SO that is the sound a bird makes when it drops from the sky.
The husband and I were eating at a roadside diner that stood out by its lonesome in the strip of joints that was always full, lively and loud during the weekend exodus.
The diner served fry-ups, a teenager’s dream of ordering breakfast 24 hours a day. The place should be full except, in the past few weeks we’ve been eating here, we’ve seen only one other couple and a gentleman frequent the place, other than us.
Considering that the diner sold the same mass-friendly poison available nearby, it was a mystery why the place was ignored. Perhaps it was because a mall was being erected in front of it. Or that business was so sleepy, a gentleman in an ancient knitted hat requested the staff to play a cassette tape of the deathless anthem, “Born Free,” while we waited for our omelets to be served.
This is a generation that has no memory of Elsa the Lion. Or of cassette tapes, for that matter. Still, the little diner struggles. It printed its name on a tarpaulin gilded with lights, and mounted this on a metal ribcage in an attempt to rival the monstrous girders of the mall rising from the mud. In the evening, the diner’s tarp looks like a bejeweled kite left forgotten in the sky.
Perhaps the nighttime navigator thought so, too, before it rammed into the tarp tower and crashed a few meters from our table. When the explosion came, I thought, “rock,” and continued with my dinner. The husband went to the black mass on the ground and said, “Bird. Or once was.”
A few minutes later, he checked again, noting that the bird was now on its feet. I didn’t want to see a poor bloodied creature so soon after I finished my meal. But curiosity later won.
Not only was the bird seemingly unscathed, it bore an uncanny resemblance to Danny DeVito, the American actor who personified everything creepy and pitiful in his role as the Penguin, arch-foe of Batman. Its body was a black ball of feathers perched on a pair of stilt-like legs. Its beak curved like a scimitar, and was as effective in keeping me at bay.
The bird gazed back at us somberly.
The husband explained that the bird must be dazed, after hitting the tarpaulin or the frame. Remembering the sound I thought was made by an inanimate object, I winced.
Do you want to take it home? he asked. I took another look at the beak. Do birds fare better in captivity? This fellow is a traveller. Despite that nasty fall, I thought he might still prefer an unfettered sky to a cage.
Two workers walking home heard my next question, “What bird is this?”
“Tikling,” answered one. In Cebuano, the word means “skinny”. I looked at the two men, wondering at the coincidence that would gather the four of us and the feathered one, far away from our homes.
It was the men who raised the idea again of catching the bird. The husband stepped towards the bird, and it hopped away. The men lunged at the bird; there was a swirl of feathers as it inched away at the critical moment, still not making any sound. I could see on the husband’s face that he now didn’t want the bird caught. The situation had changed. We were no longer two plotting against one, believing ourselves as rescuers. We humans outnumbered the bird; we became a pack, conniving, intent at running down a prey.
When the men grew impatient and gave chase, the bird hopped, made tentative flaps, and flew away. The men laughed and walked on. The husband got in the car, and I followed, as silent. We outnumbered the bird; it had outsmarted us. This one, at least, got away.
(firstname.lastname@example.org/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131)
*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 23, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”