I have no photos of them. They are wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge. When my mother comes home today I will ask her if she wants to hold them in her hand before I bury them in the garden.
Their little coffin will be an empty coffee jar. Their grave will be beside a budgie, also in a coffee jar, next to the pigeon I buried there without a shroud of any kind…
‘Goldie’ was bought in 1993 during a visit to Ireland. She was a few months old but had no trace of the emerald green of her homeland, being golden yellow all over. She died in 1996 after major surgery failed to prevent her premature eggbound death…
The pigeon was outside my front door one day in August,1998 huddled in a corner. I was off to an urgent meeting but the way the pigeon retreated to shelter beneath my car troubled me. I started off, drove a hundred yards, thought “Bloody hell!”, stopped the car and walked back. The pigeon had returned to its refuge in my porch. There was blood on the red tiles. I caught the poor creature easily and found an open wound in its chest.
I gave up on the meeting. The next morning I collected the apparently healed bird from the local pet hospital where it had spent the night recovering from the cleaning and stitching the wound required.
The household now consisted of four budgies, two “little white birds” and a nameless pigeon who could not fly but who trailed a lopsided wing from room to room in its new home. And of course there was me and my 89 year-old mum.
Within four days I was digging a grave for the pigeon. I had very unwisely added milk to its feed. I thought that milk would provide additional nourishment but I was to learn later that milk should never be fed to birds.
The poor pigeon developed diarrhoea and I found it the morning after the diarrhoea had started stiff and cold behind the washing machine where it had crawled to a dark and lonely death. It had become wedged between the machine and the wall and had died from asphixiation. I think it had become cold during the night even though it was still summer. How I grieved that I had not put on the central heating that sad night..
‘Pinky’ and ‘Perky’ were two little finches, no more than half the size of a budgie. They had arrived a few months ago, courtesy of a friend whose flat was too small even for such tiny tots. They were placed in the front room where they competed on equal terms with the television set, sometimes being much more interesting to watch.
They were snow white except for their tiny reddish pink beaks. Their cries sounded like the honking of Lilliputian geese. They were male and female and were constantly trying to rearrange the cotton wool I provided for their bed (a little wooden bowl) into a nest. Their fleeting love making resulted in the occasional miniscule egg being laid. Sadly, however, they would eat it within the hour, presumably because the little pets somehow sensed that the cage in my mother’s lounge was no place to bring up their kids.
Then I took a week’s holiday. My mother went to a nursing home. Pinky and Perky went to stay at a friend’s house where they had previously lodged. My friend dotes on them and was always delighted to watch their endless gyrations around their little prison cell. Their bathtime was delightful to observe. They would go into the water dish, hooked to the side of the cage, and beat the water with their little wings. This produced a fine spray. They would emerge looking bedraggled but proud and then they would begin to preen themselves and each other with a fine display of affectionate precision.
On a Thursday afternoon they were being playful as usual, carrying cotton wool about, bouncing on and off the little swing, going into the water dish to have a shower, preening …
My friend noticed something wrong. The male was on the female’s back but it was not to make love. Normally that lasted just about two seconds. But now he saw that the cock had spread its wings over and around the hen. Then they separated and came together side by side, their little heads becoming so closely entwined that it seemed to be but one head. Then the cock again spread its little white wings over the little hen. Now my friend, thoroughly alarmed, realised that, for no apparent reason, the hen was dying and that the cock was covering her to warm away the chill of approaching death.
Within 30 minutes the cock was guarding the lifeless body of his little mate. Then, realising that his life’s game was also over, he went off to a corner where his tiny heart broke in silence, for within an hour he too had joined his beloved “little white bird” in the lasting stillness of death.
When I returned from my brief holiday my friend telephoned me. “Come around” he said, “I have something to tell you, something too distressing to talk about on the phone.”
On Sunday morning I went to Mass at St. Mary of the Angels R.C. church. As I rode my bike along I was thinking of Pinky and Perky and of all the pain and suffering of this tragic and beautiful world and of how little we know of the hidden emotional lives of the birds, animals, fishes and insects who share it so fleetingly with us.
I wondered what Hindus would have said, believing as they do in the transmigration of souls – perhaps they would expect the little creatures to return again some day in human form to live as true and blessèd lovers.
I wondered what our ancestors in the enchanted worlds of the Brothers Grimm, of Perrault and of Mother Goose would have thought – that the little creatures had once been a prince and a princess until they were bewitched by some evil wizard.
And I wondered about my fellow Christians, what would they think? “Animals have no souls”, they are told and so can have no ‘rights’. So they shoot, burn, flay, hang, dismember or eat animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, molluscs, and crustaceans (whom they boil alive) as they please without, apparently, the slightest qualm. St. Francis of Assisi (remembered on 4 October) was, of course, a bit of a holy fool.
One wonders just who are the ones without souls.
And then every bird I saw, every starling, every sparrow, every seagull along the enchanted Cowbridge Road East in Canton, Cardiff, filled my heart with a hopeless outreach of love towards my fellow sufferers, towards all the living creatures, little and large, who share our slowly dying world with us. Then I reached into the plastic bag in the basket at the front of the bike and I scattered some of the breadcrumbs I always carry there at the feet of a few scavenging pigeons…
As I locked my bike to the railings outside the church I realised that Mass had already begun and that the congregation were singing the entrance hymn. I was deeply moved to hear that it was All creatures great and small, a hymn almost never heard in our church. A touching coincidence? Probably, but I really do wonder…