FEED THE BIRDS

In our mar­riage, we learned that to nour­ish love…

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - TISTA SEN FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

A bird feeder brought more than feath­ered friends to this cou­ple’s life... it helped rekin­dle love.

My hus­band was no longer the man I had mar­ried. He had be­come grumpy and short- tem­pered. He works in publishing, an in­dus­try that has its own share of prob­lems. A self-made man, he wor­ries that our sons have been handed too much. Our mar­riage was fac­ing the fa­mil­iar strains of midlife. All of this was get­ting him down. Un­til he in­stalled the bird feeder. “But that’s so messy,” I said. In Mum­bai, In­dia, where we live, apart­ments are tiny. And while we have a lit­tle ve­ran­dah, we do not have birds, and I did not see the point of putting up a bird feeder on our small space to feed non-ex­is­tent crea­tures.

To try to feed birds in a city that’s rife with star­va­tion and poverty also seemed too priv­i­leged a no­tion. “We live in In­dia,” I re­minded him. “Birds be­long to the world,” he replied. And that was that.

So up it went, an ugly con­trap­tion he bought on­line. It was trans­par­ent, cylin­dri­cal and odd-look­ing. It was

f illed with grain and I watched skep­ti­cally as it stood soli­tary and de­fi­ant on our ve­ran­dah in a city where I nei­ther saw birds fly nor come to roost.

Our lives were busy. We worked hard. We spoke less. We watched too much tele­vi­sion. We spent many evenings an­swer­ing emails and texts. Our sons were grown-up and had their own lives. We had ours.

One lonely morn­ing in a long suc­ces­sion of lonely morn­ings, I caught my hus­band’s eye over the news­pa­per. He was sig­nalling to me in an an­i­mated fash­ion, point­ing to our ve­ran­dah.

I turned. And there it was: a bright green par­rot with a red beak perched on the ledge of the bird feeder. The par­rot cocked his head. We cocked ours. The par­rot stud­ied us. We stud­ied him. And then he set­tled down and dug in.

I glanced at my hus­band. He beamed in re­sponse.

And soon our morn­ings be­came a bit more than the rush to catch the bus. There was an­tic­i­pa­tion un­til our winged vis­i­tors would ar­rive. One morn­ing, a cocky spar­row came to us.

“Did you know they are al­most ex­tinct in this city?” my hus­band whis­pered.

We waited to see which feath­ered friend would drop in next.

“That’s a lit­tle sun­bird!” I ex­claimed with dis­be­lief. “In Mum­bai!”

And sud­denly the grumpy man’s face lit up, his stress lines dis­ap­pear­ing. Could this be a new him? Soon there was a sprightly qual­ity to his morn­ings. Our morn­ings. In the busy monotony of our lives, we were par­ents once again. Ex­cept this time he was the mother.

Our morn­ings be­came the hours I most looked for­ward to. We ex­changed far more than a glance. It was like the in­trepid ex­cite­ment of open­ing our doors to new friends and hav­ing a meal ready. Will they come? Will the food be enough? Will they en­joy their din­ner and come back for more?

He spent many a Sunday on the in­ter­net re­search­ing birds, bird food and eat­ing pat­terns. When do they feed? How much? Why so lit­tle?

Our con­ver­sa­tions of­ten be­gan with a bird fact. A typ­i­cal song­bird sings 2000 times a day, for ex­am­ple.

One very windy Sunday, as we both gazed out from our lit­tle ve­ran­dah, he seemed pen­sive. “Is it your job?” I asked anx­iously, ea­ger to help.

“No,” he said, glar­ing at me for

YOU REACH A STAGE IN LIFE WHEN YOU YEARN TO DO SOME­THING NEW... TO FIND YOUR­SELF. TO RE­DIS­COVER LOVE

be­ing so hope­lessly in­sen­si­tive. “There hasn’t been a bird visit in the last 24 hours. I’ve been watching.”

“Per­haps it needs a GPS tracker,” I said jok­ingly. I mean, they were just birds. I was the wife.

That evening, I found that he’d moved the feeder to an­other lo­ca­tion.

“It’s eas­ier for them to find it,” he said. “They need to be com­fort­able. Af­ter all, they come to eat.”

Can you be jeal­ous of birds? They com­manded his at­ten­tion more than I did. I be­gan glar­ing at the pi­geons and mut­ter­ing cuss words at the noisy crow. “You are up­stag­ing me,” I mut­tered to the coo­ing dove.

I felt like Cruella de Vil from Dis­ney’s One Hun­dred and One Dal­ma­tians, de­vi­ous plot­ter and cold­hearted crim­i­nal. I was get­ting in the way of their hap­pi­ness. And his.

One morn­ing while my hus­band was away, I sat in my lit­tle nook nurs­ing a cof­fee. My fa­ther had been hos­pi­talised, and I was in­un­dated with work and a press­ing dead­line. The hope­less­ness of life kept creep­ing up on me. I wiped my tears in anger and gazed at the bird feeder.

Some­one cocked his head around the feeder. It was my friend the par­rot. Or rather, my hus­band’s friend.

Well, tough luck, pal, I thought. There’s just me to con­tend with to­day.

He stared at me. I stared back. I moved closer, but he didn’t budge.

He con­tin­ued eat­ing in lit­tle bites from the bird feeder as I inched closer. And just when I could see him up close in his mag­nif­i­cent fin­ery, he looked at me side­ways and a lit­tle crossly. Keep your dis­tance, he threatened.

For once I lis­tened. I watched the bird eat and fill his tummy. I imag­ined his plea­sure. I shared in his con­tent­ment. If he were able to roll onto his back for a belly rub, he would have.

It was such a sim­ple joy. Such a sim­ple kind­ness. I smiled as fresh tears threatened to spill again. That night, I snug­gled close to my once-grumpy man and held his hand tight. “Is ev­ery­thing all right?” he asked. “Yes,” I whis­pered. “I shared a meal with your friend to­day.”

These days, my hus­band smiles more and grum­bles less. He now looks at the trees in the neigh­bour­hood and talks about how im­por­tant they are. “For the birds, you mean?” “For us,” he says qui­etly. And per­haps that’s it. You reach a stage in life when you yearn to do some­thing new, some­thing good. To give back. To find your­self. To re­dis­cover love. In or­der to live bet­ter.

Some nur­ture a hobby. Others do­nate to char­ity or vol­un­teer to teach. The wealthy may take them­selves out for elab­o­rate meals or on a trip to an ex­otic city, where they can go bungee­jump­ing or learn to speak Man­darin.

My hus­band did none of those things. But he found him­self any­way. And in do­ing so, he found us.

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