She came to me, this pretty little bird, one cold winter evening. The carolers were singing on the snow covered streets of our neighborhood. Their bells rang and multicolored lights filled the otherwise dark winter evening. I could smell candy and wood fires as I walked home from work at the shelter that evening. Working year round to help people gave me a sense of self worth. During the holiday season though, there was something special about being there for people who are less fortunate. Perhaps it helped erase the guilt from the greed driven corporate drudge that I put myself through day in and day out. Validation maybe, that there was still good in me.
As I walked towards the front porch, Anita, the sweet old lady that lived next door waived to me. “I left a Christmas cake for you dear, spent all day baking a few!” Anita spent her days reading, volunteering and baking. Her cakes and cookies were famous in the neighborhood, in fact we would all tell her that she should really do it professionally. “Thank you so much Anita, that is so kind of you!” I responded. “There was something else too, in a big basket that someone has left for you I think.” said Anita. I walked hurriedly towards my door. I did see the basket that Anita usually dropped off things in. Next to it however, lay the larger brown basket that Anita mentioned. I was used to finding gifts from vendors at work or friends and people thanking me for my social work but this one looked different. I looked down at it, closer.
Wrapped snugly in a fluffy cream blanket was the prettiest little dove I had ever seen. She looked up at me, eyes blinking with a twinkle that made the lights look dull. I felt my breathing grow heavy. Joy flowed through my veins but also panic and anxiety. I wasn't sure what to say or how to react to the sight of her looking at me. She was barely moving. I became acutely aware of how cold it was today. Wasting no time I picked up the basket. It was heavier than I thought it would be. I fumbled with my keys trying to open the door with one hand. After what seemed like forever, I finally got it. I walked straight into my living room and set the basket on the sofa. I turned on the lights and kneeled on the floor next to the sofa to take a closer look. I was a little confused still, in denial perhaps of what lay in front of me. It could be considered a gift, but one I would never have expected.
I saw what seemed like a small smile across her face as she blinked again. A tiny squeak escaped her. It sent jitters down my spine. “Are you hungry dear?” I asked, as if expecting her to respond. “What can I get you?” I ran out to get the cake Anita had baked and quickly opened it. I broke off a small piece and brought it to her mouth. She tilted her head towards my hand, as if ready to eat. Then it suddenly occurred to me. “Can you even eat cake? Are you supposed to, dear?” I withdrew my hand, which had been just an inch from her mouth. Her smile faded. Looking at the piece of cake, confused about what to do, I simply tossed it into my mouth. It was very good, sweet with cinnamon and dried fruits and nuts, the perfect holiday treat. I wondered if this little dove could even eat things I ate.
I thought I could give her some milk, and started to walk towards the kitchen. She titled herself in my direction as I heard the basket creak and tilt towards the edge of the sofa. “Oh crap, she might just fall out!” I ran back and picked up the basket and looked at her. She seemed to smile again now. My breathing slowed back down at the sight of innocence. There was something calming about her. I carried the basket to the kitchen and set it on that counter.
I ran over to the fridge, with one eye on the basket, lest it fall off the counter. I picked up the bottle of milk and a small bowl and put it in the microwave. How hot would she need it? I set it to a safe 1 minute. And walked back to the basket. Something about her sweet eyes made me want to pick her up, so I did, with her warm blanket. I touched her soft face. I felt a tear roll down my eye. I was not sure how or why. This had never happened before. She was very cold. I started to worry if she was ok. The microwave beeped.
With her in one hand, I took out the bowl. I brought it closer to her face, then realized something. I wasn’t sure if she could drink from the bowl. She tilted her head towards it as if asking for milk. In fact it was clear now that she could now. A bottle would be more suitable, with a nipple on it. I had no such thing though. Confused and concerned, I set the bowl down on the counter and paced the kitchen floor with her in my hand. I heard her squeak again. She must have been hungry, and cold.
“A spoon! I can feed her. Duh!” It just occurred to me. An ignorant single man knew nothing about caring for a little thing like this one. I picked up a spoon from the drawer and dipped it in the bowl. Slowly I took it to her lips and let it drop in her mouth. Half of it fell out, dripping down her neck. She blinked her eyes, as if wincing. I wondered if it was too hot or the spilled milk bothered her. I wiped it with her blanket quickly. Perhaps less milk and slower. I took another half spoon. Maybe it was too hot. I blew at it gently to cool it down, then very slowly tipped it towards her lips. She sucked on the edge of the spoon, gobbling up the few drops of milk.
I appeared my technique was working. I continued it. I wondered how much she would even need. I guessed I could just feed her till she wouldn’t drink any more. It was a really slow process though, so I took her back to the sofa and sat down, with her on my lap. It must have taken half an hour. The bowl was nearly empty. She just kept drinking. Who knew when she had been last fed. She finished the bowl. She appeared to smile at me, contentedly. It was heartwarming. She was truly the best holiday present I had ever received. “But who would have brought her to me. And why?” I wondered.
Suddenly, she started to cough. She was choking. Panic swept through me again. She retched up the milk. The coughing grew. Unsure of what to do, I picked her up, and put her on my shoulder, patting her back. Milk covered my new holiday sweater. It smelled funky. At least it was out of her though. I wondered what I had done wrong. “Had it been too much, or too hot? Could she even drink milk?”
I wiped her face with a warm towel. She still seemed cold. I needed some help. There was a storm picking up. I decided I would take her to a medical professional the next morning. My options would be limited given it was Christmas day but I would figure that part. Right then I just needed to get her warm, and safe through the night. I took her upstairs to my bedroom. I wrapped her in another throw and laid her on my bed. I changed and lay down next to her and stroked her. She appeared to breathe normally now. I wondered if she was still hungry. Better avoid it I thought, just so I didn't hurt her. Worried how she would get through the night. I had clearly no skill at this. Checked the time. It was almost one am. I decided to leave at six. Only five more hours. I picked up my iPhone and found a hospital. It had a twenty four by seven emergency. I had to take her now. I wished I had owned a car. I tried to call an Uber but they were in short supply. It was a twenty five minute walk. I could do it.
I picked her up again, wrapped her in an extra blanket and carried her back down. I wrapped a thick coat of mine around her blanket, put on another coat and walked out the door, holding her to my chest. “Please stay with me.” I heard myself pray. The Christmas lights still lit up the streets but it was quiet now, no carolers. The howling of the wind however was something else. It was snowing, a White Christmas, after all these years, it had to be today. The freezing wind hit my face. My teeth cluttered . I wondered how she was doing. It was slippery on the road so I walked slowly.
Finally after more than half an hour, I arrived at the red emergency sign, and ran it. The place seemed rather busy. After another half hour of waiting, I could see the doctor. He was a thin old man with a tired but friendly look on his face. “So...what is going on?” He asked. “Umm, I don't know exactly. I eh, I found her at my door. She is cold. I tried feeding her milk but she threw it up. I don’t know if she is well. I am not sure what to feed her or how to care for her. Please help me!” I heard myself cry for the first time in many years as tears streamed down my face. The doctor looked at me, placed a hand on my shoulder. “It’s ok Son, she will be fine. We’ll take care of her, and teach you everything you need to know. You are not alone. You are very kind for caring so much. Please wait outside in the waiting room while I run some tests. Merry Christmas, Son.”