Unable to sleep, I wept into my pillow, each note of the blackbird’s song breaking my heart. A doomed blackbird, his life drained away by the exhaustion of singing all night, and by the damp and icy December temperature. That is what a friend of mine, a keen birdwatcher, had told me. That blackbirds sang through the night because they were confused by our glaring street lighting, and so thought it was still daytime. That they sang they lungs out to mark out their territory without rest until their strength gave way and they died. The thought of finding his lifeless little body under a bush, in the morning, filled me with unspeakable sadness. A few times, I got out of bed to look out of the window, but could not see him in spite of the bright garden lights. I wished I could somehow will all those lights to go out, to give the poor creature some respite. Throwing another crumpled and soggy tissue on the carpet by my bed, I felt hatred towards my fellow humans for disrupting the natural order of things. Disoriented whales beaching themselves, migrating birds confused by too many energy-generating windmills, and now this crazed blackbird. Like the eponymous heroine in Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lamermoor, he sang his demented lament, swooping through a colourful range of notes. At times with a slow and rhythmic whistle, then flying into the crescendo of a glistening coloratura. The blackbird’s death song. Silence, little bird, I beg you. Sleep. I tried to block out his farewell recital by covering my head with my two pillows but the trill penetrated through the down, accusatory, reminding me that, as a human, I also bore the responsibility of his impending death.
The following day was a write-off. After a sleepless night, I carried an ache in my head which made me dizzy and queasy. In the garden, the blackbird sang still, probably with his last breath. I could not concentrate on anything I took up. Working on the computer made my eyes hurt, all food was unappealing, and I dragged my sore body from one place to another, unsure of where I was going, the blackbird’s song still carrying across the garden. I cancelled an evening engagement because, come afternoon, I was a wreck of exhaustion and guilt.
Towards the evening, having given up on any kind of constructive activity, I rang my bird-loving friend. She would understand and sympathise. With a heavy heart, I proceeded to tell her the events of the previous night.
“Oh, he’s just courting,” she said, her voice bright and cheery.
“Courting. He’s obviously the top blackbird in the neighbourhood, so he’s just showing off.”
“I couldn’t sleep a wink last night. I actually cried because I thought he was dying, and you’re telling me the [Anglo-Saxon adjective] little [archaic/derogatory noun referring to person born out of wedlock] is courting?!!”
“But it’s December! Can’t the stupid bird tell it’s the middle of winter?!”
“They start early. Some baby blackbirds are born as early as early March.”
“But, a few years ago, you told me they sang themselves to exhaustion.”
“Oh, sorry. Well, that’s what people thought then. A lot more research has been done since. Yes, it’s true they sing late into the night because they’re confused by the street lighting – but he’ll be OK. Don’t worry.”
“Isn’t he freezing his [a vulgar synonym of ‘bottom’] off?!
“Oh, no, they’ve learnt to keep close to the street lights, near the heat. So his little legs are nice and warm.” Her tone assumed a smiley, baby-talk tone. “They’re such clever little things.”
More profanities relating to organic fecal matter, from me.
“Just think of it as a serenade,” said my friend.
I comforted myself with the thought that our communal garden is regularly patrolled by a pair of long-haired ginger felines with rippling muscles. With any luck one of them would act as keeper of the peace that night, and intimidate the blackbird so it would keep its beak shut.
It was after midnight, and I had just drifted to sleep. Chirp, chirp, whistle, whistle, trill. I woke up, grumpy, resentful and totally devoid of my natural animal-loving instincts. Where were the feline toughies when you needed them? Probably curled up on their owner’s duvet, somewhere on the next street. That’s the problem with giving cats free food, instead of getting them to earn it, I thought.
And why didn’t that flying thing go and sing under someone else’s window, anyway? I fluffed up my pillow, and untangled my feet from the duvet. Clearly, this was going to be another sleepless night.
Whistle. Whistle. Pause. Chirp. Trrrrrrriiiiilllllllll!
Even I had to admit it. It was a trill worthy of anything at Covent Garden or the Met. A coloratura like a waterfall glistening in the sunlight, permeated by a rainbow. I wondered if any mousy female blackbirds were listening, and if any of them were charmed off their branches, or whether they thought Oh, that Casanova, again. I listened to the blackbird’s aria. A love song, promising sweet honeysuckle, rosy sunsets and chivalrous protection against the neighbourhood cats. The blackbird was giving it his all. Every musical skill was deployed just to prove he was the best lover on the block.
Oh, well, good luck to him, I thought, as I fell asleep with a smirk on my face.
* Despite several attempts, I failed to take a picture of the creature.