The leaves fell from the trees yesterday. Several warm days had succumbed to a cold replacement that was setting itself to stay. There was the small magpie to consider, the one that could only hop around the gardens as it could not fly.
He didn’t like the winter. He didn’t like to wake to darkness in the knowledge that only grey would lighten the day. He didn’t like to think about the little magpie hopping about in that mechanical manner or the inevitability of what was to come. The trees died each year and then came back, but magpies did not enjoy such resurrections. One day he would realise that he had not seen it for a while and then he would forget that he had ever had such a thought and that would be it. That, he was able to accept.
In some spring, he had memories of the five young birds all filled with the promise of flight. In his memories, he had watched them take to flight, sampling the alchemy of their birth. He remembered the thrill of their discoveries, the sheer astonishment of what their wings could bestow and then the grace of experience. Each day its siblings grew stronger and each of them transformed from fledglings into fully realised creatures of the sky. With their confidence came the added benefit of growth and their forms filled the air above the gardens; all but the little one.
For some reason, it had no tail. It could have been a trick of the early sunlight, something that was masked by the shadows thrown by the leaves or the inability to discern anything in such detail during the rapid burst of wings. But as the rest grew, it was apparent that the little one didn’t. It would make its way to the lower branches and watch the others perch higher. It would also watch as they teased each other into longer and longer journeys. And when it saw them return with the remains of a meal which they consumed in the upper reaches, I wondered at its tiny plight and prematurely prepared myself for its demise. Yet still it survived.
It was the time of the plague and the world fell quiet. One by one the others flew from the nest and only the runt was left. I had been in hospital followed by a long stint in recovery so I did not see the process that stripped each of the group away, leaving only the little one to fend off what was to be placed in its path. As if not having a tail was not enough of an impediment, the tiny bird broke a wing. Not even the bottom branches were attainable. Now it only hopped.
They had given me crutches as a result of blood deciding to clot in my right leg – as if the rest had not been enough. At first I hobbled around the house and then into the streets close by. My weight, what was left of it, was suspended between these two metal supports and my attempts to meaningfully travel fell into a piratical pantomime. I was aware of neighbours watching my progress whilst struggling for the words that could bridge the gap. Once I had related my tale, I too found myself struggling for lines that would pass as conversation. I was alone in my temporary paralysis and only had the words of a story which I hoped would keep me afloat, until I saw the magpie.
It was on the grass next to the pavement – a tiny ball of defiance hopping along in search of food. When I saw it, a smile crept across my face. It was a moment in which a huge rock was pushed aside to reveal the stasis of a long- forgotten cave. If magpies have a form of realisation this didn’t show it. I was balanced across the path, a colossus of immobility, watching this tiny thing hop its way through another day and I was the one feeling sorry for myself.