A true personal story
The pot of plant will follow us wherever we go. It sits on the ground with the rest of the potted plants in the garden of our rented house. The story of Chirpy’s sojourn with us was filled with many memorable events.
The flowers are so aptly called the ‘Heart of Jesus’. Beneath the soil lies the remains of a bird, our remarkable pet Chirpy who was exhumed from our home garden that is currently being rebuilt.
Chirpy was a bulbul, of the Passerine category. also commonly known as the Nightingale of the East. Its passing was since June 2004 but never forgotten all these years.
The memories of Chirpy are indelible. In June 2013, my son, Joe had brought back a brown paper bag with a baby bird in it. He said that a lady had handed it to him at the subway station and told him to take good care of it.
My husband, Han is an animal lover, so naturally, the bird which I gave the name Chirpy went under his utmost care.
Chirpy looked wretched and drenched as if it had fallen off a tree. Over the weeks, Han fed it water, honey, and oats to rejuvenate its energy and made it strong. Before long, Chirpy was up and about, flying in the cage and viewing us curiously.
As Han did not like to see animals caged, we would release it in the house occasionally and it was free to fly around. It often perched itself on top of photo frames for a good vantage. It would curiously hop around the laptop or peer into the back mirror of the bicycle parked in the living room. The remarkable thing was that Chirpy always poohed at one spot of the windowsill so toileting was not an issue.
Soon, we decided to refer to it as ‘he’ as Han started to view him as a son.
We began to notice that every morning, other species of birds including a hummingbird would fly around his cage. The garden became livelier with little tweets and other sounds.
One morning, Han opened the cage and told Chirpy, “if you like to come back, you may. The cage is left open for you.” Chirpy took flight with the birds, soaring above the trees.
For a moment, we thought that he was gone. Suddenly, he appeared and landed on Han’s left shoulder and nestled there. Thereon, he was released every morning for his ritual playtime. He always flew back.
Han spent most of the morning hours with the liberated bird. Soon, Chirpy was sipping some coffee from his cup and was treated to some fruits and even our regular breakfast. Its favorite fruit was passion fruit which has such a refreshing taste.
Han had introduced Chirpy to his bath in the sink and we had the pleasure of watching him dip and douse himself in the water repeatedly, each time rolling and flicking and vibrating his wings to wet its plumage. He obviously found bathing enjoyable.
After the bath, he would throw off the water by vibrating his wings, tail, and then ruffled his feathers. When he became accustomed to me, he would sit on my finger while bending over to one side to sun himself, then reversed his position.
We were awestruck by his decision to stay with us instead of flying away. Maybe, it’s the food that he had sampled, a variety of dishes from fried chicken to noodles to coffee and fruits.
I never knew much about birds until we had Chirpy. For instance, a bird would sleep with his head buried. I discovered that one evening when I peeked into the washroom where Chirpy was perched on the window frame, sleeping. He slept that way too while resting on our abdomens.
One morning, we found Chirpy in a desperate condition. When we uncovered the cage which we shield Chirpy every evening, we found him much distressed, and we noticed that his tail and wings were torn off. Some nocturnal animal might have tried to grab him through the cage and managed to claw off his tail and wings.
Han immediately brought him into the house, cleaned him at the basin, and dried him. Chirpy was frantic and we saw how he tried to fly by his posturing himself but instinctively knew he could not.
Thereon, we made him a resident inside our master room during the nighttime. Han would tuck him under a towel in a basket every night after giving him a kiss on the head. In the daytime, we put him back in the cage but he would just flop to the bottom of the cage. His friends still appeared and flew around the cage, chirping.
Han fed him well into recovery. Very soon, he was fit again to fly and he had the full-fledged freedom to come and go from his cage hanging in his garden. He loved hovering outside his cage or even sheltering under the shady palm tree. He provided many lovely picture moments.
He was a joy to have around. We took videos of him hopping around the laptop and the newspapers, perched on top of the cupboard at times. Once, he performed a dance up Han’s arm to give a peck on his cheek before sashaying back to his hand, making small sounds along the way. We were thrilled.
Han was so enamored of Chirpy that when he was overseas, he would call back and asked the phone to be placed next to Chirpy so that he could talk and whistle to him. Our fair feathered son simply cocked his head to one side as if listening.
I told Han that when he was away, Chirpy refused to come out of the cage and at one point even pulled out the tissue paper that I kept stuck to keep the gate open. The gate would fall shut! He slept in a very insecure manner, all curled up over his water holder.
Once, Chirpy did not come back. Han cycled around the residential estate calling his name. He might have looked a bit crazy but a neighbor, five doors away came out to ask what he was looking for. Our neighbor revealed that a bird that seemed so tame had flown into his house and he had kept him in his spare cage. If the bird responded to Han, he may bring back and he did. We were delighted and relieved.
All good things, however, came to an end. One fateful late afternoon, my son Joe decided to let Chirpy play in his bathtub placed in the sink of the washroom. Unfortunately, Joe did not know that Chirpy had the habit of flying to one’s shoulder and then fly back to his bathtub as if it was a gesture of thanks.
My son was closing the door behind him when Chirpy flew through and was hit by the edge of the door as it was closing. We received a frantic call from Joe and rushed to the vet where Chirpy was attended to.
There, sitting inside an incubator-like box, he was heaving heavily. The vet diagnosed his injury as a concussion and the prognosis was bad due to internal hemorrhage. Never once did he lay his eyes off Han as he hurried in to bring the bird onto his hands to bring him home.
All of us were distraught but we had to keep calm. Chirpy looked at his master intensely. Suddenly, he convulsed and I thought he was revived. Instead, after the convulsion, he stretched out his body straight as a rod and laid motionless. It hit us that our dear furry friend had passed on.
The silence in the house was deafening. Everything came to a stop. We rallied around Chirpy’s body while Han contemplated what to do. He placed Chirpy in a small whiskey box, stroked his body that was gradually turning cold. We placed him in the refrigerator as we could not bear to bury him immediately. We all cried profusely.
Each time, Han would take him out to look at him resting peacefully and stroked him again. Surprisingly, one time, Chirpy yielded two feathers while being stroked as if it’s a gift to us. We kept it in a special box.
Finally, after 5 days, we decided to perform a short farewell by putting a candle next to his box, and his cherished bathtub. I gave a short eulogy and we started crying buckets.
Eventually, Han dug a hole in the garden and buried Chirpy after putting some basil leaves in it. Basil leaves were his favorite food too. Months later, a basil plant sprouted in his resting place. It was almost a year since he came into our lives and brought many moments of happiness and cheer.
Our fair feathered friend may have gone but we learned some precious lessons. Chirpy, a bird can make decisions too. He is a true joy to us. We should pay more attention to our surroundings and watch how animals interact with us and their own species and not be caught up in our money-making world.
Above all, Chirpy taught us about the concept of freedom. By not holding on to someone we hold dear because of our own selfish reasons brought surprising results. As we did not curb his freedom, Chirpy chose to come back to us every day though he could fly away. Had we confined him to the cage, any chance he had, he would have escaped. The principle of letting go applies to human beings too. There should be no coercion on anybody. Everyone makes a choice with his or her own life.