English

Birds

I lie in bed listening to the early morning traffic in the Dallas suburb where I live. I can hear birdsong whenever there is a lull. My mind harks back to the pandemic. Then, it was all birdsong and no noise pollution. I miss that time. Not the anxiety and fear, the information overload and the fake news, but how everything slowed down. Birds seemed to multiply and sing all day long. That connection with nature is lost. Now that everything went back to “normal” is like the pandemic never happened. 

My grandparents loved birds. They always had different kinds. They had a large cage built in their vast garden, next to one of the garden walls and near the cistern and the quincho. A quincho is a summer house quite common in large houses in Argentina, equipped with a barbeque grill, table and chairs and usually a refrigerator.

The cage had a round base covered in off-white small mosaic tiles and a rounded metal roof that sat on top like a hat. The smell of birdseed and overripe food greeted you as you approached. It was followed by animal smell. The gardener kept the cage scrupulously clean but that smell lingered. Nature refused to be completely tamed. 

My grandparents were always on the lookout for exotic birds. For a while, the bellbird popped in and out of their conversations. I was ten or twelve years old and had no idea what this bird looked like. In my mind’s eye, I saw a majestic plumage, maybe rainbow coloured. The sounds of bells pealing merrily on a Sunday afternoon filled my imagination. Since I had not paid a lot of attention to their conversations, I was sorely disappointed with the new addition, a white bird that never sang a single note. I now understand it must have been very unhappy. 

Peacock perching on a wall
This is not my grandparents’ peacock, but one I came across at the castle of Saint George (Castelo do São Jorge) in Lisbon, Portugal


One time, my grandfather bought a toucan. It was beautiful, especially up close. We kids were constantly reminded not to put our fingers through the bars to try to touch it, in case it bit them off. It was all I could do to resist the urge to caress that brilliant plumage. 

Then, there was a peacock. I was in my early twenties by then. Too big to be kept in a cage, the peacock was given the free run of the garden. And run around it did. I did not know they could move so fast. My younger brother and little cousins could never catch up with it. I do not think the poor bird ever spread out its tail feathers. Why bother when there was not a peahen in sight. 

Its favourite place to perch was the thatched roof of the round summer quincho. Its talons caused some damage to the rushes, but that was not the worst of it. This beautiful peacock, which remained nameless like the other birds because my grandparents were not name-givers, sang at the top of its voice every day before dawn.

It was not a pretty song, more like a fog horn that reverberated in the still air. Eventually, the neighbours found out what was waking them up at such ungodly hours and complained. A new home was found for the peacock and sleep was not disturbed again. 

The birds, the cages, my grandparents and even the house are long gone, but those memories stay with me. 

Now, all I want is to hear birds chirp and warble in the morning again.

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