by Alan C. Baird
I watched the tiny bird hop down the sidewalk on Grand River Avenue, a busy six-lane thoroughfare which separates East Lansing and the campus of Michigan State. From a distance, the little fellow seemed aloof and unconcerned. But as I strolled by, in the middle of my Saturday shopping, he got spooked and hopped toward the street. I wasn’t paying much attention: on some level I just assumed that he would fly away, as birds usually do. After all, most of them have a fairly wide comfort zone. But nagging at the back of my brain was a question as to why this bird was still on the ground at a distance of three, two and now one foot away? Evidently he decided that one foot was close enough, thank you, and he fluttered out into the middle of traffic.
That really caught my eye – a bird on a kamikaze mission! He sat shivering in the first lane, and as I peered closely at him, I realized two things very quickly. First, the short wings and pink underbelly indicated that he was just a baby. He had only gained about three inches of altitude when he cleared the curb; he wasn’t capable of flying anywhere. Second, he was in the middle of onrushing vehicles. One car passed over him, but he was lucky, he was right between the tires. The experience petrified him. He hunkered down in the middle of the road, pulling his tiny feet up underneath him. He seemed resigned to his future as a feathered pancake.
I, however, didn’t want to witness his extinction, so I dashed into traffic. Horns blaring, drivers cursing, tires squealing – but I couldn’t let the little guy face that all alone. The drivers might be able to see me, but he’d be invisible, flat under their tires in a flash. He was quick for a fledgling, though, and it took four passes before I scooped up a tiny handful of quivering feathers and pink gullet. Of course he was hungry – after a close call like his, I’d be hungry, too.
Over the next two days, I found out from the university’s animal husbandry experts what a young sparrow’s favorite foods were, but I was warned not to expect too much – they said that he probably wouldn’t accept food from anyone but his mother. To make things worse, they warned me that his family and friends would probably shun him, now that he had been in contact with a human’s scent. I was devastated. In my panicked attempt to save him, it seemed that I had condemned him. The rest of the weekend passed very slowly – from time to time I halfheartedly offered him food. He looked sadly puzzled, but never ate anything.
On Monday, I took him back to Grand River Avenue, as he nestled, bedraggled, in the open grocery box that I had made into his bed. I figured he might as well see the old neighborhood one last time. As I was wandering down the sidewalk, I saw some sparrows in the third-story eaves, and I guessed that he had fallen out of a nest up there. So I climbed the stairs to the roof, and set his box down a few feet away from the wide three-foot-high guardrail. I leaned back against the rail and stared down at him. He stared back, mute, and seemingly hopeless. I wondered what his life might have been like if he hadn’t fallen out of his nest, and if I hadn’t picked him up.
Then a large female sparrow swooped over his box, and he became agitated – a second later, he fluttered right up out of the box, and down onto the rooftop. This startled me, since he had never seemed capable of escape in his two days at my apartment. The larger sparrow was chirping to him from up on top of the guardrail – she obviously wanted him to join her up there. But I was perplexed: if the animal husbandry people were right, this larger bird shouldn’t even be speaking to him. She flew down to him and he opened his mouth wide, not making a sound. I was stunned – this must be Mom! Sure enough, she had something in her beak which she dropped into his tiny throat. He swallowed it whole, and I may have been indulging in wishful thinking, but he looked healthier right away. Great! Mother and child back together, not too much the worse for wear…
Feeling very self-righteous, I stood up, thinking, “My work here is done.” But Mom was acting strangely: from the top of the guardrail, she was flying out over Grand River Avenue in small circles, and coming back to chirp down at Junior. Junior was getting excited, bouncing up and down – he finally hopped up to the top of the rail. They both chattered and worked their way closer to the edge, as Mom flew her tiny sorties. I was somewhat mystified, but then it dawned on me that Mom was continuing a flying lesson which had been interrupted two days before. With growing alarm, I could see how he had ended up on the sidewalk in the first place; I got ready to sprint down the stairs and scoop Junior out of heavy traffic again.
Then, almost as if in slow motion, Mom flew off toward the campus side of the street. As I held my breath, Junior jumped off, flapping weakly against gravity. Down he went, five feet, ten feet, and my heart sank with him. I was riveted by the spectacle of a disaster in the making. But then his descent slowed; something must have clicked into place inside his mind. He fluttered out, barely ten feet above the hurtling cars below, to follow Mom across the six lanes. He was barely avoiding a tall tractor-trailer; I was biting my nails. He was swerving to avoid a school bus; I was tilting my outstretched hands as if I could show him how. After what seemed like a thousand missed heartbeats, I watched him land safely in a tree on the edge of campus. I hadn’t noticed before, but the tree must have been full of waiting sparrows, because as soon as he chose his landing spot, the entire tree exploded in wildly gorgeous birdsong. I guess, in their own way, they were celebrating Junior’s first solo flight.
I whistled on my way to class that morning.
Copyright © 1999-2007 Alan C. Baird
All rights reserved.
Author’s 1999 Bio:
Alan C. Baird‘s short fiction and poetry have surfaced in several anthologies, and his humorous and technical articles appear in various periodicals (including PC, Playboy, and Britain’s Guardian). All four of his screenplays have advanced during international competition, and he’s inordinately proud of the fact that his undergraduate film was acquired for background by the Max Headroom TV series. He recently completed his first one-act, which will be produced in the spring. A Harvard Book Prize recipient, he’s currently writing a guide which describes the challenges and pleasures of collaborating on a dramatic script via email.
His screenplay formatting software design is a 4-star Editors’ Pick at Ziff-Davis, and was published on two separate CD-ROM) collections. An award-winning webmaster, he also created a renowned legal productivity system, featured on the cover of WordPerfect magazine. Thus, his film and stage scripts may be viewed as one man’s desperate attempt to reconcile two disparate, hemispherically-opposed creative urges.
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.