The small bird knew it was nearly time to go. He could feel it in his bones. Every morning was a little colder than the one before and the days were getting shorter. He knew he would soon start his journey north to a warmer place. He had done this so many times before but this time he knew would be his last time. The years had gotten away from him and he was an old bird now.
He looked out at the sight that spread itself out in front of him. It was perfect, wide open spaces that had nothing to hide. It was welcoming and free. He loved this place, and it had become his home. The people in the little old farmer’s cottage had become his people over the years as he visited this place every summer.
He thought back to the first summer he flew here just a young bird looking for a comfortable place to stay the summer. The old man was walking heavily and the younger couple had to help him move around the house. He enjoyed sitting outside as the sun set and the young bride would shuffle slowly and carefully helping her father-in-law reach his chair outside. She would feed him here, outside among the nature scenery he loved so much. The old man would chew food that seemed to offer him no delight; his old age has removed all the little joys that life had to offer. The little bird knew this young woman was special, caring, and warm. She did this every night for the entire summer while the young bird watched in fascination. She never grew impatient or angry.
When the bird returned the next summer, bigger, bolder, and more confident, he was saddened to see that the old man wasn’t here anymore. Instead in the space where he used to watch the sunset every night, stood a gravestone. The man and woman went about their business every day. The man worked hard in the field and the woman took care of the house. At night they would sit outside and watch the sunset, mostly in silence, but happy.
A growing belly was a welcomed sight for the small bird the next summer. The woman moved slowly and carefully like her father-in-law had once done. She was beautiful. She carried her unborn child with grace. One night as the bird was hunting for caterpillars and bugs, he heard a scream from the house, followed by more screams and a baby’s cry. Life had changed in the Karoo. The rest of the summer he watched the family with great pride. He felt like he had become a part of them. The man still worked hard in the field, leaving early morning and returning as the sun cast a long shadow. The woman took care of the house and her new baby. At night, they would sit outside with their newborn baby watching the sunset.
The next summer the little bird was delighted to see a small child crawling in the grass outside of the little old farmer’s cottage. His father worked hard in the field all day, and his mother worked hard taking care of the infant and the house. He was a bundle of energy and he kept his mother on her toes, but she never grew impatient or angry.
The summer that followed is one that the little bird would rather forget. As he flew south from Kenya, the small bird wondered how big the child would be by now. He must be walking and talking already. He felt an excitement in his belly that was unfamiliar to a bird like him.
He hadn’t recognized the woman when she walked out of the cottage in the early morning of his arrival. She seemed old, worn and she carried sadness so great with her that no living thing should. The man still worked in the field, but she had lost her determination to work in the house. The bird missed the little baby as he looked at the gravestone that stood next to his grandpa’s final resting place. At night the man sat outside watching the sunset alone. He wiped his eyes and looked deep into his glass as if it contained answers of how to get the woman back. She was still here physically but she had left in every other way. The bird had wanted to stay when the seasons changed feeling his presence could somehow make a difference, but he felt the cold warning in his wings. He wouldn’t survive the Karoo winter.
The months he spent in the north were consumed by thoughts of the woman. He hoped she was alright and that she would find her way. He counted the moments until he could start his trip to her again and he flew as fast as his little wings could carry him.
The house was quiet and neglected. The man still worked in the field, slower than before, but he got the job done. The woman, who was once so full of energy and life, hardly left the house. She stayed in the shadows confined to rooms that offered no solace. She grew impatient and angry.
The little bird’s heart bled for her, this human friend of his with the warm and beautiful heart. He wished there was something he could do. He flew closer to the house, something his kind never did. Being a diederik cuckoo he preferred being alone, a mere observer of life. As he approached the house, a light came out of nowhere, and he felt something hit his little body with a force that he feared might be his end. He fell on the porch with a thud and drifted off hearing the woman’s voice in the background.
“Bobby, is that you?” she asked as she walked outside onto the porch.
“Oh, dear, little guy. What happened to you?” she said with concern as she picked the little bird up.
“You must have been blinded by the sun’s reflection in the window and flew right into it,” she said softly as if her words could cause more hurt to the wounded bird. She felt a great relief when she realized the bird was still alive. She took him inside, and quickly built a comfortable nest and placed him inside. She got a syringe and fed him some water. She showed her husband the hurt little bird when he returned and he looked at the bird with kind eyes. That night neither of them watched the sunset. They took care of the little bird.
The sun had rose and set many times before the little bird felt better. The house seemed lighter and smelled better. The woman smiled at him happily. She seemed different, younger. She no longer seemed lost. It was as if she had found a purpose in her life again. She continued to take care of the little bird for the entire summer. At night when the man returned the bird was sure he saw gratitude in the man’s eyes when he smiled into the nest. At night, they took the bird with them, watching the sunset in silence. The woman had started knitting and in the days when the man worked in the field, she would work on something. The bird knew it brought her great joy and he was thankful to have been a part of it. He tried to ignore the beginning of the cold warning. He wanted to stay, because he knew inside of him as birds do, that this would be his last visit. That night, as they watched the sunset, the woman gave the man a box. He opened it and took out the baby blanket that the woman had been working on so secretly. They both cried, happy tears and gentle sobs filled the quiet night sky.
The bird stretched his wings for he knew it was his time to say goodbye. He looked at both of them as they cried, and he saw it again, the look of gratitude, the look of family. He flew into the tree where he would spend his last night, watching them lovingly. As the sun rose he took one last look at the little old farmer’s cottage and the people in it who had become such a big part of his life, and flew into the sky.