Age Rating: 4 +
It has been ten years now, and I still cannot forget the first time we met. The night before, there was a devastating typhoon and the weather bureau was quite right this time, the strong winds and rain lashed in fury at Central Luzon, destroying crops and livestock . Furious winds and the frightening sound of falling trees brought fear in my heart and robbed me of much needed sleep.
“It will be over in the morning,” I thought, trying to recall a childhood rhyme “after the rain, the sun,” feeling more like a child than an adult. The darkness was overwhelming, power was out and I knew it would take a day or two for it to be restored. After what seemed like eternity, the typhoon passed our area and the winds softened its angry sound, and by dawn, the dripping rain lulled me to sleep at last.
“Mama, your flower plants have been destroyed!” my daughter cried out, and I woke up suddenly, remembering the stormy night, and checking the safety of my children and the damage to our house, I took a stroll outside the garden to see the demise of my plant collection.
“We need to do a lot of cleaning, so let’s have a quick breakfast today and start working.” It sounded more like a command to them, but I could sense the relief in their faces, and I too, was thankful to God for our safety. We could hear our neighbors chopping fallen trees and branches and the sound of “walis tingting” (bamboo broom) was all that we could hear because it was a day of silence for stereos and television.
Mud and leaves covered most of our garden, and as I swept the leaves by the mango tree, I saw it. Covered by large mango tree leaves, which somehow provided covering for it, was a small bird’s nest all wet from the night’s rain. In it were three tiny chicks, not yet covered with feathers, the sound of their chirping too weak to be heard. I grasped the nest with both hands instinctively with the thought that my pet cats will soon smell the birds inside and with their fantastic hearing capability; soon discover the arrival of their “edible” visitors.
First things first, for it was a state of emergency. My children were all excited with the find, each of us frantic in looking for a place for the birds. Of course, we had to replace their dilapidated dwelling and I decided to put them in a plastic fruit container with tiny holes for air passage and a cover for protection from feline predators, which were just around the corner.
“They’re hungry, I think. What do they eat?” My son, who is a certified animal lover, observed emphatically, as he viewed the creatures whose heads were the size of his little finger.
“We’ll feed them, but I just don’t know what to give them.” I said.
The chicks seemed to regain strength after we placed them in the fruit basket, under a warm kitchen towel. They started to chirp louder now and kept opening their beaks wide as if to tell me “it’s mealtime! It’s mealtime.” I had to think fast.
This was my first experience with birds and I have never had birds for pets. To aggravate the problem, the species of the birds I found belonged to what I call “petite” kind. They were naturally small and grew to only about three inches in length as adults. So, imagine the size of the chicks. Later, I found out that the birds were called “Maya-maya” in our country and their natural habitat is the mango tree or other fruit bearing trees with lush green leaves that provide them food and shelter.
“Maya-mayas” when full grown have shiny shades of bluish black feathers in their heads and their bodies are mostly brown. This particular specie has that coloring, although right now they seemed to be covered only with skin.
Back to my problem, I took some pieces of bread and dipped the bread in some water, using a toothpick to feed the three tiny chicks. They ate it! What a relief!
They started to swallow the “food” excitedly, sometimes competing with each other for the meal, trying to fly unsuccessfully with their ever so tiny non-feathered wings.
When a bird is full, it goes to sleep immediately. That was what I observed with these tiny creatures, who are now orphans in my care. It would not be long before one of the three succumbs to illness, after being left out in the rain all night. We buried the poor thing under one of my four o’ clock flower plants, the one with yellow blooms.
It took only about two weeks for the birds to grow their feathers, and one of them, I named “Tweet” and the other one, the more aggressive one, I called “Joker”.
Maybe it was because of his signature bird call that got him his name, while his brother would keep tweeting to get attention, he would just say one “tweet”. That’s it.
We kept them from the fruit basket to their new dorm, a book cabinet with glass covering so they can fly about without being eaten by the cats. This was convenient for a while, until one Sunday after church, we heard the frantic tweet of two birds in conflict, and to my horror, I discovered that Joker had been beating up his brother Tweet with violent pecks on the head and back. Tweet was crying out for help but he was too small to retaliate, or it maybe it was not in his nature to be so mean.
After assessing his injuries, I decided to separate them to protect tiny Tweet from his brother. Later, however, his brother died too, after red ants bit his legs during the night, causing inflammation on his thigh and neck. Another casualty, so we buried him near his brother’s grave, this time under the four o’ clocks with pink blooms.
A month after, Tweet was now full grown, and I had to put him in one of my cabinet drawers because he wakes up so early and tweets his morning greetings with such enthusiasm you would think the whole neighborhood could hear him. As soon as I opened the drawer he would fly around my room with his tweets and settle on my finger whenever I held out my hand. We talk to him and he would bend his head from side to side as if he understood every word we said.
Tweet’s feathers soon changed colors as days passed and it seemed to me he was now in “grade school age” and his was a lively, charming, and affectionate temperament. I could put him in his “dorm” and he would observe our friends and guests with the tilting of his head and those one-tweet comments he made.
We had fun together, particularly those times when we ate corn, and some bits of it stuck in between our teeth. Tweet would love to peck those bits and help us with the “clean-up” minus the toothpick. I remember one night, I was watching TV, and he stayed up late, perched on my forefinger until he became so sleepy he slept on the palm of my hand, like a regal prince in his couch. He knew he was untouchable, and our cats were aware of that non-negotiable arrangement, but he was not arrogant about all the attention he was getting.
I never knew birds could be very affectionate. One day, I decided to let go of Tweet and release him to his natural home, the skies and the trees. That morning, there were a lot of birds roaming around our garden, so I thought the time was right. Tweet must join his kind. I lifted him up, still perched on my forefinger, and gave him a swift “throw” while encouraging him with the words “lipad, Tweet, lipad! “ (Fly, Tweet, fly!)
To my amazement, Tweet flew a few yards away, only to return to me as though he did not want to leave. Again and again I threw him up to show him where he was to go, but he would stubbornly return as if wondering why we were doing the exercise at all.
That morning made me realize the fact that Tweet grew up among humans and the only bird he came in contact with was his deceased brother and he was maybe too young to recall that. Maybe he did not think of himself as a bird at all! It gave me such sadness, partly because I did not prepare him well for his eventual departure into freedom, and also because I did not research enough about birds to prepare MYSELF for this awkward friendship. There was no choice left but to keep him, or else leave him to defend himself from cats, dogs, and bigger birds, which I could not do.
So I kept him as a pet and he loved everyone. He ate whatever we gave him (except worms because I am scared of them). Tweet would stay perched in his cabinet with the glass cover, and he knew his feeding time. Another thing I learned but failed to study about, birds do get sick. They have colds, fever, and stomach trouble. At that time “bird flu” was not yet an epidemic on birds. Tweet first refused to eat, and then I noticed he did not “tweet” as often to greet us, and when I picked him up, he felt quite cold. His eyes told me he was not feeling well, and there was some sort of tears in his eyes like he had a cold. I tried to rub his tiny chest and gave him water to drink by using a dropper.
He took two sips, then weakly flew from my hand, fell on the floor, and tried for the last time to fly back to me but all he could do was crawl. His tiny wings kept fluttering in a crawling fashion and I just had to pick him to preserve his remaining energy. He slowly gave up his last breath and I felt the tiny beating of his heart fade away. Tweet was gone.
There are no words to explain what I felt at that time. Even I could not understand it. But Tweet’s life, which was so short, a month and a few days, touched our lives in such a way that it made me aware more than ever why God gave us these creatures. That little bird taught me so much about friendship, loyalty, and cheerfulness. The future for me now is to look ahead for another Tweet, or another Joker to come into my life.
Copyright 2008 -Cynthia B. Baello