A Bird in the Hand...

23 December 2014 Ricky French

A Bird in the Hand...

Photograph by James Braund

It wasn’t the streak of hot, yellow sun slipping through the blinds onto my face that woke me up. Nor the fact that I was braised in sweat, slowly cooking like a knobbly, white chicken under an overkill of covers. No, it was the chirp of my alarm clock. Interesting, as it appeared to be coming from the back room.

I implemented my well-practised getting-up routine. I staggered down the hall in my underwear, rubbing fingers in eyes, coaxing drowsy senses into action. I arrived in the back room to find a black bird more than awake, chirping up a storm, wings a blur, half way up the window, its yellow beak tattooing Pollockesque etchings in the glass. 

It was a lovely day. The bird wanted to get out and enjoy the Saturday morning sun. Channelling a childhood of watching New Zealand TV shows about farmers herding sheep into pens, I skilfully corralled the poor fellow into a corner and cupped my hands around his tiny, warm body. 

“Let’s get you outside before you do yourself some damage,” I said to him. He chirped and darted his head from side to side and against my palm a panicked little black bird heart pulsated wildly. 

“Who are you talking to?” Asked a voice from the house. No time to answer. I kicked open the back door and, hearing triumphant orchestral music in my head, pushed my palms forwards, opening them at head-height and releasing the bird into the warm, December air.

I was left standing in the backyard, wearing only my underwear and a light dusting of black down. In the corner of the yard was a mountain of grass clippings, dried and shrivelled by the sun. The live grass itself wasn’t looking much better. On a table sat a pedigree orchid in a small pot, our newest family member. Its pink-faced flowers had ceased their clowning and wilted. It was done for the season. I gave it the chop and chucked the dead flowers on the dead grass. It seemed like only yesterday the lawn was lush, the orchid ripe and bursting with expression and colour. I couldn’t stand to look at the yard, so I showered, dressed and went off to get a haircut.

The familiar routine: a dishevelled fool plonked in a chair, wrapped in plastic like a couch at lounge room painting time. A schmuck in a smock. The barber took to me like a crazed New Zealand farmer, shearing me stupid. My eyes dropped to the horrible evidence: grey, frazzled hair, speckled with dour brown strands, in horrible clumps on my lap. Ten summers ago I was still blond, didn’t get my hair cut in a shopping mall and probably wore a more fashionable cut of underwear in the backyard. 

Yes, you’ve heard the call of the bores: “Where has the year gone?” Well-read bores will then proceed to tell you our perception of time speeds up as we age. I perceive that to be most unfair and I wish people would stop trying to depress me. 

Freshly clipped, I left the mall and returned to the house. I looked out the back window that had recently trapped my winged friend. Suddenly I could understand his desire to get out into the Australian summer. It was beautiful out there. Warm, nourishing air, the lemon tree ripening, summer holidays to be planned, a tender soccer ball begging for a kicking...
Maybe there was another soccer season of life left in these legs? I turned to the orchid and said, “Let’s get you outside into the sun,” and the orchid showed me its fat leaves, spreading like a fountain. And there, near the roots, were three new shoots – ready to bloom next year.

A voice from inside the house said, “Who are you talking to?” And I replied, “Oh, just the birds and the flowers and our new Australian summer.”


This article was first published in Ed#473.