“Do you hear that?” Melinda, our hostess asks me.
“Hear what?” I reply tiredly. Its Sunday brunch and I’m exhausted from the night before.
“There’s a bird in the restaurant!”
“You’re kidding me.”
I strain my ears. Over the din of our busy restaurant I hear the frantic chirping of a small bird.
“You’re right,” I say, “Can you tell where it’s coming from?”
“Under one of the tables I think,” Melissa says.
I walk down the aisle, trying to home in on the bird’s chirping. The Bistro’s acoustics make it a challenge.
“Waiter,” a female patron calls out, “I think it’s under my table.”
I go over to her table. The chirping’s louder. Yep. He’s gotta be under there.
“Pardon the Wild Kingdom moment madam,” I say, bending down, “But it seems one of our dinner specials has escaped.”
The woman laughs. I lift up the table cloth.
There, pressed up against the wall is a baby sparrow. It seems terrified. I feel my heart sink.
Every year a sparrow makes its home above the Bistro’s front door. Every year the mother tosses the weakling out of the nest. Every year, for six years, I’ve seen a small bird flutter helplessly outside, waiting to be trampled or eaten by a cat. I’ve found that as I get older I get more sentimental about these things. Last year I wrote a rather maudlin ditty about calling a bird rescue outfit to pick up 2005’s ejected baby chick. Yeah that’s me. Animal lover. Dog Park Cowboy. Now I’m trying to remember that avian rescuer’s phone number.
The little sparrow looks at me. I look at him. I grab a linen napkin and gently scoop him up. He weighs nothing. The bird chirps frantically as if he knows he’s in a pair of hands that could crush him in an instant.
“Aw,” Melissa says, “Poor thing.”
“I know how you feel brother,” I say softly to the bird as we walk outside.
I put the sparrow inside a sidewalk planter filled with flowers and green things. He’ll be safe there for a while. Maybe he’ll fly away. His wings seem to work.
As I back away from the planter the bird suddenly flies straight up and back to the nest. Thank God. A happy ending. I’m pleased. That saves me the embarrassment of calling bird rescue two years in a row.
“You’re such a nice man,” Melissa says to me when I walk back inside.
“Get to know me,” I chuckle.” You’ll feel differently.”
A few days pass. It’s another beautiful afternoon. Louis and I are standing outside getting some sun and cracking jokes. Suddenly Louis points at the ground.
“Ugh,” he croaks, “Dead bird.”
I look down. There, smashed flat into the sidewalk, is a baby sparrow. There’s no blood or entrails. The remains appear desiccated. It looks like it’s been there a while.
“I ain’t getting rid of it,” Louis says throwing up his hands.
I open the Bistro’s front door and grab a business card from the holder. I kneel down next to the squashed bird. It’s so embedded in the pavement that it looks like fossilized remains trapped in sedimentary rock. I work the business card under the bird and pry it loose from the sidewalk.
“Oh that’s nasty,” Louis says.
I look down at the bird in my hand. He weighs nothing. I wonder if it’s the same one I held a few days ago. There’s no way to know. I go over to the sidewalk planter. It’s filled with green and living things. It seems respectful to put him there. He existed briefly. But he was here.
I’m feeling a little angry. Small and innocent things are crushed underfoot everyday. Most of the time it’s not personal – it’s just nature grinding away. But sometimes small things are crushed by something else. Something malevolent. Something inside us. Sometimes little things never get a chance. That pisses me off.
I look at the nest over the Bistro’s front door. I hear the survivors singing. I think about a mighty hand covering my eyes and carrying me to a place I’d rather not go. That time will come. I wonder if I’ll cry out.
But I’ve had my chance. I can say I was here. I shake my head and go back inside the Bistro.