The clouds fly past us, the skies open up and cast down their wares. We’ve missed it, I think. We stopped to pick up the rolls for the picnic and the window of nice weather has fled. We chase it anyway. The wipers are working hard but off in the distance I see a speck of blue. To my left it’s all black thunderous cloud. To my right there’s that glimmer of blue. I put the foot down. Here in the West of Ireland I believe in chasing the blue. Hunting it down. Wrestling it to the ground.
We trundle across the headland to our favourite beach. We park just above it. The blue is gaining ground on the black. It is with a smidgeon of smugness that I take out my red camping chair. Look at this I say to them and to myself. All this beauty, it’s worth pushing it to get here isn’t it? But they are gone. I take out his chair then too, even though he is not here. Perhaps I chat to him a little. Tell him how we’re getting on. It’s a little less weird if his chair is out too. The boys are trying to find the boat they made out of driftwood and old rope a couple of days ago. They are far off along the beach. I sink into my chair and reach for my book. Isn’t this what it’s all about I ask him. A seagull squawks his reply overhead.
Three sentences into the book and a commotion is brewing down on the beach. I’m being summoned. I ignore it. They send marque 5 as a scout. It is not possible to ignore marque 5.
‘Quick Mum, you’ve got to come quickly. There’s a bird and it can’t fly and it might be in labour’. His eyes are popping out of his head with the urgency and excitement. I look down the beach at them. Marque 1 is motioning to me to get there too – both arms up beckoning as if guiding a plane in to land. I take marque 5’s hand and he leads me down.
Many things flit through my mind as I stare at the bundle before me. A young wild bird, dazed and serene but puffed out a little, is being tended to by the crew. They try everything they can think of. They pluck fresh mussels from the rocks and prise them open. They wave them under the beak of the little bird. ‘Ah, he’s not hungry’ they deduce. Marque 4 has some fresh water in a lid. He pops it under the beak and the bird takes a sip. ‘Yes, yes, look he’s drinking my water’. They stroke it. They talk to it. It’s going to be okay they tell it. Then they turn to me, their wise mother, for what to do next.
‘We’ve got to save him Mum’ they chant and expect me to leap into some sort of action. It is perhaps the first time ever that I’ve scanned the beach hoping for a passer-by. Some knowledgeable adult who would tell us to leave well enough alone. That nature will sort what is to be sorted. There’s not a sod in sight.
‘It’s probably just a little concussed’ I say, bamboozling them with my insight.
‘He probably took a dive at the rocks instead of the sea. If we just leave him alone for a while he’ll get back to himself’.
I am being looked at by 10 eyes – maybe 12, can’t tell if the bird is staring too – as if I’ve just said something treacherous.
‘We can’t just LEAVE him Mum, he might die, we have to DO something’ marque 2 says.
‘A vet’ marque 3 interjects. ‘We need to get him to a vet’.
I need a good local person to come along and tell my kids to get a grip. You don’t go about plucking wild birds from wild beaches and take them to a vet. In the absence of such a person I say it myself but they do not buy it. What? Leave him here to die?
‘But we’ve only got here and it isn’t raining and you haven’t had a swim yet and what about the picnic and we’re miles from anywhere and…’ All on deaf ears. There is only one thing to do now in their book. Save the bird.
I come up with a plan. I’ll ring a vet in the nearest village. They will tell me that of course they don’t treat wild birds. I’ll boom that out to the kids. That’ll be an end to it.
‘Yes’ the calm soft voice says at the end of the phone.
‘Yes we’ll take a look at it. We’re closing at 5.30 though’. It’s 5.05.
‘Oh dear, we’ll never make it by then, we’re miles away’ I boom out.
‘l’ll stay a little late to see if you can make it’ the kind voice says. Darn it.
The crew carry the bird back up the beach in some old tarpaulin for a stretcher. They all have a corner. I put the chairs and the book back in the car. It’s 5.10. We’ll have to go like the clappers. They wrap him in a beach towel and he sits on the seat behind me. Visions of him panicking and taking sudden flight in the car while I’m driving flash across my mind. But I don’t share them. This crew is on a mission and excuses to put it off will not be tolerated. We bump back across the headland.
A drove of donkeys stands stubbornly in our way. A chorus of ‘no’ echoes around the car. On any other day we’d stop for a chat and a stroke. Not today. Some move a little as I approach. One is parallel with the bonnet looking defiantly at me. He’s not about to budge.
‘Just beep him’ marque 1 advises and I do. I blast the bejaysus out of him. He takes a few steps away and looks back in at us. The look suggests that he’d very much like to give us the finger, if only he could. We reach the gate and marque 1 does it with pit-stop speed. Now it’s over to me to win this race.
A jeep full of men and half naked boys pulls out of a side road in front of us. They snail along the narrow boreen. Some of them are are facing us and leering. There’s a touch of Deliverance about it.
‘Beep them, tell them to let us by, that we’re trying to get a sick bird to hospital’ one of my frustrated crew pipes up. How to get murdered I think to myself and snail up their arse a little tightly instead. They hang a right eventually and we are free to give it some welly. It’s 5.25 and we are 15 k from the village. Oh well.
On the journey they name the bird. Jazz. They talk about how good it feels to be helping him.
‘lt just makes you feel all zingy and alive again’ marque 4 says and they all agree – a rarity. Zingy. Where has he got that from? It fits the moment perfectly. I’m complimented on my racer style driving. Another rarity.
We screech up at the vets at 5.40. They all get out, barefoot, to bring him in while I park the car. Then there are six of us in the tiny waiting area, dwarfing it. The vet’s assistant takes the bird. She wraps him in a blue blanket – like the ones for newborns in a maternity hospital. He looks utterly precious with just his little head peeping out. She takes him into the vet. We sit and stand and wait for some news. She comes back out.
‘The vet says you don’t have to wait. The bird will be in overnight. If the wings are broken, the bird’ and she drops to a whisper directed at me ‘will be put to sleep. If not he will be released.’ We’re all nodding at her.
‘Can we ring tomorrow to find out how he is?’ I ask.
‘Yes, I was just going to say that’ she says and smiles, a kind gentle smile.
‘Oh and boys, thank-you’ she says.
‘You did a good thing, the right thing, bringing him in. Thank-you all’ she says and her eyes are a bit moist looking. Perhaps she’s allergic to feathers.
Light streams in through the crack in the curtains announcing a new day. I’m feeling a little knot of dread and I’m not sure why until marque 5 opens his eyes too.
‘Ring the hospital and find out how Jazz is’ he says. Ah yes, Jazz. I don’t want to ring. I’m afraid to find out. I put it off, brew a few coffees, forget to eat something. Then they are all up with their expectant faces. They all want to know except me. I take a deep breath, step out onto the balcony and dial. The cheerful voice on the end of the line is not the same person as was on last night. She will, she says, have to find out. She will ring me back. If I were a smoker this would be an excellent time to reach for one. She doesn’t leave me hanging long though. It is with much regret that she passes on the news that Jazz did not make it. She fills the picture in beautifully. Jazz was two or three weeks old and was born with a deformity which meant that he would never fly. The parents would’ve kept him alive at first, feeding him. But after a while they would’ve pushed him out of the nest. He was not viable in the wild without being able to fly. When we found him and brought him to the vet he was severely dehydrated and starving. The vet put him on fluids and medication. Then when he checked him at 10 o’clock last night he had died.
There’s a moment of silence when I deliver the news. Then they talk amongst themselves about how at least Jazz would’ve been comfortable and felt cared for in his last hours. How from the time he was pushed out of the nest he must’ve felt afraid all the time. How he would not have felt afraid coming towards his death. How it still feels good to have tried to help.
‘Can we go and collect him?’ marque 2 asks as if it’s a perfectly reasonable request.
‘What? For what?’
‘For a funeral. We can bring him back down to the beach where he’s from and give him a lovely funeral’.
Aaagh… Enough already! I manage to dodge that one, masterful mother that I am. But we are here at his beach again today and marque 2 finds a white feather that he shed yesterday in the tarpaulin stretcher. He waves it at me.
‘Keep it’ I say to him.
‘Yes I’m going to’ he says.