• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 05
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The Bird Charmer

In the city, between 03.13 and 05.13 hours, the side streets were filled with birdsong. It trilled loud, clear, overlapping melodies. Auburn sat with his ear pressed to glass, listening. I don't know how anyone sleeps through it, he said to himself, because no one else was there.

Nightly, fresh home from his work shift, Auburn sat waiting for his favourite sound to start. He wouldn't turn in until the last birdcall was finally drowned deep by steady, coming-and-going traffic.

He got to thinking, sometimes out loud. There had to be a way so as he could hear the birds at any time of day. Keep that sound to his timing, enchant his days with it.

Bernie said they were wild things and that Auburn shouldn't try to catch them.

'But wild things might be missing a little home comfort,' Auburn said. 'They might be aching for walls and bedding and stuff.'

Auburn remembered, on his travels through India, he'd seen a snake charmer. A white-robed man, performing dancing magic with his serpent friend. Auburn bought a flute. It seemed to serve in his memory as the right kind of instrument.

He had a reasonable amount of difficulty learning to play it right, so that the birds would hear. He kept the notes high, flighty. Days passed, weeks. One night, when the moon was full round and Auburn's window pulled wide open, four birds came to rest on his window ledge. He gave them names and fed them seeds.


The Bird Charmer

Of course, a woven basket wouldn't do for birds. Who was he to know how fussy birds might be? A red velvet cushion would have to suffice. With a trail of seeds, little by little, he tempted them up on to that plump cushion. And didn't they sing just for him? Still, there were tricks to be learned. And timing too. He'd get a little more sleep if he taught them that.

Bernie came to poke around Auburn's room. 'You haven't been at work. You sick? Foreman wants to know or he'll be giving your shifts away.'

I've been working on something else,' Auburn said. He could trust Bernie couldn't he? They'd been friends since boyhood. 'Sit there, keep still and I'll show you.'

Auburn fashioned a turban from cerise silk and sat cross-legged on the floor. Bernie hadn't noticed the sleeping birds, not until Auburn pointed his flute towards them.

'Why'd you pile them up like that?'

Auburn didn't answer. He was playing that flute of his.

'Well, I'll be...'

Bernie would've rubbed his eyes but Auburn had said keep still. The birds poked their little heads awake, climbed loose from the pile, using beaks and wings like limbs. Surely, birds didn't move that way naturally. It made Bernie's skin itch. But when they sang,

'Songs for the heavens,' Bernie said.

Auburn lowered his flute. The birds stopped singing. Bernie could've sworn they even bowed a little. Then one by one, they lay down, piled four high, still and sleeping.