Archive for birds

New Wings

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on April 23, 2012 by javedbabar

The driver of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre waited outside the manager’s office. Smuel was always a few minutes early for appointments, that way he controlled time rather than the opposite. He watched sparrows hopping around the garden.

Zoe appeared. “Hello,” she said. “Are you waiting for Mr Amin too? He said to come at twelve, just before serving lunch.”

“Uh-huh. Twelve. I guess he’s seeing us both together.”

Zoe said, “Uh-oh. Do you think it’s about cutbacks? I’ve heard The Authority’s busted its budget and needs to slim down.” She wondered whether they were more likely to fire her and bring in pre-prepared food daily, or fire Smuel and use public transport to ferry clients. Or maybe they’d keep them both but reduce hours and pay. She would have to take a second job, as her Tom was injured and not working at present. And what about Smuel? It would be sad to see less of him. She loved their weekly shopping trips together for ingredients and supplies.

Mr Amin appeared, hurrying along. “Am I late? So sorry. No look, it is exactly twelve. I’m on time! You’re early! Ah, if only I ran a factory or a military, what a fine unit it would be. Well thank you for coming, I know you’re both busy. I wanted your thoughts on something. Please follow me.”

Mr Amin was excited, and even more impish than usual. He led them to a dirty white door beside the garbage area. Some pigeons fluttered away. “Do you know what this is?” he asked, looking at them in turn and grinning. They assumed it was a store room or mechanical room. “It is our second wing.”

“What do you mean?” said Smuel. “Second wing? Like the wing of a house?”

“Yes, yes, come and see.” He unlocked the door and led them in. Darkness spread around them, and the only light was from the doorway behind.

“What is this place?” said Zoe. “Is it a store room?” She stepped forward.

Mr Amin called, “Oh, watch out! There are steps there. That’s it, be careful.”

Smuel said, “Do you have a flashlight Mr Amin? Shall I run and get one? Okay, I’ll be back in a minute.” He came back with three torches. “Here, one each. You can never buy singles of anything now. These were three for the price of one at the hardware.”

“Let me show you around,” said Mr Amin. He led them down the hallway into a series of big rooms, small rooms, bathrooms, and store rooms, all of which were well constructed but unfinished.

“This place is huge,” said Smuel. “Why have we never used it? Is there a legal issue?”

“We are both lucky and unlucky,” said Mr Amin. “Our Centre was built originally as an eight thousand square foot mansion, but the owners had financial troubles and sold it before moving in. Swans began nesting in the ornamental lake which complicated things with the wildlife people. When Open Hearts bought it at auction we didn’t know that there was an additional eight thousand square feet of basement extensions. The previous owners had built them secretly to get around building regulations and then sealed them up, so they couldn’t be mentioned in sale particulars. Even The Authority doesn’t know about them. So that’s what makes us lucky and unlucky. We have this space but can’t do anything with it.”

“Why not?” said Smuel. “It exists already. It’s a fait accompli. Why can’t we use it?”

“Well, it’s more space than we need. If The Authority hears about it they may reduce funding, or change zoning, or make us move out.” Smuel said that they couldn’t do that. Mr Amin said that they were The Authority and could do anything they pleased. He added, “Actually we would need to spend $250,000 to make it usable. That’s not the issue though. You remember Mr. Daniel – the millionaire entrepreneur who visited last month? He is willing to donate these funds.”

Smuel and Zoe were bemused. This whole huge space beneath the Centre just sitting there. It was crazy not to use it. They said so to Mr Amin. He said, “It’s not that simple. Even if we did get The Authority’s permission, and funding from the millionaire, we’d have to think of the clients’ welfare. At present we have twenty to thirty people here daily. We know and love them individually. Making it bigger would dilute the group, and make it less personal. They may come here and still feel lonely. That’s not why we are here.”

Zoe said, “What about making this part residential? You know, rather than a day centre?”

Mr Amin thought about this and said, “Hmmm… yes, we could make it a nest rather than a garden. But right now our old birds fly here daily, it exercises their wings. It keeps them moving. If they lived here, then they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.”

As they continued looking around the basement, they disturbed a nest of swifts that swirled around the rooms in darkness and then shot out of the door.


God's Guest

Posted in Alternative Energy, World Myths with tags , , , , on January 27, 2012 by javedbabar

It was foolish to leave it so late but at least he’d started. Rob had laid down the structure, and now it was time to fill in the blanks. It was mainly stuff he knew – which had been swirling around in his head for weeks – but he had yet to distil a conclusion. The issue was how to install the first four wind turbines without killing birds? He’d been trying to push this project through a year. The client was okay with the turbines’ power production and payback period, but stalling on their danger to birds. Sure a few would get mangled; what could you do? This was the cost of green energy.

As he took his last mouthful of pinot noir, his fingers were flowing. Tap-tap-tap. Thank God he could touch-type. That halved the time. Touch-type. Tap-tap. Tap. There was another tapping. Was it the boiler settling? Or some part of the cabin cracking? Tap. No, it was someone knocking. At this time? Tap.

“Hello,” said the woman. “Can I stay here tonight?”

Rob was baffled. Was this a joke? Before him stood a woman of about sixty, in too many layers, surrounded by bags. There wasn’t the tang of pungent oranges, but she hadn’t seen a shower in a while; and her clothes were strangers to the laundry. “Are you lost?” he asked eventually.

“No, I wanted to stay here,” she said, then spoke in a flurry. “Someone gave me a ride up the Valley, they were very kind. It was a little out of their way, but they brought me here. I didn’t tell them where I was going, of course. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the ride. But it was dark you see, and I don’t have a vehicle. I couldn’t have made it otherwise.”

“Where do you think you are?” said Rob, peering behind her.

“At the shelter of course.” She smiled as she spoke, her cheeks becoming hard and round.

“The shelter?”

“Yes, the women’s refuge. You’re less welcoming than I remember.”

“Less welcoming?” said Rob. “Excuse me.” He took a few steps past her, to see if anyone else was there. “Are you really by yourself?” She nodded, still smiling. She was about to speak but didn’t. “Why are you here?”

The woman’s face fell; her eyes jolted as if he’d told her that someone had died. Rob realized that he was “in a situation”. He said, “Ok, come in. Let’s have some tea.”

She cradled the cup between her palms, enjoying its cosy cheer. “Nice cup,” she said, testing the china. Tap-tap. She told him that she had once lived in Lucerne. This building was used as a home for distressed women and their families. Whatever their trauma – financial, marital, or criminal – this was a place of safety for them when they fled their nests. It was in a discreet, out-of-town location, and the neighbours all had dogs, treating visitors to a canine chorus. She’d never needed to stay at the shelter herself, but knew women who had taken flight there. “When was this?” said Rob.

“Twenty years ago,” said the woman.

“Twenty years ago!” said Rob reflexively. He saw her flinch and become fearful.

“Have I made a mistake?” she said. “Oh dear. This isn’t the refuge, is it?” She twisted her hands together and looked down. “I’d better go.” She stood up and began to collect her bags, three in each hand, looking like a fussing bird.

“Hang on a minute,” said Rob. “Where will you go?”

“I’m not sure. Back into town. Do you think I will find a ride at this time?”

“Look, I can give you a ride if you want. I have friends who own a B&B.” Then he realized that a bag lady would not be seeking three-star accommodation. “Scratch that. Listen, why don’t you stay next door?” He felt ashamed even as he said it; a woman like his mother, and he was sending her to an unheated garage. “Scratch that too. Why don’t you stay here tonight?” But here was a single female looking for a women’s shelter, and he was asking her to share with a male. She didn’t say anything, just smiled nervously.

There was no solution to this problem, thought Rob. And on top of that, the old woman had broken his flow of thoughts. He had to present his findings at 9am tomorrow, and now he had a crazy houseguest. What to do?

The woman relaxed after her second cup of tea. Tap-tap. She took off her coats. Beneath was a full length, bright blue dress, filled with white swirls. “It’s amazing what people throw away,” she said.

She looked around and then said, “The local hospital closed down and there are no hospitals nearby. So I have to travel very far. When they do blood tests, they take four big tubes full of my blood. I say why? They say there are four different laboratories. Ginger is good for acidity, garlic is good for joints; onions, I don’t know, but I put them in everything. I do a big shop monthly, someone takes me, and a small shop daily on my walk.” She was an animated speaker, and her dress shifted as she spoke. The white swirls were moving, almost spinning, as they followed her elbow and knees motions.

Rob let her keep talking for a while, and then said, “I have an important meeting tomorrow. Please excuse me, I must go to bed. Will you be alright on the couch here?”

She made a sour face, which annoyed him. Then she said, “Do you have a separate room?”

“Yes, I will be in my bedroom. You will be alone here.”

“No,” she said. “I mean for me. I need privacy.”

The cheek of this woman! Rob could have her thrown out, but where would she go? He said ok, showed her to the bedroom, took her coats and bags there also, and settled himself on the couch. He heard her lock the bedroom door.

When Rob awoke, he realized that he would have to work quickly to complete his presentation. It was best to go straight to the office and finish it there. He knocked on her door. Tap-tap. But there was no reply, and it was locked from within. He peered in from outside. The window was ajar, with a few blue feathers caught in the grille. He called her again but she didn’t answer, and it was too dark within to see. Damn that woman! He didn’t have time to deal with her right now, so drove to work. He opened his windows for fresh air.

Down the Meadows Road, he saw a mass of clouds milling in blue sky. It almost seemed like beats from his dance tunes made them whirl. One tune in particular sent them crazy. It was by a British band fronted by a bald black man. When its powerful riff exploded – a swirling tap-tap-tap-tap – a flock of blue birds shot into the sky and flew away rapidly.