When the Trees Sing a Beautiful Song
It was totally silent. Then, one by one the trees began singing. The birds were up there amongst the pale gum leaves. To me, it sounded like they all sang together, both birds and trees. Up there, where they live, it takes a while to pick out the rainbow and scale-breasted lorikeets. Each of them have a song and while it was too foggy to see them, I could hear them.
Below where the singing came from, the fog laid low and close on the gum branches, trunks and where their roots met land. The fog was like a cool cotton blanket holding warmth around the house surroundings, and yet, sunrise threatened to steal the fog away. It was Thursday morning last week, and just after 6:00am. I had started cooking porridge, the first two cups for the year and from the kitchen window, the two leafless frangipani trees looked like someone had sketched their trunks with a white chalk on the fog. Everything else looked less striking. I already put Boz our scale-breasted pet lorikeet outside to play. He was on top of his cage and singing too.
I stirred the silver pot and waited, enjoying the aroma and warmth escaping in pale dancing lines that matched the fog outside. I enjoyed porridge, its wholesomeness and how it maintained my energy all day. Boz’s happy song echoed across the veranda and into the house. His tunes met with the outside gum tree songs. Boz was only three metres away; I watched him from the kitchen stove, through a fly wire window. Admiring his developed tail and wing feathers I noticed how they had grown longer and stronger since he came to live with us on January 26 this year.
The bird was almost ready to leave home. Lately, he has been flying away from his cage to the ground obviously showing great confidence when landing eight metres away. Sometimes I take him out to the trees where the big birds are so he could get used to it.
I whistled and talked to him while I cooked. The bird’s happy mood made the early rise worthwhile. And a chilly foggy day, especially called for porridge, I thought as I anticipated my work day ahead. I was also curious to see how Boz would like porridge. The bird had already eaten most food; fruit, nuts and vegetables the family enjoyed. He was very happy, sitting on his cage and singing. Then he walked back and forth over the sticks and bells I built – to come closer to the kitchen window and call to me.
I added honey and a little yogurt to the porridge, wishing I had some nuts to add. I scooped a table-spoon into Boz’s plate – a recycled lid from the organic honey bottle. Boz took to the porridge and honey like he had always had it and cheerfully chirped between beak-full. Sun rays stabbed at the veranda where we were; throwing rays against the glass door with blaring reflections. I held the food in my hand as I explained to Boz I had to be away for the day – at work. Boz had a lot to say, but I was not sure if he was complaining about my imminent departure and absence, or just that he enjoyed the porridge and didn’t want me to stop feeding him. I waited till he had eaten enough. I left the remainder in the cage and left the cage door opened because my son Nathan was awake and he would play with Boz. My younger son had left for work at 6am and my mother was asleep. We try to keep a close watch so Boz is guarded at all times against wild attacks. He slept inside the lounge at night. Outside, large birds teased him and while we had not seen a snake in a while, it was important to be cautious about where he played.
After I collected my things, I tickled Boz and gave him his usual head and belly scratches and he wanted to play more, so he pretended to bite me gently again, and again and I tried to leave for work. I put some warm water for his bath and drink. He would have between ten and twelve baths; he just loved playing in the water. Unlike other birds we raised that only bathed once a day, Boz used water bowls as a play pen. He could have easily been a duckling.
Boz’ general manners and personality were very unusual for a bird; cuddly, playful, very happy at all times, sings a song before breakfast and a few before bed and if he hears a family argument in the lounge where he sleeps, he calls out a warning to stop the argument. Kaz our last pet bird and he was moody and often would bite during play. Boz pooped in one place, as if he had made that place his permanent toilet. Kaz tended to poop where he played, which was everywhere. Boz was involved in all family activities; sometimes ate dinner with us and pretended to drink coffee out of my cup if I let him. As I walked out the door, he called out a few times and I laughed as I said goodbye.
At 4:30pm, I finished my office work and caught the bus home – arriving just after 5:45pm. It was very quiet and dark outside and our house, and the porch light was off. I could not see the inside light through the windows. I opened the front door and the kitchen light was on and both my mother and son Nathan were staring at me. No words were spoken.
Afraid, I asked: “What happened?”
“Where were you?”, Nathan asked.
“At work,” I said.
“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”, he said.
“I’m sorry son, I was busy at work and the phone died, I could not find a power point at my new desk, so I didn’t bother to re-charge.”
“Sit down,” my mother said.
“Did something bad happen? Is it at home (in PNG)?”, I said.
“No” my mother said, “but something happened.”
I walked to the dining room chair, keeping my eyes on my son and mother who were both still standing in the kitchen. My younger son was not home.
“We needed the snake catcher’s number,” my son said in a strained voice.
“Oh sorry son, here, I will charge my phone,” I said, and walked to the power point and plugged in my phone.
“Is the snake gone… now?”, I asked slowly.
“No, it’s up there”, my mother said pointing to the ceiling on the veranda, and above where I usually have breakfast with Boz.
I walked forward and pushed the glass door opened.
“Keep the door shut,” my mother commanded. I was surprised by her tone. My mother was always terrified of snakes.
I looked at the snake’s head and neck that protruded from a gap in the ceiling where the fibro joints had come apart. The snake was in a fixed position. My movement did not disturb it in any way. Its eyes were on the architect I built for Boz to play. The pair of white Christmas bells suddenly looked so little and vulnerable under the snake’s fixed gaze. Boz loved to hang upside down and bash the bells with his claws and screech in delight. A new and golden bell I added to Boz’s bell collection was there too. Everything looked the same, but there was an eeriness about it. Boz’s cage was empty so I felt a slight relief that my son had moved the bird to safety.
Taking my eyes away from the cage and the snake’s head, I asked my son: “Where did you put Boz?”
“We can’t find him,” Nathan said after he hesitated. Suddenly, I needed to find the bird.
“Give me the torch, I will go outside, he will be hiding,” I said firmly and quickly started looking for the torch.
Both my son and my mother spoke at the same time. I couldn’t really hear them, but they were saying something to the effect that the snake had been there since this morning and Boz was missing after Nathan returned from town, about 11am or so.
Outside the house, I flashed the torch and called Boz for two hours, walking around all his favourite playing spots. He was always quick to respond, but I only heard silence. My thoughts were mixed up and other wild animal noises from the trees and the surroundings sounded like Boz, so I kept calling. Through a crack in the old timber floor, light caught a bundle of fresh green round shapes amongst the palm seedling under the house. I stuck both hands into the darkness to grab the bundle, but they were no feathers – only a wet cluster of clovers.
I felt sure, Boz was there… somewhere. I could smell him and hear his little whimpering sounds he did each night before bed. I knew he would be cold. I couldn’t hear my mother nor my son anymore as I walked aimlessly in the dark.
After a while, I came back into the house, and my son had called a snake catcher. He told me the catcher would be arriving soon. Mark our usual snake catcher was not available. I took another look at the snake and convinced myself that its head was too small to do any damage. I told myself Boz’ body, as large as two adult human fingers stuck together, could NOT fit this snake’s jaws. I told my mother between tears, the snake was not fully grown yet. My mother said she wanted to open the snake to check and my son said “no”.
“It is only a young snake, but maybe he is curious, may be he is waiting, because Boz is hiding, and he has not caught Bos yet”, I said to my mother between tears. My mother looked out the kitchen window. My son went back to his room. I stayed at the dining table and watched the snake through the glass door. Then, I felt sick and walked slowly to my room.
Outside my window, it was the full moon. The garden started to form shape from the darkness. There was no bird cry nor songs. I heard a woman yell out about a snake and I came out of my room and called Nathan. The woman snake catcher came up to the veranda and looked at the snake. The reptile, a carpet snake was still frozen in the same position.
The woman approached the snake from the front, stepping onto the old wooden chair we used to sit Boz’s cage on in the evenings. She held a cloth and reached for the snake and it turned and curled back into the roof and then tried to get away. My mother told me to close the glass door. I was annoyed at the lack of skill this woman had and thought; why didn’t she use a snake catching stick (with the hook) and approach the snake from the back?
I closed the door and the snake catcher ripped the ceiling down, bringing rubbish and half an adult snake body to the floor. I went out again.
“You have termites,” the snake catcher announced in a not so confident voice, ignoring the fact she had just broken two ceiling fibros.
“Yes, the timber rafters, it has been treated – years ago,” I said, disinterested.
The woman began to chat away about what she did and what else she knew. She lectured on what to do and what not to do for wild birds. She held the snake by the tail as the snake tried to get away. Eventually, she pulled the snake down, bringing the second fibro down to the timber floor with the snake.
“That”, she said ignoring the damage she caused and pointing to the middle thickness of the snake, “is your bird.” She seemed impressed with her own efforts.
My son and I stared in horror at the snake’s middle. There was a small swelling, the size of a child’s fist sitting in the middle of the thick 1.5 metre-long adult python.
I swallowed and stepped back, hearing the woman saying as I turned my back to her, “don’t worry, the bird would have not felt anything. All up, it would have taken 15 seconds.”
I closed the door and let my son pay and finish the job with the snake catcher. I did not want to see her nor the snake again.
I sat at the dining table and closed my eyes. I thought about breakfast that morning and wondered if I could have avoided this. I wondered if the snake was already there, waiting in the veranda ceiling. I felt like screaming, but I could only cry.
The six months of happiness, songs, conversations, playtime and sheer delight of watching Boz has his ten or twelve baths each day – all vanished into that thick, intricate slithering body? I could not believe it.
Today as I sit and stare into the trees, I hear Boz singing in the gum trees. Sometimes, in the mornings, he is singing outside my bedroom like Kaz does. I think of how this tiny bird was a true bundle of joy and how he touched many people.
My son said; “Mum, Kaz was a bird. Boz was not a bird.” That makes sense to me. This little bird was more like a human trapped in feathers. Everyone in the family cannot help but think of Boz when we hear the birds sing in the trees. Sometimes, when I close my eyes and sit still, I can hear the gum trees sing his beautiful song.