I often catch myself speaking to birds, any birds. I must have been ten years old when I found a small bird struggling in my backyard, flapping its undeveloped wings trying to take off. I named the young wild bird Juni for the month of June. The Belgian Merlette fell off her busy nest perched in a generous pear tree that sat in the middle of our family garden. The Merlette’s nest contained four eggs and by the month of June the bird-cradle became too small, pushing one of the small birds to leave home too soon.
Luckily for Juni I ran fast and was first to spot and collect the baby bird before any of our many cats might. My love for cats was deep, but I also knew of their killer instincts. Our family’s furry pets were known for catching birds and rodents, in hope of securing a wild meal, or to present us with dead offerings.
Even though I was aware of our cats roaming wildly into their territories, my backyard resembled a small heaven: everything I dreamed of as a young girl. The rectangular and long yard had a redbrick fence and trees all around its edges while fencing other neighborhood plots. Lilac trees bloomed each spring with exuberant purple and white blossoms. Every spring I created generous bouquets to put on our dining table. There was plenty for me to discover in our buzzing backyard while I lived in the Belgian capital. My bird pet was a blissful discovery.
My parents saw no objection in adding a new member to our pet family. Searching in our dark house’s basement, I found an old birdcage that belonged to a rescued bird. I carefully washed the small cage and put young Juni on one of the batons inside her new confining home.
I knew the type of food to give my protégé, a kind of mixture consisting of crushed insects. The pet-store nearby sold me the precious meal. Standing in front of the bird’s open cage, and holding a sugar-spoon in my hand, I delicately filled the spoon with the dark concoction.
“Ouvre la bouche,” opening my mouth wide open so Juni might do the same.
“Tjiiip, tjiiip,” chirped the young bird.
My technique was successful, my new pet showed zealous enthusiasm during her feeding time. While extending her neck, Juni opened wide her brown beak showing a pink throat, which my hand delicately spoon-fed many times a day. In no time, my bird grew strong. Soon, she was ready for flying lessons.
Upon my small white hand the bird stood, claws tightened around my index finger, her wings closed to her light body. Standing inside our atrium, I slowly moved my arm up and down, which in turn made Juni open her wings and start fluttering. We practiced flying lessons every day, several times a day, until the young bird finally took off, within the confinement of the indoor room. Cats were not allowed while we practiced, and I always made sure no doors were inadvertently opened by any of my sisters, or my parents.
As the bird’s wings matured, I took her outside. The time to practice flying outdoors had arrived. With Juni standing on my finger, I slowly moved my right arm up and down into the air. My protégé took off and landed in a neighbor’s tree. I was excited at the bird’s performance, yet I worried my pet wouldn’t come back. “Juni,” I called while brandishing my right arm and hand upwards toward the sky. In an instant, she flew back and landed right back where she had started. Juni always came back.
I knew that one day I would have to let my pet go though, yet I did nothing to encourage my new friend to leave me. Together, we walked to Madame Lamale’s small grocery store located a few houses down on our busy Brussels’s street. Madame Lamale gave my pet cherries, which the bird eagerly swallowed. People always noticed us on the street – Juni perched on my right shoulder – all with a big smile on their faces. I was happy too.
Like every summer, we went on holiday. With my family we traveled to France. We couldn’t take my friend with us, but cousin Jacques offered to look after my beloved bird. After giving Jacques strict specifics regarding Juni’s care, I left Belgium.
When we came back after two weeks vacation, I called Jacques who lived on the other side of Brussels, and asked when I could come and get my pet back. Jacques told me he opened the cage to let the bird fly a while, but the bird never came back.
“You told me you’d done it before,” said Jacques apologizing.
“Yes,” sniffling back my tears, “I knew this would happen one day. It is not your fault. I just wish I could have said goodbye.”
While feeling sad for days, and wondering where Juni could be, I noticed a Merlette in our front yard. The bird didn’t seem afraid when I came closer.
Full of hope, I called: “Juni, is that you?” while speaking in a gentle voice: “C’est moi, ton amie Brigitte. Don’t be afraid. Don’t you remember me?” while extending my right hand. The bird seemed to listen to my words, turning its head sideways to better view me. “Come back.”
But Juni never came back. Often, I wondered if my best friend of that year made it into a world she hardly knew. Many nights, I dreamed of flying in our garden, and seeing Juni perched high in the big pear tree, standing free. I dreamed of standing right next to my friend. Together, we listened to the metallic whistling of a black Merle, whose loud chirping awoke the entire neighborhood as the sun rose a new day.