Bird lessons in two parts

An exercise in my students’ workbook posed the following problem:

Carrier pigeons are ______________ (still/use) in some countries today.

They were all having trouble with this until I realized they didn’t know what a carrier pigeon was. So I tried to explain.

Afterwards, they all wanted to know which countries still use carrier pigeons. I had to say I didn’t know. And they said the girl looked a lot like me, because of the skirt.

Big news: I was asked to extend my residency here by two months, and I accepted. This is something I would prefer to write individually to every person in my life, but I’ve put off saying anything here long enough. If you keep reading, you’ll note that I ain’t back in Chicago, and you’ll put two and two together.

I love it here. I’m doing good work (other than my somewhat shoddy explanation of carrier pigeons). But this choice creates more choices. I’ve been so torn up about the entire thing that yesterday I felt compelled to visit an otherwordly adjudicating body. I always feel more balanced after visiting a church or a temple, no matter the religion. (For further spirit-lifting, I changed into my favorite extra-soft sky-blue t-shirt.)

At the city’s biggest temple, Wat Phnom, I expected peace and repose, a walk around the gardens and then maybe staring at Buddha while kneeling on a straw mat. I’d sit in the back, like I always did in Catholic church, and pretend to know the drill. But instead the whole place was under construction and any available straw mat was already packed with kneelers. No blending, not today.

I kept walking, amongst incense burning here and there, plates of bananas and pink dragon fruit set out as offerings… I wandered up and down the stone steps, thinkng I’d have to stop soon before someone asked me to explain all this circular pacing. Then on the roof I found a young woman holding a bamboo cage full of beautiful birds, the size of tiny sparrows but irridescent — inky blue and glossy green.

I knew you could set birds free up here but had always dismissed it as a weird touristy scam. Now, this morning, I really wanted to do it. Drug-deal style, I pressed a dollar into her palm and was expecting just one bird, but maybe got the special — in an unbroken motion she pressed two live birds into mine.

I thought they’d alight on my wrist like in Cinderella, but instead they stayed docile and felt warm, hamster-sized in my fist. I thought of birthday candles neglected and dripping onto cake and panicked: I’ll crush them! I should make a wish or something! I heard myself say: “I don’t know what to do!” — meaning, how do I release them? Just open my fingers? But really, that was the best prayer, the closest to the truth. The woman’s eyes met mine as we both giggled — her (probably) at me, and me at the thrill as they burst from my hand and soared off.

2 thoughts on “Bird lessons in two parts

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