When my brother brought home a tiny pigeon and said that he was going to be our new pet; that we’d give him flight lessons; turn him into the most powerful bird on earth; and then, when he became a giant and benign flying monster, he’d take us away into the Sun, I believed him.
Those were wonderful days. I was a Clothes Designer for Dolls and my brother, a Professional Rescuer of Bird-Eggs.
He was a visionary, an entrepreneur. He wanted to be the first thing the babies saw when their heads popped out through the egg-shell. He wanted to offer them a better life than their pio-pio parents and make some profit while at it – feathered taxis to the moon, apocalyptic sky tourism, a freedom zoo, not just tan but walk on the Sun. He had a plan: Raise them all on my grandmother’s terrace, feed them protein bars, and when they grew into the strong, prehistoric, winged dragons they were supposed to become, they’d certainly help him save the world.
He climbed many trees in search of his precious little fellows. Once he acquired the white oval treasures from an unguarded nest, he’d carry them in his mouth down the tree, protecting them from any sudden harm.
He’d bring the unborn home with a smile of triumph, place them inside a shoe-birdhouse and then wait… sometimes for days. But the cracks never happened. “What if we just cracked them ourselves? Maybe they’re trapped and they want out badly”, I suggested. “We can’t do that,” he firmly replied, “If we force them, they’ll never love us back.” One day, my grandmother threw them away, saying they were “just rotten eggs, there was nothin’n’em, ye disobedient children”.
My brother then switched his business from eggs to baby birds (don’t know if he carried these in his mouth too, on his way down the tree) and I became his co-researcher, specializing in bird-flight training. This is how pigeon Larry came to live with us. When I worried about his mother coming back to an empty nest and becoming sick with grief, my brother wouldn’t have it.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, “these birds spend the entire day laying eggs, I’m sure she already forgot about Larry. Consider him an orphan. Plus, he’s better off with us; he’ll get the best out of both worlds. Don’t you see how big this is? We can give him a future his pea-brained parents could never even understand. But don’t tell anyone, I don’t want them stealing our idea.”
I couldn’t forget about the mourning mother, though.
Flight lessons began but Larry didn’t seem to enjoy them much. “That’s because he hasn’t learned the trick yet”, my brother taught me. “You must place his claws on your fingers like this, pointing at each other… See? His grip is super tight, see? He wants to learn, otherwise he wouldn’t hold on to you. Now you have to move him up and down, up and down, see how his wings stir? It’s working! I think we have to do this several times a day. It’s just like food. Small babies are supposed to eat every couple hours. It’s probably gonna’ be a few months before he’s up, sailing the sky. Then all the neighbors will be jealous, you’ll see. He’ll love us, only, and protect us, only. Just wait and see.”
I was alone with Larry the next month (or was it the next day?) It was time for his flight lessons, so I placed his claws on my index fingers joined horizontally at the tips, into a sort of flesh trapeze; and started moving Larry up and down, up and down, seeing some progress in his left-wing movement. I even improvised a song to cheer him up. The chorus was made entirely out of chirps.
Then, suddenly, the darkness came. With no previous warning, Larry stopped moving, stiffened up and turned upside down in bat-like fashion. His claws were still holding tight to my fingers but he would not blink. I don’t know if he was still breathing or if it was just the summer breeze that moved through his feathers. I screamed. My grandma came rushing in. I think I heard thunder. A heavy rain got in the way of my tears. I couldn’t even hear my heartbeat. Please, say he was just tired.
I tried to save him from that stillness for the next fifteen minutes, or has it been twenty years? Come on, Larry, wake up, silly bird. I have other things to do.
After performing all the first-aid moving and shaking I could remember from 1st grade, I annotated the time of death on my brother’s observation chart and then I cried myself to sleep. I knew it, I knew his mother would curse us, I knew it all along. Poor Larry must have really loved me since he never flew beyond my fingers. He might have seen my brother first, but grandma said last is all that counts. I’ll be forever cursed, I thought, forever.
My brother and I switched jobs again: he was now a Professional Treasure Hunter and I enrolled with the Animal Bureau of Investigation, fighting off all imaginary crime in the neighborhood.
[Photo: Robert Doisneau]