First, there was a text message. “Call” — accompanied by an emoticon of a sad face.
“I am reading,” my seven-year-old said when I called, her voice unusually high-pitched.
Me: Reading?! (The static on the line was awful.)
Oishi: Baba, I am dreaming. (“Dreaming” is shorthand for “This cannot be true.”)
Oishi: One of my birds has flown off. [Strangled whimper.] I went to check on them. I couldn’t believe it. Flory was on the swing. The gate of the cage was open. Tweetie wasn’t there. [Tweetie and Flory are names she had given the pair of lovebirds when they came home two months ago.]
[Full fledged crying.]
She doesn’t cry, my girl, she hardly ever did even when she was a small child. She has too much poise.
Me: [Listening, silent, unable to bring myself to say anything.]
Oishi: I can’t talk any more now. [Sobs distorted by static.]
Later, we talked about it at home. She sat propped up by pillows on the bed, I was on the floor, my chin on the bed.
Oishi: Won’t she get lost? She can’t fly, can she? [It was never very clear why the bird was a ‘she’, but I know better than to labour the point in these matters.]
Me: Well, she’ll learn. Babies don’t know how to walk, do they? They learn. Or perhaps she can fly. We didn’t know, because we have only ever seen her in a cage.
Oishi: Who’ll feed her?
Me: She’ll fend for herself. Birds do, as you see from the window every day. She’ll make friends.
Oishi: She had a friend here. Was she not happy?
Me: Probably not. Birds in cages aren’t happy, I am told. Perhaps that is why she tried and tried, and finally got away. She wants more space, trees, the sky.
Oishi: If birds aren’t happy in cages, why did the other one not fly away? The door was open.
Me: I don’t know. Perhaps she is happy here. Perhaps she is afraid to take her chances. Would you be happy in a cage?
Oishi: Depends on what sort of cage. If I had books, and if it was large, and you were there… [audible sigh]. She won’t come to any harm, Baba, will she?
Me: I hope not.
Oishi: Will she bathe in dirty water?
Me: Birds tend to not mind. You’ve seen sparrows in puddles, haven’t you?
Oishi: [nodding, her face still tear-streaked]: And when it rains and she gets wet, she’ll remember
me. She’ll remember how I used to give her a shower every Saturday.
Me: Yes, I am sure.
Oishi: Do you think she might miss us and come back?
Me: Look, I genuinely wouldn’t count on it. If she is happy where she is, she will stay there. If she isn’t, and thinks she will be happier with us at home, she might want to come back.
Oishi: She might, then…
Me: I really wouldn’t count on it.