“Keetkeetkeet! Keetkeetkeet!” Every year around this time the bird would return to my bedroom window and start knocking. “Keetkeetkeet!” his little beak would tap against the glass.
I’d look at him and he’d look at me, staring deeply into my barely-awake blue eyes with his beady black insinuating eyes, turning his brown head with scarlet beak from one side to the other, surveying the scene as I drowsily awoke. If I turned away to burrow into the covers, “Keetkeetkeet!” he’d start again.
Stray cats are my specialty. And when we lived out in the countryside on a lot of acres with a lot of hay and big pond, stray dogs. Stray birds. I never knew they existed.
This guy was not a housebird, not an escapee from some dreadful tiny cage with a bar to sit on and a bit of salt cud to chew, imprisoned within wrought metal walls with a piece of removable paper to poop on. He was a real bird, a free-winged bird who lived by his wits and his instinct. And his instinct, just like the instinct that had led many a stray cat or dog straight to my door without bothering to stop elsewhere, had led him to my window.
But as I looked into his beady little eyes, I knew something about him. First, I knew he was a he and not a she. That was the simple part. The rest of it came upon me in a flash – as if he had sent it from the center of his bird-brain directly into my eyes for clear and unyielding comprehension. He was not just a bird, a mere bird. He was a guy, a human guy – who had somehow gotten trapped in the bird’s body. It was also clear to me that he was a Jewish guy from New York. Brooklyn, to be exact.
Would I have known if he was Catholic, or Southern Baptist, or Hindu? Yes, of course. This is not about religion. It was just who he was.
“Keetkeetkeet!” his beak hit the window.
I fed him breadcrumbs that day, tossing them onto the ground straight from the fresh bag of bread, feeling them soft and dense between my fingers as I crumbled them. I was freezing, standing there in socks no shoes with a coat hastily tossed over my nightclothes. Running back inside to my window, I watched as he ate them – then was surprised to see him fly quickly in a little darting motion, back up to the window to look in for a minute. “Thank you, that was good!” His head angled right then left, as he offered a polite little smile.
It was clearly my duty to feed the guy some decent food, so I went to the market and bought some birdseed and suet – along with a birdfeeder to hang from the tree that was growing so close that it seemed to embrace my window. Once in a while as he dined he would look in at me, but it was only on those days when the seed had been all eaten up, the feeder empty – that he would fly back up on the outside windowsill and knock. “Keetkeetkeet! Keetkeetkeet! Hey!” he’d say. “This thing is empty! What’s the deal here?!” and naturally I would fall sleepily out of bed and out into the chill early morning air to give him breakfast. I had no choice, really. He would just keep knocking at the window till I answered his demands.
When we moved out of that house, I wondered what would happen to him. But he was a pretty savvy guy, having escaped the noise and smells and down-drafts of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to carve out the life of a free-winged bird who could knock on the bedroom window of a house just as if it were a take-out food place and actually get fed a decent dinner. I don’t think I need to worry.
Sometimes I think about him, and wonder how and why he became a man inside a bird’s body, and whether he would like to be a human again.
I believe he’s quite happy as he is.