Saturday evening, just as I was settling in to watch the cricket, there came a knock upon the door. It was a friend of M’s who’d come round to drop off some books for their book club. They were in a brown paper bag. She had her daughter with her, about six year’s old, and the little girl held in both hands a small cardboard box, like a shoe box, with a towel draped over the top. They said in it was a baby bulbul that had fallen out of the nest, which they’d found while going for a walk in Gough Whitlam Park down by the Cook’s River. I asked if I could have a look, the little girl pulled back a corner of the towel and I saw stripy black and grey feathers over a body that was too large to be that of a baby bulbul. Maybe it’s a cuckoo? I said but they both shook their heads. No, it’s got a crest. Also, because it was a bulbul, WIRES (Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service) wouldn’t take it because they only take natives. By this time M was out talking to her friend, who didn’t want to come in for a cup of tea or anything. She wanted to go home.
I went back to the cricket. I don’t usually watch games of 20-20 but this was New Zealand vs Australia and the Black Caps were creaming it. At some point the little girl said she wanted to go to the toilet and I showed her the way to the bathroom. It was the break between innings. I went into the kitchen to start making dinner. Chopping up onions, garlic, green peppers, chilli bacon and pancetta to simmer in a tomato sauce. After a while I thought: that little girl is taking a long time in the bathroom and began to listen up. (Bathroom and kitchen adjoin, with a wall of cupboards in between.) I heard a few indeterminate sounds but nothing definite. I wondered what she could be doing. I know some people take a long time in the bathroom but children are not usually among them. A little while after that I heard a brief, gentle, hesitant knocking on the bathroom door and went to see what had happened. She was locked in.
I knew the lock was dodgy but hadn’t done anything about it because we never use it. It was one of those bubble locks, inside the handle, with a button you turn from horizontal to vertical to activate and deactivate. The button still turned but the tongue of the lock would not retract. The two mechanisms had somehow become disconnected from one another. I knew that no key would make any difference, even if we could find the key. I went and told the girl’s mother she was locked in and M went to look for a key anyway. She found a whole bunch of them but we didn’t know which was the right one and, besides, none of them worked. We tried sliding the end of a screwdriver and then the blade of a knife between door and jamb to force the tongue to retract but that didn’t work either. I said this is a job for a locksmith and M went to ring one. He said he’d be there in half an hour.
The little girl didn’t freak out. She was admirably calm. Her mother sat on the floor outside the door with M’s copy of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, in Japanese, reading it to her daughter. She’s bi-lingual so would read the Japanese text and then translate the words into English. Somehow they conspired to share the pictures too, I don’t know how. Under the door perhaps. I went on cooking and M sat on the sofa with the box with the baby bird in it on her knees. She was afraid that if she put it down it would get cold and maybe even die. She looked like something out of an old tale herself. After the girl’s mother finished reading the story, she rang the girl’s father, who was at home, to tell him what had happened and to discuss dinner. There was talk of pizza.
I was still monitoring the cricket but it had turned out to be one of those games which are over almost before they begin. About forty-five minutes had passed when the locksmith called and asked if he could park outside our house. There was a spot and I waited beside it until he arrived. I was quite surprised when a little white car, a rental from No Birds, turned into the street and made a U-turn in front of our place. He was a young man, handsome and lithe, probably Brazilian. He had an aura about him. I said there was a little girl locked in the bathroom and he said he rescues little girls from bathrooms all the time. Which he then proceeded to do.
While he was thus engaged I had another look at the bird in the box and realised it was actually a baby crested pigeon, a native as it happens, and common around here. I showed the girl’s mother a picture from our bird book and, when the little girl came out, showed her too. The mother straightaway called WIRES and gave them their address. Meanwhile the little girl explored the house and ended up at M’s dressing table in the front bedroom, trying out looks in the mirror. M gave her a jewelled hairband and a shiny necklace before she and her mother went off home, perhaps to have pizza.
The Brazilian put a new lock on the bathroom door (not that we’ll ever use it) and drove off to star in some other fairy-tale rescue. I had a look at the Maurice Sendak book, which I used to read to my sons when they were little, improvising chants for the pics for which there are no words, the ones when all they’re doing is dancing. I can still remember one of the chants I used to sing, and tried it out again. A variation perhaps upon what Bob Marley sings in ‘Buffalo Soldier’: Woe yoy yoy, woe yoy yoy yoy / Woe yoy yoy yo, yoy yoy yoy yo. It sounded alright.
Later on that night we heard that WIRES didn’t come around after all and the baby pigeon was loose on their balcony in Ashfield, happy enough but not eating the birdseed we’d given them. Next day, which was Sunday, WIRES did come and took the little bird and said it will be cared for, with some others of its kind, until it’s strong enough and then released, near where they found it, back into the wild. Woe yoy yoy yo, yoy yoy yoy yo.