A “gotchi” is what I call a magpie. I hadn’t seen one before I went to South Korea a long time ago. Once there, I noticed tons of these black and white birds. Sometimes their feathers are so black they turn iridescent green in the sun.
“What is that bird called?” I asked a Korean friend.
“That’s a gotchi.”
This afternoon while I was walking near a downtown Calgary park, I saw a gotchi viciously attacking something on the ground. I looked at what the bird was dive bombing, its beak sharp and gleaming in the sun. It was another bird. A tiny bird.
The brown and beige creature was huddled against a brown and beige sandstone building. It was a sparrow trying its best to avoid the gotchi’s black sword. The sparrow cried out in defiance and pain every time it was speared by the magpie.
Usually I can let nature take her course. Let what happen, happen between animals. It’s not my place to sort them out. But I couldn’t just walk by the violent air raid. The sparrow’s squawks of bravery reverberated through my head and to my heart. I shooed the gotchi away from the bird that was smaller than the gotchi’s wing.
Letting the sparrow catch its breath, I started walking again. But the gotchi returned. It hadn’t gone far anyway but when it saw me leaving, it came back. Ready to be a bully. I waved the magpie off again and stood in my ground in the park in the sun.
I couldn’t be on gotchi guard all day. I looked at the brown bird, it was huffing and puffing, in and out, in and out went the breath in its small lungs. The magpie cackled like one of Shakespeare’s witches. The gotchi was sitting in the sun on a branch coated with yellow leaves. Yellow for caution.
There was no way I was letting the gotchi have its easy prey. The brown bird was coming with me. At least it can have a rest from the magpie. I reached down and picked up the sparrow in my black, velveteen gloves. The bird didn’t make a sound. Its eyes were shut from the exhausting and traumatic event. But when it wrapped its feet around my palms for stability, I felt strength. I felt life.
In the autumn sun and the chilling wind we started our trek along the city streets. Each step I made I was hoping I didn’t jostle or bump or injure my patient further. But as our journey together started, I realized I didn’t have a plan for what to do next.
Do I take you home? Do I take you to the vet’s? Do I call animal bylaw services?
We went home. I’m not sure if anyone noticed us, me walking gingerly like I was carrying a glass full of water that I didn’t want to spill. You, cupped in my hands with your tail sticking out of my gloves. I peeked at you a few times to make sure you were OK. Your eyes still shut you were far away but not upset about your ride. Until we crossed the street at a busy intersection. Then you struggled to stand up and look around.
You didn’t fly away. Only settled in again for the last few metres.
At the gate to my home there are some bushes. In one of the bushes there is a hole, a hole big enough to hide a bird. A space where the sun shines. A space that would protect a bird from gotchis. A hole that would let a sparrow rest before it takes flight. I put you in between the branches of the bushes, on a cushion of fallen leaves, green and yellow.
I prayed you would know what to do when I left.
Before I went, I got out my mobile to take a photo. The flash went off and then the phone went dead. Not an omen, I hoped. I said goodbye to you and then walked through the gate. In the entranceway there are mail boxes on the wall and stuck in the door of one of them was a letter. A letter in the sun addressed to M. Sparrow. Someone who had left the building years ago. Not another sign I hoped.
I thought about you when I was in my house. I was leaving for an appointment in two hours and that’s when I’d check on you. When the time came to go out again I dressed in warm layers, sweaters and a tuque, and went outside. The sun was no longer strong. Darkness was growing over the day.
You were gone. I searched around the pocket of bushes to see if you had fallen further into the vegetation. Or if there were feathers flying, from an encounter with a cat or dog or magpie. But there was nothing. Nothing to say you were ever there.