I met a bird on the beach this morning. She was all by herself. I was walking fast, crushing shells under my steps, looking inside myself to find someone that, perhaps, wasn’t there. That’s when I saw her, grey and plum at the edge of the tide, still and strong on her short feet rhythmically washed by the waves crashing ashore. Looking at me with one eye. Seizing me up.
I stopped, and we stared at each other for a while. I kept myself quiet while she took her time turning her head one way and the other, so both her eyes could see me as if she wanted to ensure they saw the same thing.
I let her study me as I, too, studied her, slowly realizing that I wasn’t just seeing a bird, but that bird. The bird.
Now, I should say I see a lot of birds on the beach.
Most of them are seagulls, flocks of seagulls. They like to congregate and usually occupy a big area of the shoreline. Seeing them from afar, they look like a white island that magically parts and closes as we humans pass through. Those seagulls… they just want food from the lady with the red scarf that comes every day, about noon, and shakes the breadcrumbs out of a plastic bag.
And there are pelicans, big, heavy, wide when spread, assertive, dropping from the sky into the water below to snap a poor fish with their humongous baggy beaks and later descending with a rough flap of their wings atop of the rotten poles of the old pier, pocking out of the water like fingers out of a Halloween grave.
Then, white as snow, with long pink legs, are the ibis birds. With their mile-long curved bills, they constantly prob the shells and wet sand, looking so busy and focused that I often feel awful disturbing them.
And there are those itsy-bitsy birds, no bigger than a tight fist, moving so fast in and out of the splashing waves that, sometimes, seem an illusion.
An accidental crow may rip through the sky, black on blue, lost, screaming for help, getting back silence and stares.
And then there are solitary birds, like this one, cruising the beach by themselves, with an inquisitive look on their separated eyes, chillaxing by the water while waiting for a fish, a better life, or just a human like me, to come their way.
The bird was staring at me, making me wonder what was on her mind. I was staring at her, too, wanting to get past the marble feathers and into her tiny body, trying to know her. It just down on me that I never get to stare at people, never try to know them, not really, having a pretty good idea of who they are.
But man! I thought, how cool it is… I never get to know a bird. Birds…, you only see them, you don’t know them.
Maybe she got bored with me or wanted to show no fear when she stepped toward me. I told myself that she might come closer if I didn’t move. So, I stood still and watched. She stepped on the side and pecked at the sand, playful, then looked at me. I took it as an invitation, looking for ways to mimic her. Cheap, old movies came to mind, where explorers meet an unknown civilization and mirror their behavior in trying to gain their indulgence. So, in the absence of a brilliant idea, I took a step aside, bent slightly from my waist, and bobbed my head, careful not to be too obvious to my fellow human passing by.
The bird watched me for a while, then started to clean her feathers in deep, ecstatic strikes, her beak sliding from the joint of her wings down one long grey feather after another. I also scratched my armpits, tilting my head left and right, cautious about the strangers around me, although they never paid attention. Instead, the bird seemed to have a hint of a laugh in her left brown eye. I pulled out my phone and quickly snapped a picture as proof of my judgment. She even posed for me, then took another small step toward me and started peaking leisurely. When I looked, I saw she was going for the straw hole of a plastic lid, half buried in the sand, which she became very interested in pursuing as the object moved away, washed by the foamy waves.
By now, I was smiling my teeth off. “What are you doing, bird?” I whispered.
Close by, a group of three white ibises landed quietly and went on fishing, moving towards us. I observed them briefly from the corner of my eyes like you do when you have your attention focused. And mine was focused on the bird who kept pecking at the plastic lid. I was wondering if she’d forgotten me or had already determined that I was too massive to be explored as a food source or didn’t care for a big animal looking for companionship. She was now fighting with the lid, which she managed to hold with her beak, smashing it to the ground, maybe so she could break it into small, manageable parts, when one of the ibises jumped too close and startled her. She stepped aside as to avoid a sudden danger, then took another look at me and, opening her wings, took off.
Just like that!
I watched her flying against the burning sun of the late summer morning until she became a blur. Then I resumed my walking, puzzled by the whole story. I didn’t even notice I was bumping into people. I didn’t see them. They were just people.
But birds, well, they are something else. Now that I met one, I can tell you they are very special when you get to know them.