Feed the birds. A story for Christmas and throughout the year. Birds are God's creatures too.
Her feathered guests.
Feeding the birds in a city garden.
It is the month of May. In a garden in the city the old woman left out some food for the birds. Some mixed birdseed with some melted lard, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Mixed together in a bowl, and left in the freezer to set for about half an hour, it made a perfect meal for the hosts of hungry starlings that visited her garden at that time of year. In a separate bowl she had put some raisins and sultanas. The blue tits and the great tits loved the fruit. At least once a day two wood pigeons would come to dine as well. Two collared doves, who always came together like a couple enjoying a romantic picnic, arrived every morning around half past eleven.
The woman enjoyed seeing the birds eat. She would spend hours looking out her window at the starlings, who always fought each other over access to the bird food. These always made her laugh. "Feeding birds", she thought, "doesn't always only give pleasure to the birds themselves".
The collared doves were her especial favourites. They would perch on the side of the big bowl and eat together sedately. Afterwards they would sometimes make avian love on the garden wall.
If she attempted to open her door to get a closer look at any of the diners, there would be a clatter of wings. The garden would be immediately empty. Glancing up at the roofs of nearby houses, she would see the timid guests waiting for her to go back in before resuming their feast. The birds never stayed in the garden if she were there. It was almost as if they felt that she was an enemy. It annoyed her a little bit to think that she loved them so much, yet they never seemed to care for her at all. "Who do you think feeds you, you silly birds"? she thought.
Sometimes, when she refilled the bowl with bird food, (after washing it thoroughly of course), she would see one of the starlings observing her from a nearby height. Perhaps a pigeon, or a collared dove, could be glimpsed watching the garden from a nearby tree. You could guarantee, that within five minutes of her leaving the goodies in the garden, the birdtable would be swamped by noisy birds, and the whole round of eating, squabbling, making love, and flying away would be repeated.
In August the birds dont want feeding.
The month was August. No birds came to the garden. When harvest time comes all the birds migrate to the farmers' fields to eat the easier pickings that can be found in the ripening crops. It is almost as if they all go on holidays for a few months.
The woman missed her visitors. She seldom got many of the human variety. Since her husband died, ten years previously, she lived in the house on her own. The son and daughter, that they had raised together, were both gone abroad to live with their new families and they rarely seemed to give any great thought to their ageing mother.
The neighbours, who lived in the same street were all upwardly mobile ambitious younger couples, with children who went to the best schools and friends in similar streets who were as ambitiously thrusting as themselves. None of them really had any time to be neighbourly with the "relic" that lived in the house where the birds were fed. The children called her "the witch", and the adults considered her a bit mad; because they had overheard her muttering to the birds and assumed that she was talking to herself.
Standing in her garden, that August, the woman berated the disloyal birds, that had deserted her like everyone else.
"What is wrong with my birdseed"? she muttered.
"You desert me for those farmers every year. It would serve you right if I didnt leave out any food for you in the winter, when the fields are bare. Why should I bother with you birds? You are like the rest of them. You don't care for me".
In her heart she knew that her threats were empty. When the snow was on the ground, the birdseed and the raisins would return to the garden and she would carry the kettles of boiling water to melt the ice in the birdbaths, as she always did. She was a kind person really and she could never neglect her feathered brothers and sisters.
The neighbours, who could hear the muttering, from over the high garden wall, had their suspicions confirmed in there minds. "Mad as can be", they thought.
"We shall have to keep away from that old woman. She probably smells as well. Most "crumblies" do".
While feeding the birds an accident occurs.
It is December and just one week before Christmas. Trees are appearing in windows all over the street. There is none of the cheap tat about the decorations in the upwardly mobile households. Everything comes only from designer goods catalogues. The cupboards in the architect designed kitchens are stuffed with mince pies and Christmas puddings and cakes from only the best shops. Most of the food will be put out for the binmen after Christmas. But that is one of the great traditions of the modern celebration of the birth of, Who? Conspicous consumption, and great waste.
In the house where the old woman lived there were no decorations. No expensively dressed tree occupied her window.
In the kitchen, where she slept,( it was too expensive on a pension to heat the whole house), there was only a small crib with some chipped statues of The Holy Family and some rather battered shepherds, animals and three rather down at heel Kings, to remind her of what the celebration was really about.
Outside the snow lay deep on the ground.
The old woman boiled a kettle. The temperature was around minus five centigrade. She knew that the birdbath would be frozen over. It was only about noon so she knew that the birds would be in the garden. Earlier she had brought out a full bowl of seed and one of raisins. She had enjoyed watching her Christmas guests as they fed.
She opened the back door, with the boiling kettle in her hand. As always, the second she opened the door there was the clatter of wings and the birds disappeared. She tutt tutted to herself as she glanced up at the nearby roofs to see where they all were gone. In the moment of inattention she missed seeing the slippery patch she was stepping on. Her feet flew from under her. The kettle fell from her hand, and she went down heavily and awkwardly on the hard frozen ground. An agonizing pain in her left leg told her that it was broken. Her wrist seemed to have snapped as well.
She couldn't get up, and she was unable to crawl back to the house. She tried to call out but her old lady voice just sounded like croaking.
In the house next door the woman was on her phone to her friend from work. She was making arrangements for the Office cocktail party. She was just finishing her funny story about how the junior clerk had been caught last year in the cupboard with the financial director's wife,(luckily not by the financial director), when she heard some hoarse shouting from the neighbouring garden. This prompted her to go into her favourite tirade about having to live next door to a mad old woman.
"Always muttering or shouting to herself" she said,
"why doesnt the old bitch give us all a Christmas present by dying. We could buy the house then, and increase our property portfolio".
Outside the kitchen door the old woman could feel herself slipping into unconciousness. She couldn't do any thing to help herself. She just managed to throw a glance at the roofs of the houses opposite. She thought with her dying breath it would be nice to see the birds one last time. But there were no birds to see. Just empty ridge tiles.
Her last thought as she slipped into oblivion was, "bloody birds, all they did want was the food".
Feed the birds. It might save your life.
In the hospital it was warm and comfortable. Out in the corridor a choir could be heard singing about The Birth of Christ. The old woman felt a bit groggy when she woke up. There was a nurse at the head of her bed.
"Oh it is good to see you are awake", the nurse said.
"You are our miracle patient".The old woman could not understand what she was talking about.
"Later in the day, when you are feeling a bit better, somebody from the ambulance control room would like to talk to you", the nurse continued,
"it's about the strange way that we got to find you".
Later that day the man from the ambulance service visited the woman in her hospital ward. The story that he told was strange indeed.
He had been on duty in the control room, which was in the same street as the woman's house. It was a fairly quiet day. As he was about to eat his sandwiches, he heard a clatter of wings outside his window. He looked up and there was a load of starlings, several wood pigeons and two collared doves perched on the windowsill. He opened his door to chase them away. They all flew off and started circling over a house at the bottom of the street. He went in to finish his lunch. Five minutes later the same thing happened again. Chase them away again. He didn't want bird poo on the health trust's sill. Again the birds returned. "Ok" he thought. "I am going to have to see what in Hell is happening at that house". He asked his colleague to man the switch for a while, and he set out for the house at the end of the street, which the birds were still circling.
When he got nearer he noticed that they seemed to be concentrating mainly on the back garden. There was a gate at the side of the house. He went round to the back, and found an old lady lying unconcious by the kitchen door. He straightaway called the emergency number and had her removed to hospital.
"And that is the real story of how you were saved" he told the lady in the bed.
"If it were not for those birds raising the alarm you would certainly have died. They must really care for you".
The old woman smiled to herself, a secret smile.
"They did care for me after all" she thought.
Birds are beautiful. Feed them if you can.
After about two months in the hospital the old woman was let home. She still lives there and she still feeds the birds, but they no longer fly away when she enters her garden. I think the memory of what happened that week before Christmas has entered into their avian conciousness and created a bond of mutual friendship between them and their benefactor. They even land on her hand nowadays. They didnt starve when she was in hospital either, as the kind man from the ambulance service looked after them during his breaks.
The neighbours in the street continue to prosper. Good people may get their reward, but the bad don't always get their comeuppance. They just lead impoverished lives instead.