Two Birds

The difference between people is not always apparent at first. It becomes clear when you watch what they do, when you see how they react to different circumstances and how they present themselves to the observer.

A very long time ago we were in a Norfolk wood, out for an afternoon’s walk and an illicit cigarette. We were the same age but very young, and my eyes were glazed by a young girl’s fantasy of what her life might be.

It was late afternoon and getting hazy and we were walking back to the car. There was a rustle in the undergrowth and we both looked down and saw an injured bird. I gasped – it was what a young girl did. It was clear that the bird was hurt, but it does seem to me now that even in rural Norfolk, a vet was not far away and it could have been healed. Then I did not know and I was guided by the strong male at my side. He told me to go ahead and he would follow. It was an order and I obeyed. I heard his footsteps, a sharp crunch and then heard something land at a distance in the wood.

When he caught up with me, he was very proud of his “kind” act. “It was the kind thing to do, it would not have survived”. I thought of the bird killed so quickly and discarded as if it was not a life. Later I would learn that unless I ran very far and fast the same thing was to happen to me.

So when two days into the Australian bush, another bird appeared injured, a woman watched the man by her side with care even though at the time the earlier incident was a faint memory. It was the cattle dog with strange amber eyes that snuffled it out. He barked to call his master and then sat by the bird. His master who also had strange amber eyes, crouched down to look. Watching him was like seeing back into the past of his people, the same ease and grace of movement. He took the bird firmly between his hands, and looked at the bright coloured wing that was ripped away. The bird went still in his hands and the dog watched. He stood up, walked to the river and I followed. Holding the bird firmly in one hand he bathed it’s head and beak with water, all the time making low noises, not language for he had his native tongue stolen from him generations before. I watched and the dog watched, but he was unaware of us.

Then suddenly and smoothly, he plunged his hands into the water and held the bird there until it died. He took out the wet bundle and walking up the sandy bank placed it in a shallow scoop of earth and covered it with large rocks. Then he sat beside the little grave completely still. The dog lay down beside his master and looked at me deliberately, the amber eyes telling me I was not wanted here.

So I went further down the river and bathed and waited. When the bird’s spirit was free, the dog and his master came and sat beside me. And we never spoke of it again.