The Nest (Short story)
Gurdev Chauhan  (Canada)
email : gurdev.chauhan@gmail.com


I usually sit by the widow looking out. My work is registering and booking customers for stay at the motel. When no customers are around, I just sit here doing nothing.

Yesterday morning, two robins came and sat on the windows bars. They appeared in a hurry. They wanted to fix a nest on the flat bar holding window sunshade cover. The birds' flurries this morning attracted my attention. They brought twigs and blades of grass in their bills taking turns at nest-making. Sometimes one robin just sat on the magnolia branch, watching.

They seemed to have a clear idea of what best suited their purpose and took three four days to finish. They set their nest at far corner close to wall for protection against predators, wind and rain. I saw them at work at different day times. Back home in India, I remembered how we hauled abandoned nests of weaverbirds, the best homemaker from treetops to hang on our drawing room walls.
Robins were new to me as was their nest making, and rearing of their young. When the nest was done, the lady bird sat the nest for some days to lay eggs. Whenever I looked, I found female or the male robin sitting the nest, huddled. After few days, she robin laid the eggs, four to be sure, as would be revealed to me later.

A small magnolia tree that stood in the front of the motel was now in full bloom, its flowers light pink and white- rimmed. The entire tree looked just flowers and no leaf. When the she robin sat brooding, the he robin kept a vigil, sitting somewhere hidden in magnolia branches.

Obviously the lady bird knew beforehand that she was soon to lay eggs. Some invisible hand must have given her this understanding. The two made perfect mates. Unlike us humans, the father assisted the ladybird in the nest fixing, and after the eggs were laid, to sit on them on turn hatching them. After the chicks came out, the he-bird brought earthworms for the young.

The father and mother robins both fed their chicks. They both knew all along how to feed the chicks and the chick knew how to receive the feed opening their beaks wide. The mother usually spent time with the chicks but they both socialized with them and made their affection known through ways of touching and cajoling. They stayed almost silent during their hugging and body warming acts. They were quiet birds.

I got more curious as more days passed. Daytimes, I kept a watch over the chicks in the nest. Small as the nest was, the chicks had difficulty adjusting their growing bodies and wing spans. But now the mother spent less time babysitting. She made fewer visits to let chicks have more time, room and mobility. Often, the mother didn't visit them during night. It was difficult to say that her interest in her chicks dwindled as they began to be more on their own. Her love equaled to their need.

Daily, the father and mother brought earth worms caught in their beaks and put them deep into the wide recesses of their mouths when open. Before feeding the father or the mother partly swallowed and softened the worms. The mother or the father, whoever passed on the feed gave a kind of shake to its body and kind of shivered till the dead worm rammed right into their mouths.

My curiosity was what happened to the chicks' shit? How did they manage to keep the nest clean? I saw the mother usually engaged in a task that had nothing to do with feeding. It must clearly be a janitor's task. My curiosity lasted for a few days. Activities in and around the nest became less regular and brief. My eyes grew used to looking the nest that now brimming with chicks. I took notice of each change of scene. My imagination worked overtime. Only one clear bird neck I had seen till then. Others were just hints, one or two at the most. So in all there were three chicks to be sure. One was more smart and strong than others. It always got the maximum share of food. Other beaks got only what was left over. The weather was turning. Daylight lingered on right up to eight o clock in the evening. Trees started sporting new leaves, some green, some red- necked. Once or twice it rained but not much, just enough to soak the leaves on the trees and the grasses below. Work in factories picked up a bit, a reminder of spring on the door.

The long-beak was today very restive. Maybe he needed more food right in the morning. It was up very early. The mother has got the hint and has feds him. It was cloudy. Suddenly it turned colder than expected. Robins were not prepared for this sudden turn of weather, the wind making it worse. Day was drab and trees swayed alarmingly. Few people turned up for breakfast or coffee at the McDonalds's. A girl in the blue uniform stood outside the McDonald's with a broom in her hand. She put garbage bags into the bin.

I sat fiddling with the TV remote, my heart not much into it. I had taken tea. The longneck sat at the mouth of the nest, sniffing the air. It looked surprised and gawked at things of varied shapes and colors outside. It was his first look at the outside world. His little brothers and sisters were still asleep and his mother had flown foraging for food. Colors, smells and shapes of the outside world were very different, very exciting and very inviting, especially the magnolia tree and its flowers blowing about the wind.

I tried to dig into the book but couldn't. My mind was not into it. I longed to be in Toronto with my friends who were too many and had time for me. Here not a soul could be found. There were people but none to talk to.

All of a sudden, I saw a raven dashing near the nest. Startled, I looked at it and it flew with the speed of lightening, disappearing in the fraction of a second. I could not see where it had gone. I headed to the front office through the dining room and from there to the front door to gain a better view of the nest after the flying visit of the raven. What I saw left me chilled. It was a black mountain crow and it already had the longneck chick caught in his beak. The long neck fell off his beak but the raven again caught it in its beak and flew west over a block of roadside shops. The mother and father robins tried to chase the crow to a distance but they could not as the crow was too strong for them. I don't know what distance they chased him and to what result. But the result was clear to me. I came back to the room and found no sound or movement in the nest .It made clear that the crow had succeeded in killing and eating their chick. I was worried that the crow might have taken all the chicks because now thick silence engulfed the nest and none of the robins was in sight. Were they silently buried in sorrow? Or did they not know what had happened to their brothers and sisters. I couldn't see the father and mother of the chicks anywhere near the nest. How could they be so indifferent not to have come even once to see the fate of others? In fact their non-visiting for over a good part of the day was not in keeping with the loving relationship they had with the chicks. Was this the way they went about mourning? Did not their young needed parental encouragement at such a tragic hour?

It made me sad but curious to know why they behaved in a manner that showed callous neglect and indifference totally unexpected of them at least at such a tragic happening. What must be behind this sudden show of indifference? Towards the evening, a bird came just paying a superficial visit. It stayed for a fraction of a second and then flew back. Really it was a riddle why they kept so much silence, so much lack of love.

This went on like this till dark fell. I didn't see any movement, not even the prying of a tiny chick neck out of the nest. Perhaps the mother had asked them not to behave adventurously in her absence. I thought the reason for their feigned silence was that the other chicks had seen the crow preying on their elder brother so they huddled frozen in fear and feigned dead. The early next day as I opened the door I saw the same crow again diving close to the nest. I shouted it away and it was gone. Then, it crossed the street and perched on the overhead wires and started cawing and looked disturbed and kept peering towards the nest. He, then, made another dash to the nest to snatch the chick but by now I stood guard and again shouted it away and also threw a stone flying at him. Then it flew away and did not come back. After a while I saw that some chicks were still left in the nest. After an hour or so the mother flew to the nest and furtively sat upon the chicks feeding them each from her beak. She, then, flew out of sight. Now it was the father's turn to feed. When one robin flew scurrying for food the other sat in the magnolia branches to keep watch. When the father hunted the mother kept an eye on the nest or sat on the chicks. This went on for some days and the crow made two or three sorties but every time luckily I was there to abort these. After some time the crow presumably busied somewhere else and did not come back. In the meantime, the chicks started making movements outside their nest. They came one by one to the edge of the nest and attempted to unfurl their wings. One more day passed and in my absence two chicks made good their escape. The only one, perhaps the weakest among them all was left. Now the mother concentrated on him. It fed it earthworms of which there were many due to newly fallen rain that moistened the earth and the worms came out and robins picked them. I saw that the robin would bring the worm caught still alive in their beak. Then, it perched on a particular spot on the railing, the worm in his beak waiting for the worm to completely end its struggle for life. Then the mother would feed the dead worm to her chick because the chick would have trouble swallowing a live worm.

The next day in the morning when I was sitting in the front office reading my emails on the laptop I saw a crow once again. I shouted it away and soon it flew out of sight. That very day I when went for a glass of water I saw the last chick sitting at exactly the same spot where his mother used to sit waiting for the worm in her beak to die. I had not seen any of the other chicks flying out of the nest. I simply guessed that they did so. The sight of the last chick reassured me; it seemed the bird knew of my worry and wanted to make me happy showing that it could now fly and take care of itself. The little bird just waited till I had seen it and reassured that I had seen, it flew with the speed I could just admire. It made me stop worrying for them.

Many weeks have passed. The nest is still there but no bird has visited it, not even the chicks whose home it was only a season back. Why is it so? Do the birds have no memory or do they have more happy moments in hand to attend to rather than ruing for the bygone. They feel but they don't fret. The past has no meaning for them. The past is gone and dead for them. It seems they don't plan for the next mating and laying eggs. They just soak in the moment of now with no burden of a past or a future nest. They fly in the present, lay eggs and brood them in the moment the present and mate and parent in the moment of eternal now. The used- up past and the used-up nest is always a Was for them. They don't go back to Was or their old nest. They build fresh homes and lay fresh eggs.

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(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2013)