My teeth are chattering as I pass by my hotel. The night is almost over, but despite my being exhausted and frozen, I’m hungry more than anything. It’s nearly 11pm, which means most restaurants will be locking their doors any minute, and I’m determined to grab something to eat before I retire to my room. This late in the evening on a Thursday night, I’m not one to be picky. I enter the first open business peddling edibles that I see. The florescent lights are buzzing as I place my order.
“What would you like on your burger?” she asks me.
“Everything, and extra hot sauce,” is my reply.
“Everything?” she looks at me quizzically.
I nod, not caring. I want to be in a bath, with bubbles. I want someone to rub my feet. I want to say goodbye to this frustrating and stressful evening, but I open myself to perspective. I am grateful. Yes, I am also hungry, cold, tired and two hours later than I planned on being back in the city, but I am safe and rich with experience. I have no reason to complain. I am blessed.
I watch through a small window in the wall as a young man works on my burger behind the counter. He places my meal on the pass-through while the clerk stands and stares at her nails. She rubs one of them. I wait. She looks at the front door, where no one comes in and nothing changes. I wait. The girl stares at her shoes. I sigh. Finally, after what feels like a billion years, I have a hot paper bag in my cold little hands and I’m practically sprinting the block and a half to my room. There’s a bed waiting there for me, to cradle me into slumber.
The tinny echo of a pop can hitting the sidewalk up ahead of me pulls my attention away from my bed and towards a small, flitting figure struggling against the well-lit glass side of a large bank building. I let my eyes adjust a moment and manage to make out a bird, panicked, hitting herself repeatedly into the window. I approach her slowly, speaking before thinking.
“Hey birdie, are you confused? Did you hurt yourself?”
More panic. Thump, flap, thump, flap, thump, flap. I can’t stand it. I guide my bag of food between her tiny body and the pane of glass. She stops hitting the window and for a moment, she flies, making impact with another painful thwack against the glass of a revolving door. This time, she lands on the ground, laying against the brickwork floor of the plaza. I approach again, slowly.
Her tail is fanned out behind her. Her breathing is rapid, eyes darting back and forth. I wonder where she came from, why she’s out here so late, and where she should be, instead.
What I’m not thinking about is my hunger. I’m no longer cold. No thought goes towards my aching body or how tired I am, rather, only to this bird who is very well dying. If I were at home, I would pick her up, take her home and call an animal rescue in the morning. The problem is that I’m not at home, and I somehow doubt that the hotel is going to let me wander through the lobby and up into my room with a bird.
Another thing that hasn’t crossed my mind is just how peculiar it might look to the few passersby that I am standing, just standing, outside of a locked revolving door in a closed bank building. I haven’t noticed that the people who pass me are staring with mild interest, trying to assess what I’m doing in this plaza late at night. One man stops, looking at me, then following my gaze to the ground.
“Uh oh,” he tells me, making eye contact, “what have we got here?”
“I think that she flew into the window and hurt herself, but she just kept thumping into it and I was trying to get her to stop. She’s calming down a little more now.”
He walks towards us, his pace scaring her back into flight. In her panic she tries to flee, thwacking her little body right into the nearest planter. My new companion backs off as I cringe.
“The problem is,” he informs me, “that these lights are on. There are too many damned lights in this city. Turn the lights off and she’ll find her way back home. I can’t wait until I retire. A few more years and I’ll be heading north. You know, I got a little cabin up there about two hours away and it’s incredible; stars for miles.”
I nod. He isn’t helping me, or my birdie friend. My smile has faded. Now, not only is there an injured bird to deal with, but this guy’s cabin dreams as well. I’m not equipped with a lot of patience right now and I’m sure it’s showing.
He must see the shift in my thoughts because he turns his attention back onto the bird. “We take them for granted, don’t we?” he asks, and I half nod. “The best thing you can do for her is leave her be. She’s gonna be fine.”
I watch him walk away across the street and wonder how he can be so sure. How can he believe that she’s going to be fine? How can he walk away? My eyes trail back to the bird.
I sit on the plaza floor, cold slowly making its way through my business casual attire. I’m at a loss, staring at her fragile frame, for what my next move will be. I’m thinking about where I might find a shoe box or even a cage, and where I could hold her until morning.
Even then, what of it? One city bird flies into a window and I’m setting up camp in downtown Toronto. No one else is going to stop. No one else is going to care. What do I do now?
The bank door opens, and I look up passed his well-shined shoes and tailored pants. He’s tall and slim, somewhere in his fifties, and he looks at me with an even mixture of kindness and confusion. “Are you trying to get into the bank?” he asks me.
I stand, “No…. the problem is just that this bird flew into the window here, and I think she’s really hurt. She’s scared and I don’t want to leave her.”
There is a long pause while he thinks about what I am saying. He looks from me to the bird, breathing heavily on the ground, and back to me. “These birds, they live up in the roof of the plaza,” he says, “this one will go back up there when it is no longer stunned.”
I just stare at him, holding my bag full of hamburger, waiting.
“I will stay with your bird.” He smiles at me, but I’m not sure if it’s a placating smile or genuine kindness. I flatten my skirt as he continues. “I will stay with your bird until she goes home.”
Part of me knows that he’ll wait for me to disappear up the street before he goes back inside, but the part of me that is naïve wants to believe that he will stay with her. It’s silly either way to think that this bird is finding comfort in company, but all I can think is that I would not want to be alone in her circumstances. You know, if I had flown into the side of a building. Maybe it’s because I am overtired, or perhaps it’s just the way I’m wired, but I allow myself to believe that he will stay, and that she would want him there instead of me.
It’s not until later that I consider this story in more detail; the motivations of my actions, the thought processes that I have gone through, and the way that I must have been perceived by the people who had passed me. I still wish that there had been more that I could do for her, but I have to believe that she made it until morning and found her way back home.
It’s what my conscience needs.