By MAX BIRD
Translated by Janice Kimball
My siblings and I were kept comfortable and well fed in the dark chicken coop awaiting our fate. In there with us were a Toucan, a group of twittering Canaries, some haughty hook bills splashed with brilliant markings, and oddly enough, an Iguana. Occasionally the door would crack open startling us as the darkness flooded with light. Then a strange one-eared man was ushered in. He circled each of our cages, eyes beading in assessment, hands folded behind his back, grunting.
Sticking up his nose he paused at our cage. My heart beat wildly with fear. I remember how I strained to hear as our keeper and the wholesaler talked about us outside the door. The effort was futile as I could not hear, but knew the outcome would not be a good.
A van pulled up to the door of our chicken coop. It was like a rich man’s van, the color of pewter, and smelled of newness, or was it bleach? A strange man with an aura of detachment came in to the coop. You could almost hear our silence as his footsteps deftly padded across the soft dirt floor. He rearranged us as we fluttered wildly in a last ditch effort to escape, transferring us into slick aluminum cages equipped with automatic feeders.
We sped along part of the day and through the night in physical comfort and resigned acceptance of our fate. It was only when he stopped to pay a toll, that I screamed, “Help, please help!” In a valiant attempt to get us all out of there, visioning being cooked and eaten at the end of our ride. I put everything into those screams, but nobody heard. Looking back, we never were eaten, so maybe I over reacted.
Guadalajara was asleep when we arrived, all but the bustling around the old San Juan Market. Caught in a huge traffic jam, in an almost impossible entanglement we wiggled on through. Our driver announced he had a perishable load, referring to us kept creatures that chirped as others moved their vehicles aside. I overheard we were to be taken to a process station filled with other contraband birds snatched from the wild. The luckiest of us would be put into an airplane and flown to the United States, sold to grace a rich home.
The others would be marketed to pet stores here in Mexico. Both of these options looked pretty good, when just the night before I thought we could be eaten. My siblings and I, however, were stopped at the entrance of the banding station, putting a halt to our aspirations.
“What are those common birds doing here?” the man from the warehouse demanded as we were being unloaded.
We huddled together as we heard our driver reply, “ but I got ya’ the Iguana you been wantin’ and a real good cash crop of assorted birds here, and just look at that Toucan, the biggest I ever did see!”
“Well, they’re not worth anything, just get them out of here,” the man said as he pointed at us. There we were, me and my siblings, evicted from our cage, just three hunks of garbage, and a few ounces of underdeveloped feathers, worth nothing but to be stepped on, unceremoniously dumped into the street.
A beggar with a soot filled beard and bare feet was standing, as if waiting for us, as we were dumped beside the curb. He took off his crunched up, sweet scented sombrero, and nested us inside. As we traveled up the road with us cradled in his arms he began humming. Our red crested heads optimistically bobbed along in unison, almost as if we were on a tour. The color of the sky changed from a dark violet to a glorious orange hue as the sun rose over the horizon.
To our surprise the beggar began singing us a carol, “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little lord Jesus lay down his sweet head . . .”