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Coffee and birdsong

  • 09 November 2016
Short fiction by Mary Manning It's ages since I've noticed birdsong. I've been too absorbed in misery to tune into their joy, but this morning, very early, with the window open because the night was hot, a bird is singing in the birch tree.

It sings the same song over and over, teaching its young to sing. The baby repeats two of the notes followed by a little trill as if to say please only two at a time.

Usually when the morning sun comes in the bedroom window and the trees make patterns on the wardrobe doors I wrap my arms around my head and pull a pillow over to make a three-tier tower: head, arms and pillow. I am inviolable in my keep-out tower. Not that there's anyone left to violate my space, which is why I burrow against light and birdsong in the first place.

But now, well and truly awake, I am on my balcony in a pink cotton dressing gown and thongs singing along with mother bird and drinking orange juice. Amazing! I haven't felt this lift of the spirits for about five years.

I've left it too late to walk to work so I'll catch the tram but tonight I'll walk home. It will be sunset so I might hear more birds.

I am noticing sounds more today. It's as if someone's cleaned my ears out with a cotton bud and pinned them back against my head for maximum reception.

Like now on the tram to work. Usually I am only conscious of the background clack of wheels and chat of passengers. But today the passengers seem soothed by faint repetitive music coming perhaps from a radio turned low. It is some sort of chant — a Jewish cantor comes to mind, or something from the Koran.

I realise eventually that the sound comes from the man sitting across the aisle from me. He wears a dark coloured taxi driver's uniform and on his head a scarf arranged like a theatrical curtain, the fabric hanging on each side of his face leaving only the central part uncovered. He is turning the pages of a book, quietly singing each page. I can see the lines of music. His singing is moving and tranquil.


"The child loves the choreography, laughs, points, tells me secrets in playmate language, loves me. I have made a friend. I feel a little spurt of the baby bird energy of