“Shh… Winter. Come here.” I motion my baby girl over. She runs to me, slips on the tile floor, and gets up in the blink of an eye, wide armed and smiling.
“What is it, Daddy?” Her voice is innocent and kind.
“We have a visitor,” I whisper. My pointer finger is at my lips.
We squat beside the glass door.
“Who?” She leans forward and bangs her face against the glass, hard. “Ow!”
I chuckle. “Are you okay? There’s a door here.” She nods and rubs her nose. I point at the tree in our backyard. “It’s going to be a nest, honey. Right… There. See? We should feel so special a soon-to-be mama bird wants her home here with us.”
“Will she live with us forever?” She’s giddy with excitement now.
“Perhaps… Outside though. And we don’t startle her, right?”
“RIGHT!” She stomps her tiny, yellow socked foot.
“Shh! Remember honey, quiet voices.”
“Is this how I was born? Can I see in the nest when it’s done?”
“Hmm.” Her first inquiry fills me with dread. It’s impossible to explain to a five-year-old how something comes from nothing. But she’s waiting, beaming at me with those big black eyes. I frown, sighing with the weight of a world on my shoulders. I cannot answer. “Not quite, honey. I’ll get the ladder out and we’ll peek when she’s gone. We don’t want to scare her away forever.”
I don’t want to scare anyone away. Not even the birds.
I want every breathing thing, forever.
From inside, we follow each twig and grass woven into a bowl-like shape, sealed with mud and other natural materials. A safe, cozy home. When done, she settles inside and rests.
“Is the mama going to bed now, Daddy?”
“Yes, for a few days, likely. Let’s give her privacy and don’t forget—quiet voices.”
. . .
I’m in my study on a call, watching Winter on the security camera buzzing around the back door. I had set the ladder out as soon as the bird left, but this urgent work matter foiled my intention to see the nest up close.
I watch Winter, sensing hesitation. She paces the floor with her tiny, crossed arms and contemplative brow.
Don’t do it.
She looks around.
She slides open the door and jets for the ladder.
“Oh, my goodness!” I hear her squeal. “They’re hatching Daddy!”
I grit my teeth, watching her descend the ladder in socks.
“Daddy! They’re hatching!”
“I’ll call you back.” I set my phone down and find Winter in the hallway. “I know you were on that ladder, little one. Without proper footwear, you could’ve slipped and hurt yourself.” My frown creeps into a smirk. It’s impossible to get upset when she reminds me so much of myself. “Alright! Let’s go see.”
It starts with a tiny hole in the shell, and another, followed by frantic movement. The pristine blue-green eggs shake, roll around and knock against each other. The young lives fight their way out—bursting into existence.
“WOW!” Winter shouts.
Existence must be so bright to them. So fresh.
They’re odd-looking vulnerable things with wobbly, wandering necks and closed eyes. Their bodies are translucent, with thin layers of feather here and there and inner workings on full display. I watch closely and take notes, but time is of the essence when their feathers come in abnormally fast, blocking my view.
“Hmm. This bunch is booming. Soon enough, they’ll learn to fly.”
“Where’s their mama? Won’t they be hungry? I’m hungry when I wake up and you give me food.”
“Good question and excellent assessment of our morning routine. She’s likely gathering food for them. With the way they’re crying, she’ll return soon, I’m certain. Let’s go back inside. We’ll watch from the door.”
Inside, we scan the sky as the babies’ mournful cries continue.
Winter leaps up and down, pointing. “She’s back! She’s back!”
Mama bird swoops down with worms in her mouth. One baby springs up, its mouth wide and ready. She deposits the worm. The baby gobbles it down, slithering in its teeny tiny straw size throat.
I chuckle, twirling one of her black-purple blue pigtails. “If you were a bird, you may have a different opinion. I’m certain that worm is delectable as spaghetti.” Winter’s skin turns a foul olive-green color at the mention of spaghetti. She’s allergic to most Earth food. Even the thought of it can affect her. “Apologies, honey. Daddy forgot.” We look at the birdies again, just as one baby falls out, hitting the ground with a tiny thump.
We head back out.
“No!” Winter latches onto me as we approach the hurt bird, burying her face in my pant leg. She sobs. “Will it die?”
“Oh dear.” I gather Winter in a hug and wipe her inky tears with my black handkerchief. “Not all things perish, and not all things are forgotten. You must look to understand.” I kneel with her in my arms and bring her face forward. Winter opens one eye, then another. On the ground, the baby bird turns to blue dust, taken away by a cool silk breeze. The mama’s fury is potent with every dire chirp, click and yeep she makes. Her other babies wait around her, mouths wide open, wondering when their meal will come.
I put Winter down and concentrate.
I reach behind her ear.
The tiny baby falls into my palm. I feel and hear its heartbeat pounding as if it were my own. It opens its mouth wide, spitting miniature ivory flames.
My hand stings like I plunged it inside a volcano but is strangely unblemished.
“It has what you have, Daddy!”
“Mm hmm!” Damnit—even without visual damage, my hand feels like its on fire.
I return the bird to the nest.
The mama never makes a sound, she only stares at us.
She returns the gesture.
“The birth of a friendship,” I whisper. “You see, in our existence, little acts of kindness—our unique kindness—can go far… These birds will be a forever ally in our time of need. If a time should ever come. Saving a life creates a powerful bond, don’t forget.” I look at Winter.
She smiles, nods, and reaches for my hand, clasping two of my fingers. The sting is long gone now.
All is well.