The boy gave the early morning paper a throw and then swerved quickly to keep from running over a bird on the walkway.
“Hey, bird,” he said, glancing over his shoulder to see it still sitting there, “that’s no place to sleep!”
A little later as he came back with his empty paper bags, the boy slowed down to see if the bird were still around. He stopped in surprise when he spotted the bird exactly where it had been before.
The boy looked at the bird, puzzled. The bird stared up at the boy with round beady eyes but didn’t move.
“Hey, bird,” the boy said again, “is something wrong with you?”
He got off his bike and walked closer—one step and then another. The bird suddenly moved, but it only hopped into the tall grass.
The boy moved a step or two nearer and stooped down. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “The other birds are waking up and starting to feed, and here you are just sitting around on the ground.”
As he talked, the boy slowly moved closer and reached out his hand. The little bird flew up in panic, but it only flew as high as the boy’s head and then landed again.
The boy easily put his hand over the bird and picked it up.
Frantically the bird bit hard into his hand.
“Ow!” exclaimed the boy. He jerked his hand to throw the bird loose, but instead he braced himself to stand the pain and quietly said, “Don’t be afraid, little one. Don’t be afraid,” until the bird relaxed and let go.
“Don’t you feel good?” the boy asked, as he looked over the little body. “No blood on your feathers, so it wasn’t a cat or a gun, was it?”
He stroked the little head a while to calm the bird and said, “I’m going to look at your wings and legs now. I’ll be real careful.”
He gently opened each wing and straightened each delicate leg, folding them back carefully while talking quietly.
The little bird did not struggle now. Maybe it was too weak. Or maybe it trusted the boy.
“Mmmm, I’m almost sorry it isn’t a broken bone,” the boy finally said. “It’s easier to mend something on the outside than on the inside of tiny creatures like you.”
He examined the little bird carefully—above, below, from beak tip to tail’s end—and found nothing wrong. Then he ran one finger along the bird’s throat, chin to stomach.
“Hey,” he cried in alarm, “your food crop is empty. You haven’t been feeding for quite a while. How come?” He looked sadly at the little bird and shook his head. “I’m afraid this is serious, little guy.”
They looked at each other, boy and bird, and something passed between them eye to eye and heart to heart. The little bird lay quietly staring in the boy’s hand, soothed by his gentle touch and friendly voice. Then a tiny cluster of bubbles foamed out of a corner of the bird’s mouth, and the boy gave a low moan.
“Oh-h-h, you’ve picked up some poison. And it hurts like a fire inside, doesn’t it? That’s how it was with Major when he …”
The boy stopped. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard. Then he looked at the little bird again and went on, “Maybe you’ll see Major. He’s a nice dog. He’s all brown and sort of medium size. Major’s good to birds. He’ll be a good friend for you.”
The boy sat down in the grass and they waited together. The boy’s fingers stroked the soft feathers and his voice whispered tender words to comfort the bird.
Now and then the little bird would close its eyes to rest and then quickly open them again and stare its round look at the boy. The bird wasn’t frightened anymore. It was as if the bird and the boy were saying things to each other that they both understood.
Before long the bird’s small body trembled, and it gave the boy one more look as if to say, “It’s all right now. Goodbye, my friend.”
Then the bird closed its eyes and went to sleep in the boy’s hand. The chilly dark sky changed to glowing dawn light as life silently parted from the bird.
“Goodbye, little fellow,” the boy whispered, holding the soft warm feathers against his cheek. “I’m sorry it hurt so bad you had to go.” And he stroked away a tear that fell on the bird’s tiny head.
Quietly the boy found a short piece of wood and dug with it close under a tree, holding the little bird in one hand. In the earth he made a bed and cushioned it with soft grass. He laid the little bird there and covered it with a blanket of fresh green leaves and warm brown earth. Then he tucked it in with a rainbow spread of little flowers.
And all the while he worked, the boy crooned a song of farewell to the little bird: