It happened again. I was feeding our chook, still crouched down after opening the low latch on the gate when she started pecking pieces of bread from the little honey bucket that we use for her scraps, before I’d even had a chance to tip it on the ground.
I squealed. And flung the lot – food and bucket – into the cage, slamming the gate closed.
Maeve turned from where she was digging in the sandpit. I held my hand on my heart and breathed deeply. How do you tell your little girl that a chook just tried to peck your eyes out.
It reminds me of the summer I lived on my own and sparrows kept coming down the chimney into the box of my wood heater. They’d peck on the glass at me.
The first time one ever appeared in there, I imagined that if I opened the back door of the house, then the door of the fire box, that it’d simply fly out, through the lounge room door, down the passage, and outside to freedom.
I loosened the handle of the fire box door, then in one continuous action, flung the door wide open and ran with my arms protecting my head.
Nothing. It sat on the ledge inside the fire box and looked around, its beady eyes searching for me. I stood up slowly. Then it made its move. There was a blur of flapping wings. I felt wind across my face. It came to land on the window sill above the sink. And there it stayed.
I took the jumper from around my waist and covered my hands with it. Then I picked up my guitar by the neck. Hands protected, weapon outstretched, I moved slowly and bravely towards the window sill.
But I saw its wing twitch and I knew it was coming for me. In a slow, pointless, awkward movement, I swung the guitar overhead and ran down the passage and out of the house.
And I sat in the driveway at a distance, slowly strumming the guitar and never taking my eyes off the door. Not until I saw that vulture fly out and away to pierce the skin and tear the flesh of someone else.
When winter finally arrived and I opened the wood heater again, there were many, many birds who’d targeted the wrong prey and in the end, met their own death.
Call me cruel. But Yann Martel said it best in Life of Pi:
“When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival.”