I was happily ensconced in my first day after the end of classes, watching a Supernatural marathon, when I got this phone call from a friend:
Hey, I need you advice. I found this bird on the grass, and I think it’s wing is broken, and I was wondering what you thought we should do.
By grass I was out the door of my room, shuffling my shoes on, and packing a bird rescue kit. I pushed a hand-towel, my apron from Oliver, the birds’ nest I had found on the grass earlier in the week and had taken home, and my wallet, keys, and cellphone. I ran across the street, called my friend for more directions, and found them. Three girls, huddling over a little white fluffy person on the ground near a wall of our university.
As I ran, I wondered where this urgency had come from. I had seen animals die before, and knew this was the probably outcome for this bird as well. Since I am leaving in about 30 hours, I could not foster the bird even if it were to live. But in my family, we take care of stray things. I remember a dove my mom and brother and I watched smash into a bank building’s window. No one, in Qatar or the US, is willing to take an injured bird without significant hassle. But, even with two small kids in tow, mom found a box for the injured dove, and kept it in her room until it died of its injuries. Our cats mostly came from other people’s dumpings. They had been abandoned as kittens at NASA and Donner Pass. Our dogs had been born under our garage. We took them in.
The three women had found a small cardboard box for it, lined it with paper towels and a cloth grocery bag, and were trying to feed it cooked rice. I reached into the box, having checked it superficially for sores or parasites which could make me sick, and picked it up. I held it loosely in my hand, cradling it, checking its eyes and vents and feet. Checking under the wings and around the neck for injuries. It’s wings were unbroken. When a sudden wind ripped over us, it straighten its whole tiny body, leaned into the wind, and flapped up. We watched it, stunned at the sudden movement from the previously docile animal, and then stood up as a group. I slipped off my shoes, and ran barefoot over the stone flooring after it.
It was a white paper airplane, so much larger in flight than it had appeared on the ground. We saw it try to land on a palm tree in a grove surrounded by rose bushes, bounce off, and land in the bushes. I pushed through the bushes, wrapping my diaphanous skirt around my fist. I saw a small white body hanging limply from the bottom branch of a rose bush. I gently wrapped my hand around it, maneuvering its long claws away from the thorns of the branch. It was so small in my hand, the other women did not see it when I emerged, and asked if I could find it.
We went inside, keeping the bird in our box, and because we are CMU women, found a computer to research. We found it was white budgie, and guess that the neon blue of its back feather came from the dyes from traders use on small parrots in the souqs here. It tried to fly again, but landed at the base of a desk, looking exhausted. We decided I would take it for the night, and one of the other women would buy budgie food. Because it wasn’t eating or taking water and its skin was red (a sign of rehydration), my first priority was getting it calm enough to eat or drink.
My goal was not, and is not as I write with the little suffering man in his covered box, that he live to become a pet. I know that most rescued birds, like the dove my mom saved when I was little, will die. My job, as a person who can do so, was to give it a place where it could die in peace, unpursued by cats and unbaked by the merciless Doha sun.
So here I am, in my last night in Doha, doing hospice care for a budgie. I have a friend who will be taking him tomorrow if he lives through the night. As we stood around the computer, everyone was horrified by the idea of watching a small animal die for the night. I offered because I thought I could. Sitting here, taking looking in on him twice an hour, taking him out every few hours, checking his bedding for spilled water or a lack of seeds, I feel connected to my childhood. I know he will die, probably tonight, maybe in a few weeks. His pin feathers aren’t done yet, but whoever let him into the wild condemned him calously. All I can do is soften his ascent to bird heaven, but I think that is a just contribution all the same.
Before we left for our homes, we decided to name him, to give him a personality to come home to. We named him Thanh, which means “color of the sky” in Vietnamese. It has been overcast in Doha this week, the sky a constant smudgy white with streaks of blue. Just like our dying budgie.
Update: Thanh died at about 12:30am that morning. I waited an hour to be sure, then snuck him outside and buried him with some colorful thread underneath a fragrant flowering bush. I am never sure where my burial rituals come from, but the closet I could figure to wind was sewing thread, and just being back from Egypt his little white body, wrapped in tissues and bound in multicolored thread looked appropriately mummified. I also wrapped him in a gift-bag from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. And I scolded the local cat to leave him be. RIP Thanh.
“I am your mother, And we are kind to snails.” (For a Five-Year-Old) by Fleur Adcock