Birdwatching

March 3, 2014

We're hunting for a green parrot. My dad first spotted it in the marsh behind the neighborhood, perched on the branch of a skinny tree. You know a tree has birds in it when the leaves splash, as if by isolated drops of rain. When a branch springs back, empty, you know a bird has gone.

This parrot's a stranger and probably a stray. We've seen hanging parrots before, the kulasisi, living wild outside our bedroom windows. But this parrot is much larger and much harder to find. The trees betray nothing of it.

"Caw," I called out, feeling a little foolish.

There's no reply.

The sun slowly faded behind the skyscrapers and a cool breeze set in. In the distance, unseen children reeled in their kites.

"Caw. Caw," I called out again. Then to my right, an answer: chirp!

A sweet, unfamiliar, unmistakable parrot sound.

I turned in time to see the parrot fly from one tree to another. It looked exactly like a paper flyer I had when I was young: straight-backed and swift. It was closer than ever but impossible to see, because the tree beside me was like a fortress.

This particular tree merged with the other plants a long time ago, when those that owed fealty added their roots to its strength. The cover was thick and the ground beneath was in shadow, like a patch of rainforest.

Our ancestors worshipped nature, I thought.

This was the kind of tree they prayed to.

Between us stood a wire fence. I tried to glimpse a tail or a beak or even a beady eye, to no avail. After a while, the bats came out, the street lights switched on. The tree had defeated us. Finally we retreated, stealing a last, fruitless glance as we walked back into the street and headed home.