The Bird We Brought Home (Non-Fiction Short Story)

Another piece that I wrote in school about one of the most bewildering, exciting and impactful event in my life. I spent only about a few days on this piece, finding difficulties putting to words all the different context and situations that occurred; worse still, I knew that my perspective on the events was not the best available one — had this been fiction, I would have chosen the view of someone else. But I am who I am, and it was this limited perspective of mine that made this story so important to me.

It’s still a pretty difficult story to recount, and I’ve only taken a brief look to see how I actually talked about it. It’s quite badly written. But perhaps it would have to work for now, as the memory is still so vivid that I’m more likely to talk about the sequence of events rather than my emotions.

I hope you enjoy this piece. And, despite the title, it is not meant to be all that cheerful.

Hemingway Test:
Readability — 7th Grade
Est. Reading Time — 00:09:35

— -

In the second year of my junior college, I returned home one day to find chirping by my door. Its source, a baby bird with green and yellow feathers, had fallen off its nest and was found, just in time, by my father when he came back home for lunch. He brought it home with him, placed it under a brown, overturned basket, and left it in front of the cupboard where we kept our shoes.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the bird when I got home. It was only the chirping that I noticed. The basket, which was such a common sight in front of the door (except for the fact that it was overturned) didn’t catch my interest, and I walked into the house without giving it a second glance.

My mother was playing her smartphone game on the sofa when I came in.

“What’s with that chirping?” I asked.

She barely looked up as she replied. “Your father found a baby bird under a tree and brought it home.”

I stared. A joke? It had to be. My parents had a thing for animals due to their rural lives as children, but it was practically impossible for me to imagine them doing such charity in an urban city. Plus, my mother hated animals in the house. She hated the idea of having to clean up after cats or feeding and playing with a dog. There was no way she would have recited that story (even if it was just one sentence) with such nonchalance.

In fact, I was somehow convinced that the chirping had come from the game she was playing, from which I could easily recognise the moo-ings and bok-bok-bok-bokaaaw-ings of farm animals. Among them were the chirpings of birds, which melded with the chirping by the door. Suddenly it felt as though my mother had cracked that joke with sarcasm, since it was obvious that the noise couldn’t come from anywhere else other than her game.

For about an hour or so I remained in my room, the constant sounds of the farm animals mixing with the inconsistent chirping. The sounds began to form a dissonance, echoing inside my room. It seemed unlikely that it was from my mother’s game, not with such inconsistency and energy. Curious, I headed back to the door to find the reason.

And that was when I saw it: the fluffy, tiny little thing, only about the size of my thumb, jumping about with each chirp inside the basket. It was surreal, fascinating even, as I watched the little thing run about without rest. My father had prepared the basket as a makeshift cage, placing layers of newspaper to keep any droppings off our floor, and a small cup of water beside it. He had left a plank of wood on the top of the basket to keep it from moving, lest the baby bird shifted it about. Beside it was also a round, transparent container with a twisted piece of straw. It stood out of place beside the structure, though truth to be told, nothing was ‘in place’ in that small area of our house then.

The little bird was adorable. I had never seen a baby bird this close before, and I spent hours by the basket, staring at it. It had green feathers on its back and yellow feathers on its tummy, all of which were fluffed as it climbed from one side of the basket to another. The baby bird, despite its inability to fly, had active and strong legs that allowed it to climb all over the insides of the basket. Whenever I looked at it, it would be defying gravity, clinging to the sides or the top, at a place where it felt it could be safe.

My father came home later that day, my sister returning shortly after. She and I watched as my father used the straw to feed the little chick, first by filling the insides of the straw with banana and sticking it into the cage before leaving it alone. The chick seemed cautious of our movements, and only after we stood a distance away would it being pecking at the straw, its feathers standing on their ends.

The next morning I was the first to leave the house. As usual, the sun hasn’t even shown any signs of rising, and the only sound that could be heard in the house was that of the cars and vehicles from the road below, which resonated within the building up till our tenth floor. Despite it all, I removed my shoes from the cupboard with a care I had long forgotten, cautious about not waking the baby bird. Unlike the day it stood crouched at a corner of the floor, though it still had its feathers fluffed up. Its tiny head had disappeared in the mass of feathers, and with every breath it seemed to be trembling or vibrating in its place. The morning wind was horribly cold despite the weather, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the little thing could defend itself against it.

It was only in the evening that day, after making my way home from school and sat staring at the bird for hours, that I witnessed the miraculous sight: the mother bird, who must have spent a whole day searching for her chick, appeared by our window with food in her beak. My whole family watched at a distance as she flew, with great hesitation, from our window frame to a corner of our shoe cupboard, before finally to the basket. Their beaks brushed slightly as the child-like chirping ceased for a second, before it grew louder with enthusiasm. The mother then disappeared through the window with a speed that looked as though she was trying to escape, before she reappeared again, once more with something in her beak, and she repeated the process of hopping onto our cupboard and then onto the basket, each movement filled with hesitation but overcame with love.

My family watched this avian family with interest, never once imagining that we would witness something like this. We all stood in a distance, letting the mother bird take care of its baby, none of us able to wipe the wide grin off our faces as we giggled like little children.

I imagined the continuation of this story, with the baby bird growing up gradually in our care until the day it was old enough to fly, with the mother bird growing trustful of us and showing less fear or hesitation in her movements, with us growing a bond with the animals like those sweet fairy tales I’ve read so often as a child. Those stories had been so fantastical, so beautiful, and the fact that it was unfolding before my eyes made my heart flutter in delight and anticipation. How would the bird become when it grows up? Would it still remember us and even visit us after it leaves? I imagined how that would be, with our house being a special home for them, becoming a lovely but surreal story to share to whomever we knew.

The next morning I prepared to go to school, once again in the midst of the cold morning air, before the sun had even risen. I repeated the care I had the previous day, making sure not to make any sounds as I took my shoes and placed them on, keeping an eye on the bird to make sure I didn’t wake it.

But something was different this time. I gazed into the basket, expecting to see the same bundle of feathers I had seen the previous morning, all curled up in itself and trembling in the wind. Except that there were no fluffed feathers, and no shivering. Rather, there was no movement at all. All that lay on the newspaper, so perfectly contrasted against the grey material, was that of the green-yellow chick, its feathers stuck close to its body as it laid on its side, unmoving.

I stared, shifting my angle. I looked away from the cage and looked back again, wondering if I had seen it wrong. The chick remained where it was, and even as I shook the cage, attempting to wake it, it showed no response. It simply lay there, still, like a bird doll.

At that moment I considered calling my family and waking them up. But what if I did? I checked the time on my watch, realised I was running late and hurried out the door, trying to keep the image of the unmoving chick from my head. I spent the day with a frown, dreading the movement of time as the lessons went by at a slow pace. I rushed home at the end of the last class, imagining that it was merely my mistake, that I would reach my door to hear its chirping again, and that the overturned basket would still be there when I opened the door.

There was no chirping when I got home, just the usual silence that I should have been familiar with. I took out my keys — its clinking increasing the coldness down my back — slipped it into the lock, and turned it with hesitation. I threw the door open.

The basket was gone. All that was left was the bare wooden floor, as though whatever had been there hadn’t existed at all.

For a moment I thought I had merely been having a waking dream, and had, with the action of opening the door, woke myself up. My parents were home while my sister was out at work, and neither of them said anything to me about it. They went about their normal business, asking me if I was hungry and telling me there was food in the kitchen. I went to my room, wholly convinced that it truly was a dream after all, but finding the coldness on my back unbearable.

I was tempted to ask them about the bird, to confirm if it truly had been a dream of mine, but I kept from it until after dinner.

“Is the bird dead?” I asked.

My father seemed unsurprised. I had expected him to either give a puzzling look or a look of shock, depending on the nature of the dream. But I guess he must have known I had seen its corpse, as he nodded without a change in his expression.

“Yeah.”

That was all he said. My mother said nothing. They returned to their normal routine as though they had never left it, and I returned to my room, defeated, staring at my blank computer screen.

My sister returned home that night, tired and sleepy from work. We always shared a bed despite having our own individual rooms, and she came to my room as usual after finishing her shower.

“The bird is dead,” I told her. She nodded.

“Yeah. Dad wrapped it up in newspapers and threw it away.”

“Oh.” I imagined its corpse falling through the dumpster and didn’t really like it. We should have given it a proper burial, like in TV shows; then again we didn’t have a backyard, or a plot of land where we could legally dig a hole and bury something in.

So that’s how our story with the bird ended, I thought, returning to my computer. I had been doing something on Facebook, but all of a sudden I couldn’t remember what it was.

“And then the mother bird came back,” she said.

I froze. “What?”

“The mother bird came back in the morning with food. I saw it drop from her mouth when she started crying.” She shook her head. “It was so sad. She kept flying about our door, crying and crying, before she flew out of the window and disappeared.”

A moment of silence hung between us as I stared at her, the coldness on my back returning to place a lump in my throat. She held my gaze, before she continued.

“It’s sad, you know? She finally found her baby after a day, but lost it again.” She paused, swallowing. “She might still be looking for it right now.”

I imagined the mother bird flying low through the sky, sharpening her senses in an attempt to find her baby. I imagined the length of her journey, her eventual grief when she finally gives up, and how she would react to it.

I imagined how my parents and my sister had been when they saw her flying about our door. I imagined their shock, their helplessness, their guilt. They couldn’t tell the bird that her baby has died, they couldn’t tell her that they have already taken away its body, and they couldn’t tell her their condolences and their grief at the loss.

I wondered if they felt as guilty as I did, thinking that perhaps things would have been better had we not kept the bird in our house. Perhaps we shouldn’t have picked it up in the first place. Perhaps we should have just returned it to its nest, back to the comfort of its mother’s care. Perhaps we should have let it be free.

I was aware that there was some kind of anticipation in each of us, of that fairy-tale-like development that we’ve seen so many times in our childhood; that my parents, despite being half a century old, had held some kind of belief that they would see a fantastical story from this little deed.

I wondered how my father had felt when he wrapped up the chick and threw its body away, how my mother felt when she washed the basket and set it to dry. Did they feel as bad as I have? Did they possibly feel it worse?

Sometimes I think back to those two days of bewilderment, and let out a cry at how fast reality brought us back. There’s the sickly realisation that dreams don’t come true, and the more fantasies you think of, the harder reality would jerk you back into its grasp.

I fantasise and imagine things in order to see what I can’t see, to understand, to cope. But sometimes even imaginations could be crueller than anything else, since, without having witnessed the ending to this story, the mother bird continues to search in the sky of my imagination till this day.

The Bird We Brought Home :: END ::

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