Life and Death


        The tram driver was vigilant — it wasn’t his fault.

        Sam was early for his appointment with Dr Doug, so a last-minute decision saw him standing in the doorway of the number twelve tram. A quick stop and a few quiet moments in the park seemed like a good idea.

         Spring had sprung and summer was approaching. The evidence of new life was everywhere.

        Before this tram reached its Bayside destination it would rumble along Collins Street past the medical district — the so-called ‘Paris End’ — trendy cafes and beautiful old office buildings built in an era when designers and craftsmen took pride in their work.

        The tram driver saw them coming — it happened often as he piloted his tram past the Edinburgh Gardens. The smaller birds were constantly chasing away the larger birds in the belief that if they didn’t, the larger birds would lay waste to their nests and take their chicks as an easy snack. The aerial battles are every bit as dramatic and deadly as anything seen during the Battle of Britain.

         Tram drivers understand the physics involved in stopping suddenly — it isn’t going to happen — not when your vehicle weights more than a Rhino and you are riding on shiny metal rails.

        As the birds approached and the crow dipped and banked frantically in an attempt to escape from the angry Wattlebird and simultaneously avoid contact with the big green monster, the driver watched the drama play out — he was a spectator and nothing he did would make any difference to the outcome.

        The wingspan of the crow meant that it could turn, bank and dip more efficiently, but the Wattlebird was faster and they both knew it. The crow knew that the Wattlebird would not give up and he was going to feel his sharp beak unless he flew away from the park. The crow had not managed to clear the perimeter of the park and the Wattlebird was close behind. The experienced dive into traffic was designed to shake off the angry bird — it worked.

        The Wattlebird had the crow in his sights — he could see nothing else. He saw the crow’s desperate manoeuvre, but he did not see the green monster.

        Sam caught sight of this deadly battle as the crow narrowly missed the driver’s cabin of the rapidly slowing tram. Everyone on the front part of the tram heard the bang as the distracted Wattlebird hit the window at full pelt.

        Sam saw the dishevelled bird cartwheel past his door and land on the side of the road.

        When the tram stopped, and the door opened, the bird was laying on the road some fifty metres behind the stationary tram. The cars following the tram were narrowly avoiding the stricken bird.

         “I can’t just leave the little bugger lying there,” Sam said. He was the only person alighting the tram at the Gardens so his words were only for him.

        Sam admired the underdog, and he had spent a large part of his former career doing something to support the underdog. He admired the little bloke for taking on a much larger opponent, and all done to protect his family.

        By the time he got to the bird it had stopped moving. Each car that passed by threatened to put a sudden end to the story.

        Sam stood over the bird and glared at the cars that were forced to change direction to avoid running him over. A medium sized truck blew its horn and the driver made it obvious that he was displeased with Sam getting in his way.

        “Get off the road, dickhead,” said the articulate driver.

        Sam noticed the sticker on the back of the truck as it swerved and drove by.

        “The day I take advice from a Collingwood supporter ……” said Sam, failing to come up with a suitable insult in the few seconds available to him.

        The two men gave each other the middle finger salute as the truck disappeared into the stream of traffic, and Sam returned his attention to the prostrate bird.

         The bird’s eyes were open, and it was breathing. Sam had seen a lot of dead and dying souls, and most of them involved blood. The little bird did not appear to be bleeding. Sam picked him up and held him in his hand as he stepped off the roadside to the relative safety of the gardens. The bird tried to lift its head, and Sam took this as a good sign, but it couldn’t maintain it, and its head slumped back into Sam’s large hand. He had never held a Wattlebird before. The bird was bigger than a blackbird but seemed to weigh very little. He could feel its heart racing and see its lungs moving in its chest. The thought crossed his mind that he should take the bird to a Vet, but where to take it? He didn’t know this area well enough. There were other Wattlebirds nearby, and it seemed to Sam that they were calling to this stricken creature. It was probably only his imagination, but maybe if he lay the bird under a tree it might come to and regain its senses — then he remembered the sound of the bird hitting the tram — this was wishful thinking on his part. He lay the bird down and took a step away. The bird closed its eyes, and its breathing became more laboured.

         “Jesus, I can’t just leave you here to die on your own,” said Sam as he picked the bird up and cradled it in his hands. He sat on the grass and waited for what was to come.

        Sam had seen men die — friends and enemies and it was something that he never wanted to get used to.

         The little bird’s breathing became deeper and slower until finally it took one last breath and lay still.

        Sam felt the life go out of this little creature and it seemed as though the birds that had been so loud a few moments before fell silent.

        Sam sat quietly with the dead bird in his hands, not wanting to put it down — putting it down would mean that it was over and he would have to go back to his life. Besides, the little bird’s spirit might still be close by.

        Somewhere in this park, there is a family of birds waiting for him to return.

        “It’s a tough world little fella. They will have to learn to get along without you now,” said Sam as he laid the bird gently under a tree. He wiped away the tear, in case anyone noticed. There were no tears when his friends died, but this little bird had extracted Sam’s most private expression — tears. He sat there for what seemed like a long time before walking back to the tram stop and resuming his journey.

        As he rode the tram for the short journey to the city, Sam thought about what had happened and how it closely paralleled his own situation.

        “I was luckier that you. I got to go home, eventually, except that it doesn’t feel like home. My family were waiting for me, but I didn’t recognise them.” Sam’s recent habit of talking to himself was disturbing the man in the suit seated opposite him. He smiled at the man in the impeccable suit, but this seemed to make the situation worse. The neatly dressed man muttered something about ‘not letting loonies wander around among ordinary decent people’, and Sam asked him who he barracked for.

         “Collingwood,” was the man’s involuntary answer — most people who live in Melbourne will answer that question even if they think you might be about to strangle them.

         “I thought so,” said Sam and the two men avoided eye contact for the remainder of the journey.

         When Dr Doug called him into his office, Sam did not tell him about the life and death struggle between the two feathered creatures. He didn’t tell him about the tram or sitting under a tree with a dying bird or the thoughts that went through his head. He didn’t tell him about any of these things and there was no mention of tears.

Not telling, seemed strange to Sam — after all, this was exactly the kind of stuff that a person like Dr Doug would like to hear.

        Maybe next time — then again, maybe not.

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