When I was 12 and trudging home from school one Friday springtime afternoon, I happened upon a fledgling bird cheeping in the gutter. On closer inspection, I saw this bird had a disability – a mangled club-foot – and that being stranded by a busy road would soon make roadkill of this chick. And so, being a kindly and optimistic child, I scooped this bird up and pledged to save it from certain death.
This is the story of that bird.
As I walked the rest of the way home feeling quite the Good Samaritan, my new feathered friend cupped in my hands was kicking up a right fuss. It kept squawking and opening and closing its beak in a wide and dramatic manner. This I diagnosed as thirst, it being a hot day. So it made sense to stop by the public loos and give my pet a drink. Straight from the tap. (I doubt it was drinking water.)
After splashing a bit of water into the bird’s beak, it still wasn’t satisfied. I hurried home – it must be hungry. Reluctant to forage for worms and insects, I raided the fridge instead and found some raw minced beef. The bird gobbled it up, so I figured this was a good enough substitute – better, in fact. Who wants worms when there’s steak on the menu?! This club-footed unfortunate was going to live like a king in my care!
As I set about making Stumpy – as I named him – a nest out of a cardboard box, twigs and cotton wool, I imagined how our owner-pet relationship would pan out. I pictured myself teaching Stumpy to fly after I’d nursed him back to full health, me gently bouncing him up and down on a blanket until he found the courage to take flight. But our bond would never be broken – Stumpy would return to my windowsill whenever I, the eccentric bird girl, needed him most.
I announced to mum and dad that Stumpy was moving into my bedroom so I could provide the round-the-clock care he needed. Mum doubted my resolve. She told me he’d need feeding right through the night. I stocked up with mince and (randomly) milk, and went to bed to prove mum wrong.
At 5am on Sunday morning, I proved mum right. As I tweezered tuna into Stumpy’s ever-gaping mouth, the mince having since been made into lasagne, I saw this was as much of an ordeal for him as it was for me. Stumpy needed specialist care. And I needed a pet that didn’t squawk and shit fish non-stop.
Dad and I discussed the Stumpy situation and it was decided we’d take him to the local animal sanctuary. I popped Stumpy in a shoebox and handed him over to the volunteer with a heavy heart. She gave me a kindly smile as I described his disability and asked them to take good care of him.
I went away imagining Stumpy being rushed into a miniature operating room moments later, where a crack team of wildlife workers rebuilt his floppy leg and deformed foot. He healed. He learned to fly. He lived a happy and fulfilling life with his own kind. Instead of with a odd girl who kept feeding him inappropriate foodstuffs and, years down the line, could occasionally be found gazing out of windows wondering when that ungrateful bloody bird was going to show up.
Fast forward 10 years and I was working as an editorial assistant in a magazine publishing house in another part of the country. I half-heard a bizarre conversation my then-editor was having with a colleague. They were swapping scar stories and I walked in on her childhood recollection about how a baboon that was insanely jealous of her brother had escaped, burst into his bedroom one night and tried to rip his face off. Wondering why she and her brother had such an intense relationship with a baboon in the first place, I asked – what the actual fuck?!
Well, it turned out that her dad owned the wildlife sanctuary where I’d taken Stumpy. Small world, huh?
I immediately asked after Stumpy – how’d the op go? Was he keeping well? How was life in the sanctuary in general?
She told me that bird would have had its neck wrung the second I left the carpark.