This is a short story I wrote for my children.
The Bird Lady
by John Dadlez
“Good morning Sophie,” said the policeman to the old lady feeding the birds and small animals in the park. He did this every day as he walked his beat, meeting her for so many mornings that he had lost count.
“And how are your little friends today?”
“Oh, very good,” she replied, “except maybe for Squeezel.” She pointed to a particular squirrel. “He looks a little bit under the weather today.” Pulling from her goody bag a large nut, she motioned to the squirrel who came right up and took it from her fingers.
“Well, I’m sure he’ll be fine. You take very good care of him. I’ll be back a little later to check up on you.”
“Thank you,” she said as she waved good-bye and went back to feeding the birds.
Every day, rain or shine, she visited the city park, came to the same bench by the lake, and all her friends waited patiently for her arrival. The pigeons and doves, finches and robins, ducks and swans all knew that she was their friend. She always showed up with a tasty morsel of day old pastry or good sourdough bread for them to start their day. Even the squirrels and chipmunks came to say hello and gather up a few crumbs for breakfast, and the fish in the lake would gather closer to the shore and poke their heads up above the surface to see what she had brought for them that day.
Sometimes as the children in the park played and flew their kites, a group of them would gather around the bench and watch as she tossed crumbs to the birds and animals, talking to them as if they were her own little children, even addressing several by name. And would you believe that the birds and animals knew their names and came right away when she called?
This went on all day, until the late afternoon, when she finally gathered her things and said good-bye to her friends to start the long walk back to her home. Sometimes, the birds and animals would follow her to the edge of the park and beyond, just to make sure that she made it out of the park safely. One day Squeezel even followed her all the way home, dodging traffic and the feet of hurried people, just because he was curious.
“Surely,” he thought, “such a kind and wonderful person must live in a grand house with many friends and family to take care of her.” But he was mistaken. He followed her to a broken down apartment building in an old neighborhood, and watched as she slowly climbed the stairs to her building, one step at a time, until she finally reached the door. He waited as she went inside and watched for many minutes until a light went on in a window many floors up. Quickly he scampered up the gutter of the building and across the ledge until he came to the window.
Inside he saw the Bird Lady taking off her plain cloth coat and gently lay it over the back of a chair. It was a small apartment with one main room. There was a kitchen area and a table for eating. A couch and chair sat up against the far wall and by his window was her bed. The room was filled with the things that humans hold so dear that, when judged all together, tell the story of their lives. Many pictures decorated the walls, pictures of a younger Bird Lady with other people. They were very old and browned at the edges. On top of the little side tables and chests were knick-knacks she had collected over the years. Some he recognized from other windows he’d peeped into. Others were strange and must have come from far, far away.
He watched the Bird Lady go about her business, tidying up here and there, and putting on a kettle for tea. As she drank, she went about the kitchen pulling out bags of seeds and nuts, preparing the food for her next day in the park. Finally, she was ready for bed. Squeezel found himself a nice hole in a nearby tree and curled up for the night.
In the morning the Bird Lady dressed, had a light breakfast and gathered her belongings to start her day. Squeezel followed her as she left the building and watched as she entered bakeries, and markets, always asking the proprietors the same question. “Anything for my friends today?”
The owners would smile and reach under a counter for a large paper bag full of day old breads and pastries to give her.
“You have a good heart, “she would say. “My friends thank you.”
When she finished, off she went to the park.
Squeezel told all of his companions in the park what he had seen and it made them all love the Bird Lady even more. As time passed their numbers grew. When spring came, new mothers would bring their young ones and introduce them to her. When it was the dead of winter and ice and snow covered the ground, they didn’t worry about hunger or the cold; she always brought food to feed them and cloth scraps and shredded paper to use for lining their nests.
As time passed she continued to come, but gradually, it took longer for her to arrive. She had always had two legs until one day she showed up with three; a long stiff one that she held in her hand and leaned on to help her walk. On one particular cold autumn morning she didn’t show at all.
The birds and animals were worried, what could have happened. Was she OK? They approached Squeezel to take them to where the Bird Lady lived. He tried hard to remember the way, but squirrels don’t have the best of memories. When he thought he remembered well enough, he led them out of the park.
People stopped and stared in amazement as the parade of squirrels, chipmunks, and birds bounced, waddled and flew down the city streets, all in the same direction and all with the same purpose until they stopped outside the old apartment building in the old neighborhood where the Bird Lady lived. The squirrels and chipmunks scurried up pipes, light poles and branches while the birds flew, all of them, up to the window that Squeezel had pointed out. Neighbors peered out windows, people on the street below stopped and stared as the birds and animals swarmed the side of the building, all trying to get a glimpse inside to see their missing friend.
In her bed by the window Sophie, their Bird Lady lay. Her chest barely moved as she breathed. The eyes that had once beamed with warm love now seemed cloudy, tired, and moist with tears. One of the birds gently pecked the glass hoping to get her attention. Sophie rolled her eyes toward the window and with what strength she had left, slowly turned her head.
Softly the words, “My goodness,” left her lips as she gazed at the sight of her friends peering in to say hello. A gentle smile came to her face. Squeezel knew, as all creatures know, it was that time for their friend to say good-bye forever. Somehow, as small creatures can, they let her know how much they loved her. Her smile got bigger as she understood, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
As her eyes closed the birds through out the city took to the air. Moving in unison, like a great whirlwind, up through the sky, higher and higher, carrying Sophie’s spirit to heaven and into the hall of the Great Creator of All Things.
There, Sophie stood, unafraid, in the presence of the warm eternal love that created the universe. It was a mighty cathedral made with pillars and walls of light. All around her were the souls of creatures great and small and people that she recognized from the pictures that hung for many years on her apartment walls. Everyone rejoiced to see her and through the love they radiated, she knew that she was in a miraculous place.
Suddenly, a light shone down upon her. It was a light brighter than a thousand blazing suns. But it had a warmth and gentleness that made her know she was in the presence of the Almighty.
“Good woman,” said the light, “you have been kind and taken care of my little creatures for many years. When they were hungry, you went hungry so they would have food. When they were sick, you nursed them back to health even though your health was failing. When they were in danger, you brought them to safety, providing protection and warmth. Now it is your time to be taken care of, for I know your hearts desire.”
The Bird Lady felt a warmth rush through her body and a miraculous change sweep through her. She looked at her hands. Beams of light shot from her fingers and her skin glowed in all the colors of the rainbow. Her arms and legs started to shrivel and change. Suddenly she felt a gentle lift and flapped her arms to discover that they were now wings. They were beautiful white wings that matched the rest of the beautiful white feathers that covered her entire body. She was a snow-white dove! A feeling of joy filled her as she flapped and glided over the heads of everyone present.
“Thank-you! Oh thank-you,” she said as she soared away, high into the sky, above clouds, and past rainbows.
Below her stretched the world. She saw countryside, great rivers and lakes, towns and eventually a great city. She flew in for a closer look. Down she glided, over roof tops and city streets until she came to a park. Resting for a moment on top of a very distinguished looking statue, she caught sight of a nearby lake and flew toward it. There, seated on a bench, surrounded by birds and animals, sat a little old man. He talked as he tossed out breadcrumbs, nuts and seeds to his waiting companions. Sophie joined her new friends.
copyright 2009 John Dadlez. All rights reserved.