Some people are going on holiday, posting pictures of beaches and rivers and oceans and lakes. While at the same time, other people are dying in hospitals. I’m getting regular emails now from South African clients about cancelled meetings, because employees have passed away. Bereavement notices flood my social media feeds. And the dichotomy of this whole thing is batshit crazy.
How did we adjust to all this? Little by little, I hear you say. Each day bringing with it an item on the news that two years ago would have shocked us to the core. Now we just nod, adjust our minds like we’re refolding a t-shirt, and then we carry on with our days – because we have to. But it doesn’t make it all not completely mad.
Talking about mad, there’s a nature documentary playing out on the street below us that I’ve become somewhat obsessed with. It’s either a tragedy or a fundamental lesson in parenting, I can’t tell yet.
It’s an infant seagull that’s causing all the drama, not a tiny chick, but what looks like an adolescent. Its fur is still brown and speckled, but it’s big, almost as large as the fully grown versions that swoop down and eat your chips. I’ve never had an opinion on seagulls, but since moving to The Hague where they’re ubiquitous, I’ve started to rather dislike them. They scavenge from rubbish bags and poo on your head sometimes. They get a certain gleam in their eyes, too. They’re the gangsters of the sky.
However, I’ve started to feel a bit of sympathy for this teenage seagull because it’s either fallen out of the nest, or its mother has pushed it. Two days ago I heard this constant piercing trill, like someone was lost. And it was lost, this poor ugly bird, walking up and down our street, hopping along, calling up to its mother, who was sitting aimlessly on the roof above it. The baby goes “trill trill” and the mother answers “squawk” and then they repeat this refrain for hours and hours on end. But the mother never swoops down to check on it? She just stands perched on the edge of the gutter, looking helpless.
She’s either trying tough love and hoping the thing will literally leave the street they call home, or she’s just really stupid, because they stand there, the parent up on the roof, and the chick down on the street, endlessly calling to each other, in some tortured language I don’t speak, but which every mother can understand.
“But why doesn’t the mother bird fly down and pick up the chick with her beak or something, and take it back to the nest?”
I’m sitting at the window sill, watching the angst unfold, wondering if this is an SPCA situation. Do you call the equivalent of the SPCA in Europe for seagulls? Or will they laugh at me?
My husband is more pragmatic.
“Have you seen the size of that thing? The mom can’t carry it, it’s way too heavy. The bird must have actually flown in order to get down to street level without dying right? It needs to remember how to fly again. ”
Despite these logical observations, something about the scene makes my heart sore. Maybe the mother left to go and find food and when she got back, the chick had fallen out? Now she doesn’t have the strength to get it back up into her nest. Or, maybe it was time for it to go off on its own and she pushed it? But now the infant cannot dig deep enough into the muscle and memory of all the instincts that make it a bird, so that it can remember how to fly.
Either way, it seems like the natural order of things isn’t working. One morning I know I’m going to come out and find the baby bird dead on the road, mangled by a speeding car.
The lost baby and its confused mother seem to symbolise the unbalanced nature of everything around us right now. Nothing makes sense. Somewhere in the world, people are looking forward to drinking sangria in the sun and elsewhere in the world, other people are clinging to life. This has always been the nature of our planet, inequality has always existed, but Covid has highlighted it once again. Brought it acutely to the fore.
Having moved between continents so recently, this dichotomy is keenly felt. So too do gratitude and guilt lie together inside of me, simmering uneasily in one pot.
Perhaps that’s why I so badly want to help the baby bird, atone for some imaginary wrongdoing of mine. And also because I can’t bear its cries any longer.
P.S. Just before publishing, I checked the street again and the baby seagull was nowhere to be seen. Maybe it did learn finally how to fly.