about overcoming their fears. I forget all about daring Miss to climb to the top of the tower when she was paralysed halfway. There is just this constant mantra repeating in my head “No! No! No! No! No!” It won’t budge.
But…but…I love birds and all living things. I want to help. I want to be the good Samaritan not the person who looks away, walks past and doesn’t give a damn. I want to make a difference. So many times, I have been the broken bird myself, dependent on someone else to save me and here I am powerless to act. Pathetic!
I take a deep breath and try to change the broken record in my head.
“I think I can. I think I can.” I take another deep breath and picture myself as my Dad grabbing a towel and taking action… getting the bird out successfully and saving its life. I want to be the life saver, the hero….a winner, not a loser!
“Mister, put the stick down. Kids, please stand back. You need to be really quiet. We don’t want to frighten the bird.” I take a deep breath and muster all my strength and take charge of the situation. I am Dad. I can do it. (Deep breath!) I grab an old towel and edge my way towards the bird. This is the first time I actually see the bird. It is still flapping it wings impotently and seems quite stuck between the chest of drawers and the glass sliding door. Armed with the towel, I plan to grab the bird and take it outside. It’s such a simple manoeuvre. I’ve seen Dad pull it off a number of times. Nothing to it! I try not to think about the bird wriggling and flapping in my hands… all that squirming. I try not to think of it escaping and flying around the room unable to be caught and flapping all over the place. I am trying to be so strong and not catastophise this dire situation any further but I don’t like it. I wish Dad was here to take care of it! I feel so small and powerless just like a little girl.
But I have grown up and now I’m the one in charge…
I’m holding the towel. I brace myself and swoop down onto the bird. It resists all my rescue efforts, squarks and plunges from trapped to deeply trapped. It’s now firmly wedged in position and can barely move its wings at all. It twists and contorts its head and I’m concerned it’s going to break its neck and kill itself.
The kids are still hovering beside me. I am trying to keep everybody calm and perfectly still and a good arm’s length away from the bird when the dog barges in and the sliding door almost runs over the bird. The dog was the last distraction I needed. Being a sheep dog, it’s not his fault he’s been genetically pre-programmed to chase and kill but I don’t need him on the rampage right now!
I shut the dog out.
I tell the children to stand back.
Mummy is in charge…heaven help the poor bird. It doesn’t stand a chance.
I am thinking…thinking…!
I am thinking about all my ideas about community… people being there and supporting each other. So often I am the one being rescued and just this once I’d like to help! I feel this huge enormous inner tension like two armies running towards each other locked in heavy combat… love versus fear. I absolutely believe in caring for one’s fellow man, even if it is a bird. I love and often quote that phrase about how it takes a community to raise a child. Everybody has to do their bit. This is my bit. My challenge. My hurdle but I just can’t do it. I feel myself stretched and torn. Stretched and torn. If I do nothing, the bird is probably going to die.
It’s quite ironic. We have a worm farm and I’m doing my best to save the Earth and yet I can’t even save a bird just because it flaps! This isn’t what I stand for. It’s not what I’m about. I’m a rescuer…the ambulance driver…not a murderer! I don’t believe in guns and yet my neglect…it’s pulling the bloody trigger.
Despite my best intentions, however, I’m getting nowhere. Time to call in for reinforcements. There are times when it’s okay for even the most independent and strong-minded of women to admit she actually needs a man. Not that I’m fussy. It doesn’t have to be a man. I just need someone, anyone, with just a little more courage than myself and is old enough to use it wisely.
I try to reach my husband, Geoff on the mobile. But it just goes through to voicemail. The train would have to be going through a tunnel right when we need him!
Then, I remember my friend Bill. He’s a single Dad and just lives a block or so away. Bill is always offering to help but I like to save these offers for the “Big Emergency”. I decided this was it. I needed help. I mention calling Bill to the kids and while I’m looking for his number Mister already has him on the phone. Bill must feel like he’s entered the twilight zone with Mister talking about the bird stuck in the house. It’s barely after 8 o’clock and if his son isn’t over, I’m sure he’s asleep. I try to grab the phone. Mister keeps talking. I finally manage to snatch it away.
“Bill!”I plead. “Help!”
Bill apologises profusely but his son his sick. He can’t leave the house.
Bill then asks me what type of bird it was. I’m not sure. I‘ve been trying not to look at it. But there was definitely some yellow on its face and I suggest it’s a Noisy Minor. Bill wasn’t exactly encouraging: “There are way too many of those damn things already. You should just squash it. Do the world a favour.”
I wasn’t a fan of Noisy Minors either but I couldn’t just let it die! A bird is a bird…a life… something so precious … even if it is a pest.
Bill doesn’t come to the rescue.
I wonder whether WIRES would save a Noisy Minor or whether they just saved native birds.
Mister suggests the vet.
I just see dollar signs and try to think of something else.
That’s when I notice the clock. I’d forgotten all about getting the kids to school.
The bird drama has totally sabotaged our entire morning “routine”. My friend is due to pick up the kids in five minutes. Mister is still in his pyjamas. Miss has barely touched her breakfast and I need to make the lunches.
“Mister you need to get dressed. You have two minutes”.
I quickly throw their lunches together totally unable to think about anything except the bird. I am now less sympathetic. Pissed off that the bird had to have its crisis in my house not somewhere out in the bush where I didn’t have to get involved.
I rebuke myself. This is what community involvement is all about. It isn’t always convenient or comfortable. You get intrusions. Have to go out of your way. Step beyond your comfort zone.
All these ideals are quite beyond me at the moment. I’d much rather be alone on a deserted island – especially an island without any birds as much as I love them from a distance!
My friend pulls up to take the kids to school. She sits so calmly in her four-wheel drive…such a picture of serenity while Mister’s still running all over the place trying to save the bird. He clearly doesn’t want to leave before the crisis has been resolved. I push him into the car and close the door. Shame he wasn’t just a little bit older. He would have saved the bird by now and spared me all this angst!
I know my friend has her own dramas but I can’t help feeling that our dramas are of quite a different magnitude.
Last week, while the dog was chasing his tennis ball, he actually managed to get his head stuck in between the back steps. It was wedged in with barely a centimetre free and he was banging and bashing his head around trying to get it out with brute force. This time, I managed stay quite calm and collected and actually managed to be useful. I reassured the dog, amidst all the kids’ screams and tears, and managed to get his head out the same way it went in. A few weeks ago, Miss had managed to get her skinny little arm stuck in the huge glass sliding doors at the RSL club. That was after an “All You Can Eat” lunch and she was still wafer thin afterwards, squeezing into the smallest of gaps she should never have fitted into.
The bird fits in well here. It doesn’t just fly into the house and do circuits round the room like a normal bird. Oh no! It had come in here and get stuck. Do something different just like everybody else! Amen!
Weird stuff always happens to us.
My mother always says we were born under an unlucky star.
I just think we come from a different planet.
I wave goodbye to the kids and the car takes off.
Now, it’s just me and the bird… and the dog!
Responsibility….so far I’ve just blamed myself for this mess but what about the bird? Did I invite the bird inside? Is it my fault? Oh no! Of course not! The bird got itself into this mess. It had nothing to do with me. If this had happened somewhere out there in the bush, the bird would have had to save itself. Save itself… or die! Perhaps, I should just ignore it.
But I just can’t turn my back. I am the Good Samaritan. I will not walk past. But I can’t move either. My fear is so intense that I can’t even step inside the room anymore. I am so afraid. I can hear the poor bird flapping….still flapping! I tell myself it could be one of the kids but it’s useless. My kids don’t have wings. They don’t flap. I’d be happy to save them.
I think about helping people. I think about how much I love birds. I think about how I’ve longed to be a bird flying through the sky and experiencing the exhilaration of flight. Not this bird feeling trapped, tortured and so afraid.
The bird is still fighting. Its will to live is so strong, all-consuming. It will not give up! I glance at it again. So twisted, in such agony! I can’t bring myself to look anymore.
I try once again to reach my husband on the mobile. He’s on the train and must almost be at work by now. He’s too far away to come home but he’s a great problem-solver. He’d know what to do.
Once again the phone goes through to voicemail.
I am on my own.
I am now starting to think that the bird will just have to die in there. I tried. There’s nothing more I could do. Yet, the prospect of having a dead bird in the house doesn’t thrill me either. I hate dead things. I remember when my goldfish died as a kid. Dad had to fish it out and bury it. I couldn’t even look at it.
I haven’t got any better. It’s not that I’m unfeeling or insensitive. More the opposite. I’m completely overwrought.
But somehow, I couldn’t just give up on the bird either. I didn’t want the bird to die. I didn’t want to be the one who had turned her back too gutless to act. I didn’t want to let my fear, my silly, petty fear cost the bird its life. I didn’t think about its family or friends and how they would feel if the bird never came home but I should have.
I couldn’t give up. I had to find someone. Anyone!
That’s when George, my neighbour across the road, pottered outside to water his plants. He had no idea what he was stepping into. I didn’t give him a chance to say no. George was the man… the rescuer…the knight in shining armour. He had to act whether he liked it or not. Now, the bird’s fate rested on his mighty shoulders and I was off the hook!
George wasn’t bothered by the bird. However, however, there was the matter of my dog…
Bilbo who normally lounges round the house like a somnolent floor rug, hates George. He just needs to open his front door all the way across the street, for Bilbo to go ballistic barking furiously and gnashing his teeth. I don’t know what goes through Bilbo’s head but he definitely has it in for George and George has every reason to be “afraid” of the dog.
George gingerly inched his way inside while Bilbo was still locked out and the bird remained trapped.
George very logically points out that we can’t get the bird out while with the door shut. I should have thought of that myself but I’m not good with practicalities! He tells me to take Bilbo through to the front of the house and to shut him out there and then we open the back door. Good thinking 99!
Strangely, Bilbo didn’t bark at the bird and he didn’t bark at George either. Instead, he dropped his ball at the back door hoping George will throw it for him. I admire his optimism. Bilbo never gives up!
The bird is looking better now and has almost managed to free itself. I can now see that it’s some sort of Honey-Eater, not a Noisy Minor after all. However, this new found identity doesn’t change how I feel about the bird. I am still petrified and I’m still trying to save its life.
We open the sliding door in anticipation and I hand George the towel. Instead of grabbing the bird, the bird flies off. Instead of doing the logical thing and flying outside, it starts flying around the room…round and around and around in a mad flapping frenzy. I am going absolutely out of my mind!
It was bad enough when the bird was stuck in but free-range is so much worse. I’m suddenly having flashbacks. I’m in famous Dam Square in Amsterdam being dive bombed by swarms of pigeons. Yes, I know I bought the pigeon food and I fed them but I was so unprepared for the aftermath… all those flapping wings descending on me… squadron after squadron. In a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic: The Birds, I could barely move let alone breathe.
This one bird has now multiplied into something quite beyond description but I’m not catastrophising at all. This is a complete catastrophy!
The bird, who I forget is probably more terrified than I and also rather exhausted after its ordeal, flies into my laundry basket. I am excited. Jubilant! The end is finally in site. Now, we just need to throw the towel over the basket and take it outside… Simple Simon.
But George has other ideas. He encourages the bird to fly outside unaided. After all it does have wings. It can actually save itself now.
At last, the bird flies straight out the door and is gone!
Gone! Problem solved.
But I wasn’t so sure. Was it really okay? It had been fighting for its life for over an hour. Did it need help or was it okay flying back outside into the wild?
I didn’t find out. I didn’t want to find its tiny body lying in the grass. The bird just had to be fine.
I’m still in shock… emotionally crippled, shattered, barely standing up at all. The terror is still stuck to me like a second skin, a parasite, it’s roots penetrating deep into my being. I can’t just pry it off and return to any state approaching “normal”. It takes a good hour before I can go anywhere near the crime scene again.
Instead, I return to the safety of the kitchen and make myself a good cup of tea – Twinings English Breakfast in my Royal Albert Old Country Roses tea cup. I also grab a Tim Tam …. my solution to just about any crisis!
Geoff finally checks his voicemail and calls back.
“You should have shut the blinds,” He says. “Opened the door and just let it find its own way out,” he says. “Imagine how you’d feel with this great big beast hovering over the top of you?!! It was probably trying to get away from YOU!”
I laughed. I actually managed to laugh. “I’d never thought of that. I was too busy trying to save it!”
Soon, my mind starts drifting out the window again. A light breeze is dancing through the Jacaranda tree. Its purple flowers nod up and down, falling like snow and carpeting the ground underneath. I smile. The white butterflies are now fluttering around the garden in peace – without a little boy and his butterfly net chasing them out of existence! They’re looking for somewhere to lay their eggs… no doubt, someone’s much-prized veggie patch. Just what some poor green thumb needs… more very hungry little caterpillars!
Such is life…