An Old Bird

[The following actually happened to me one morning, about an hour after I received news of my grandmother’s passing.]

I got into my Explorer this morning, ready to leave for work, and fastened the seat belt. I had placed the key in the ignition and turned it to the first click, when I heard a strange drumming sound coming from the back. I looked into the rear compartment and out the rear window, but nothing seemed unusual or out of place. The tap-tapping continued. It almost sounded like heavy raindrops but it was a sunny, clear day and I was parked under a car port, besides. I sat, head cocked, listening. I turned the key off but the sound continued. It didn’t really sound mechanical anyway. There was a creepy, almost human quality to it. It was almost an intelligent rhythm – purposeful – like an impatient person slowly drumming his fingers on a metal filing cabinet.

Suddenly, panic washed over me and my blood ran cold. There must be someone out there! There must be someone tampering with my vehicle or trying to get in! I turned wildly in my seat, looking over one shoulder and then the other, craning my neck to see as much as I could from my position in the front seat. I unbuckled my seat belt and the drumming stopped. I sat in the quietness of the morning, eyes wide. There it was again! It was definitely coming from the roof of the vehicle.

I opened the door and slid out onto the step and turned around. There, I stood face to face with an ancient bird. It was a very old pigeon and it was walking around on the roof of my car. If you had told me that the bird I was looking at was a hundred years old, it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit. It’s eyes were red rubies. Even the flesh around the eyes was red. It’s feathers had faded and only bore the faintest hint of the color it once wore. Over all, the bird looked like a pair of faded blue jeans that had been worn and washed over and over for a lifetime. I laughed out loud in spite of myself. The laugh was too loud and too long as the relief blew out of me. Feeling kind of silly for the panic I’d felt only a moment before, I smiled at the bird and watched it do a slow waltz around the roof of my car. It never took it’s eyes off of me.

“Well, hello!”, I said, my voice still wavering a bit, “What are you doing here?” The bird did not reply but the dance went on. It occurred to me that the bird must be either fearless or unable to fly. Perhaps it was injured. I reached out to the bird but it was too far away.

I stepped down and walked around to the rear of the Explorer. Stretching, I reached out again, extending my finger. I was much closer now and the bird took a few steps toward me. An uneasiness brewed deep inside me. Would it peck me? Could it have a disease? The bird was close enough to touch and now I felt fear. Not the foolish panic from before but something else. As the bird danced only inches from me, stepping toward me and then back, it’s head bobbed up and down in nervous gestures. The hair raised on the back of my neck and I staggered backward. Come on, Jim, it’s only an old bird!

I opened up the back hatch and got out my ice scraper which has a rather long handle. I closed the hatch and reached out with it. The nervous bird allowed me to gently press the handle against it’s chest and it climbed aboard. I swung the handle toward the edge of the roof but the bird would not go. It hopped back off and went back to it’s dance which was now a tango. I stood for a while, ice scraper in hand, considering my options and watching. I felt selfish and ashamed. For the bird I felt a sadness and compassion that made me wish I could leave it there to dance on my roof for as long as it liked. But, of course, I could not.

I reached up again with the handle and this time gently pushed the bird to the edge of the roof. The bird leaped onto tired wings that could barely carry it. When it flapped its wings the sound was soft as if the once sharp edges were now tattered and frayed. The ancient bird flew in a low arc and came back to me. I threw up my arms, “No! Go somewhere else! You have to go.” Go away, I thought. I don’t want to see you no more. The bird looked disappointed. It made another arc and came very near me before its orbit changed and moved away from me again. I could feel the breeze from its wings on my face and for a fleeting moment we danced together before it flew away, went between two cars and disappeared from my sight.

I got into my vehicle and drove away. As I drove to work, I had a sick feeling in my belly. I felt dread and remorse. Where would the bird go now? What would happen to it? Why was I so afraid?

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