Peter had left, leaving behind a deafening silence, and a most unwelcoming garden.
For three weeks, I had not lived alone: a companion had unexpectedly arrived. I had seen this gentle creature on the railing of my veranda, which overlooks my small back garden. He did not seem to notice my presence; he seemed to be calculating the distance he would fly next. Finally, he flew to the top of the orange tree, a very short distance indeed.
Early next morning, I heard constant, weak, chirping, which sounded quite near. I looked outside for the chirper - and there he was, flying very low to my garden floor.
It was clear he could not yet fly. He must have fallen from the trees. Sparsely feathered, he looked endearingly small and frail. My heart went out to him.
I loved having him, very willingly sharing with him my garden, water, bread, seeds and biscuit crumbs. In reality, I did not need to bother about his nutrition, for his mother came to feed him. I once detected her feeding him in mid-air, his beak, (as I have been told) meeting her tongue, momentarily. At times, from the belladonna clump, which Peter had made his home, a fully-fledged bird and a much smaller one emerged, to go for a jaunt as far as the mock orange, on the far side. Here, they rested for an instant; then the mother flew up, and Peter returned to base, his flying practice, under his mother’s supervision, being over.
Continually he chirped, and flew: from flower-pot to flower-pot, from the ground to the belladonna, or to a low part of the orange tree. Sometimes, its twittering came from the mock orange. He, naturally, had full range of the garden, but, obviously, he was, nonetheless, a prisoner. To be sure, my garden is larger and better than the usual bird cage, but still a virtual one. I wanted him to stay, but I also wanted him free, able to fly anywhere.
The day before he left, he gave me the chance to have a very good look at him: leaving the thick of the clump, for some time, he perched on some leaves at the side. Was this his “farewell for the moment?” In retrospect, I think so.
When, the next morning, I found the garden completely devoid of twittering, of fluttering belladonna leaves, of life, I felt disappointed, but relieved at the same time. - Peter’s come of age, and doesn’t need me, and my garden, any more - I thought.
A day or two passed. I happened to be at a window opening into the garden. Suddenly, to my delight, I saw a very small bird flying down, and resting on one of the flower pots. He was very closely followed by a bigger bird, but, who, directly, flew off, leaving the little one, behind. He stood, continuously swaying his tiny head, for about five minutes, after which, flying most erratically, he reached the lower part of the orange tree. Then, he flew up some more, and again, rested. The third flight gained him the garden wall, and he disappeared. Peter had come back, but not to stay.
Early the next morning he was here again. He pecked around for crumbs, sipped water, and revisited his belladonna. When I looked again, he was gone.
Up to yesterday, he had kept coming and going. He came every day, at all times. Unfailingly, he was here towards sunset, to roost in the clump, his home. In the morning, he flew off.
Today I have not seen him yet. He may not come, but, however it is, I shall always be thankful for his stay. I must say I find it all unfathomable: the loving care the mother bird takes of her nestling as long as he needs her; the clever way she does it; her offspring’s innate call to fly as soon as he is ready for it; the little bird’s instinctive ability to return again and again to where he grew up call to my mind the fine tuning of the universe academics who are also believers talk about, when debating atheists. This fine tuning, Nature’s “surprising precision”, they maintain, is a pointer to a Designer we call God. To me, so is Peter’s story.