The Junction
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The Junction

From the Mouths of Birds

Antonio befuddles his father

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It’s time to go to sleep, Antonio, good night.

Papá, how long do birds live?

That’s a curious question, Antonio, why do you ask?

Because I’m a curious kid?

Because you’re a clever kid. It’s past your bedtime. We can talk tomorrow.

Sorry, papá, I don’t mean to be disrespectful. It’s just that I was talking to Perico today and he said he wanted to know.

You were talking to your bird?

Actually, he was talking to me. Birds say the funniest things.

Antonio, how old are you?

Nine, papá. You know that!

And you believe birds talk?

I know they talk. At least I know that Perico talks. He tells me things.

Birds don’t really talk, son, a few species like Perico’s learn to repeat things they hear from humans. Parrots do it and that is where we get the word parroting. It’s when someone repeats something without actually thinking.

What he said, he didn’t hear from me.

What did he say, son?

He’s afraid of flying.

Antonio, did you hear him say this or did you think you heard him say this.

I heard him loud and clear.

Are you sure he said flying and not dying?

He definitely said flying.

OK, son. Think about it. Why would a bird who has never flown be afraid to fly?

He talks to other birds.

He told you this?

Yes. More than once. It worries him. So does dying.

Do you often discuss the things that bother you with him? You know you can always talk to me. We can talk tomorrow.

I know, papá, but it’s what bothers him. And he knows a lot more about birds than you do. Sorry papá, but it’s true.

What do you think he knows what I don’t know or can’t find out? That’s why God invented Google.

He knows the languages of 173 different birds — their songs and their calls. But he doesn’t know how long they live. It bothers him. He’s afraid he will die flying. He’s afraid of heights.

Do you want to know how long humans live? Is that what’s bothering you? We both still have a long way to go; you especially.

This is not about me, it’s about Perico. He has issues. Anyway, he says it doesn’t really matter how long humans live, but how well they live.

From the mouths of birds. He’s a smart bird.

All birds are smart. They can do lots of things that we can’t do. Most of all, they can fly high in the sky, if they are not in a cage and if they are not like penguins whose wings don’t work. They can sleep in the air and go anywhere. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sleep and soar, sleep among the clouds and wake up when you get there?

It would be more wonderful if you would go to sleep in your bed now. It is getting really late.

And they can remember things no humans can, like when they used to be dinosaurs.

How old are you, Antonio?

You know that.

Are you studying birds and dinosaurs in school?

No, maybe they cover that in middle school.

Do you have a book about birds that I don’t know about?

No, papá, I told you, Perico talks to me. He say birds are a neglected minority and that people don’t think birds’ lives matter. That’s why they keep cats.

A good reason for him to keep to his cage, don’t you think? I’m turning off the light.

He wants to know how much time he has. None of his flock friends know. There aren’t good at math but they don’t seem to get sick. They just sort of drop out of the sky.

Have you been watching the National Geographic Channel?

No, but I spend a lot of time with my bird.

Tell me something that a 9-year-old can’t know or find out. I think I may be missing something here. And hurry, it’s really late.

He says great composers like Vivaldi and Beethoven were inspired by bird songs. He says you can hear the birds in the music if you listen closely. Can we listen to some now?

No, Antonio, not now. Have you been online?

Nightingales and sparrows and other birds helped poets like Homer and Keats. Will you read me a poem?

Not now, son, tomorrow night if you go to bed early. Were you online tonight?

Perito says people still talk trash about the albatross, and that’s Coleridge’s fault. Remember when you read me The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

Antonio, were you using my laptop tonight? Antonio?

Papá, I had to. Perico was worried.

Then why didn’t you just ask Google how long birds live so you could tell him?

I heard you coming up the stairs.There was so much great stuff about birds, I didn’t have time. I’m sorry, papá.

Well, you are not going to have time for awhile. You know even bird whisperers have rules. No computer time for a week.

Yes, Papá.

I’ll Google it for you tomorrow. Where’s my laptop?

Under the bed. Good night, papá. I love you.

I love you too, little bird. Good night.

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Antonio and his papá appear from time to time in my head and in my stories. If you’d like to read more, they are all together in one place: A Boy and His Papá.

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