|Max PeersIt all began with a splutter, a little whimper, then a full throated cry. Most human life begins in a similar way after the initial shock of the first breath and new environment has been overcome, so it was no different for this new-born to cry until enfolded in her mother’s arms. The birth fluids had been cleaned away and soon there would be the slow flow of nourishment that would eventually surge into a satisfying flood like the spring tide on earth’s miraculous pendulum.
Years later, the cry became a silent but frequent sob into her pillow as she became aware of her loneliness. Nights were worst. Lying awake she could hear noises in the other room. She saw many men and heard their voices, none of which were directed at her. She craved for a man’s enshrining arms during her tender years, a lap to sit on, a story to be told, games to be played. Her impatient mother mainly ignored her. She was the unwanted child.
At school she was recalcitrant in the company of others and was frequently left to play on her own. Her isolation made it difficult to mix with others so that she grew to live solely for her own company. At lunch time she started to break small pieces of bread from her lunch-box to feed the sparrows. Her only delight was sprinkling crumbs to watch the birds swoop down cheeping as they ate their midday meal. It was as though they were saying “thank you.” She began talking to them, getting excited when she believed they were speaking back, arousing her innermost need to be loved. The feeding became an inexplicable driving force, a desire to be understood by the birds, replacing the human need to be wanted.
When older, she visited the park daily, taking bread to scatter about. Seagulls had now joined the sparrows for the ritualistic feeding. One spring day a young man was sitting on the bench where she regularly sat. Many birds had already gathered in anticipation so she shyly sat beside the stranger and began breaking off small pieces of bread. He watched for a while before asking if she did this sort of thing regularly. “Yes,” she said hesitantly. He noticed her animation while talking to the birds. She was not shy with them.
As the days passed, the young man could often be seen sitting on the bench seat waiting for the young bird-loving lady to appear. “How do you get so many birds to come for their meal?” he eventually asked.
After a long pause, without looking at him she almost whispered “I sprinkle little crumbs along the footpath as I’m coming to the park. The birds eat them and follow the trail.”
He said that he liked watching her feed the birds. Next day he told her how much he loved birds and would like to know more about feeding them.
“Don’t give them too much white bread” she said with more assurance than in the past. “It sometimes pays to vary the diet with grain bread. It’s better for them.”
“Do you ever give them honey and water? I’ve heard that is good for them in winter.”
“No” she replied, “Brown sugar and water is better for them. Too much honey and water can cause a disease.”
On impulse he reached out and took her hand. With a slight gasp she pulled back. Neither spoke again.
She was surprised next day to find him sitting waiting for her. Asking if he could help feed the birds she gave him a small piece of bread. While scattering it around he said how much he loved birds and perhaps if he spoke to them as she did it might transport him also into another world. The birds must look upon her as their ‘Bird of Paradise.' Trying again to hold her hand she gently pulled back but appeared to show no resentment. With a pleading look he took her hand again giving it a firm but gentle impassioned squeeze. “I’d like you to be my Bird of Paradise,” he whispered. Feeling an inexplicably strange warm sensation, she looked tenderly into his eyes while letting her hand rest in his. A surge of new found love overwhelmed her so that she ignored the birds.
It was when she did not hear a whimper or cry she knew the baby was stillborn. Her own baby. It would never grow up to know the joy of feeding the birds or the happiness of sharing a love that she had always longed for yet only briefly experienced. There was no longer a man sitting beside her on the bench seat. He had disappeared without a word when her belly had begun to swell. She knew not where he had gone. He just wasn’t there anymore.
Winter arrived and she caught a chill. Her first cough frightened the birds but they grew used to the strange sound until the time she was just sitting there appearing to ignore them as had happened once before. They did not understand why she was not throwing them little pieces of bread. Then, one by one they rose to fly slowly in tight circles encouraging greater numbers to fill the sky with silent winging birds, their circles growing ever wider and wider. Finally they dispersed and as the last bird was disappearing it called out one plaintive cry of farewell.
She was alone once again but did not know. Her life had begun with a cry. Now it ended with a cry, but she did not hear that last goodbye.