The Sparrow

As a child I dearly wanted something that I could love, I had a huge amount untapped inside me. I know now this was just a reflection of the love I needed.

In June 1981 I had been 14 for just over one month and had been a paper boy for just over a year. At 14 I was one of those boys that looked like they would be eternally 11; small, skinny and angel faced. I didn't really get growing till I was 15.

I had the longest paper round of all the boys, which ended a mile away from home. I then cycled back with the bright orange, empty bag flapping on my back. My bike was brown, nothing special. It had a crossbar, three gears and what seemed like permanently flat tyres.

One overcast but windless Saturday I was half way home when I saw something moving around in the road ahead. It was small and dark, as I got closer I realised it was a bird, a sparrow. There was a car coming. I had been cycling on the path on the other side of the road but screeched to a stop, feet on the floor, legs either side of the crossbar. There was no time to run across the road and get the bird, I watched the car, I am pretty sure the wheels past either side of the bird.

It was still moving, each movement now though less urgent. I literally dumped my bike in the hedge, checked for more cars and ran into the road and picked it up before returning to the pavement.

There was no blood at all. It was very weak but warm in my hands. It tried to resist, to peck at my fingers but this was half hearted. I could actually feel its heart beating in my hand.

There was definitely something wrong with its wing but I guessed also inside. Its eyes were tired, closing, it was trying desperately to keep them open. When its eyes were open though it was looking at me, it had registered that I was there. I think this last was significant, was why I subsequently did everything I did. Somehow I knew if I didn't help it was going to die, it needed me!

I looked hard back into these tired eyes. I have seldom felt a desire so strong as I did at that moment in time, for the sparrow to live. I begged it 'Please don't die, pleease, pleease don't die!' I stroked the back of its neck while summoning every ounce of love in my body and literally willing it through my hands into the little body as some magical cure, love pulsed through me. There was no way this bird was going to die, I would make it live.

I don't know how long I stood there stroking the bird, but I was scared that if I stopped or didn't will it to live it would die. I was also scared what mum and dad would say if I brought it home. I didn't think either of them would be very happy, I couldn't remember the last time I had done anything that didn't make them angry. What would they say about vets bills? I could promise to pay them back from my paper money!

I made a decision, I one handed my bike the other side of the hedge. I didn't even dare consider the ramifications of having it stolen, I would come back for it later.

I walked carefully home with the bird. All the time I stroked its head, flowing love into its body. I was convinced this was keeping it alive, its eyes were open more now. It didn't seem to be struggling so much. I felt so pleased, all the way home I spoke to it, telling it that soon it would be back flying in the sky, high above. I don't recall it ever made any sound. It just looked back into my hopeful eyes.

Back home I headed straight to the shed, no sign of the parents. Inside I closed the door and rested the bird on the shelf, it steadied itself but didn't make any attempt to get away. I kept talking to it all the while. I told it that tomorrow we would get the wing fixed and I would care for it, it would be my friend, something that knew I loved it. One day it could fly away but it must come back and see me sometimes. I could hold it and stroke the back of its head while imagining all the far places it had flown across, that it had seen with these very eyes.

I got a big empty brown plastic bowl that mum used to sit her plant pots in, it was roughly the same width as a football and shallow. I tore up some newspapers, scrunched them in my hand and placed them in the bowl. I made a little dent in the middle and then carefully placed the sparrow inside the new nest. I got some nuts from the bag of bird feed dad used for the feeders in the garden and placed them in the nest in case it got hungry. I put the nest down on the shelf near the floor so no one would be able to see it, stroked it some more, told it I would be back soon, closed the shed door and then ran has hard and fast as I ever had in my life. I ran at full pace all the way back to my bike, not checking roads properly, running across lawns and even going through the part of the school field we were not supposed to go through. My bike was still there, thank god!

I cycled back home twice as hard, screeched to a halt outside the gate, got through the gate with the bike and almost threw it into the little bike shed at the other end of the garden. Mid way to the proper shed mums voice piped up from the kitchen window. I knew she couldn't see me although that seldom seemed to make a difference, she always knew when I was up to something.

“John! Tea!”It was the sweet lyrical voice though, the one that meant at this moment there was nothing wrong.


I went into the shed, eyes immediately searching out the sparrow. I crouched down in front of its nest. Its head was low again, rested in the paper, the nuts untouched, its eyes struggling to stay open again; “no, no , no”!

I didn't pick it up but I used my finger to lift its head while stroking the back of its head again with the other hand. I started willing my love back into him, twice as hard, everything about me was about this bird living, it flowed from me. In later life this same desire would make me almost unstoppable when I applied it to anything I was determined to succeed at. Right now though it was about making this bird live, and it seemed to be working.

“John! Tea!”This time not quite so lyrical but not at danger levels yet.

Whenever it looked back into my eyes I felt like we were part of the same one, I could feel it, could sense it knew I was saving it, I cared, that it was my love that was making it better. It was now able to hold up its head and was busy looking at me and not struggling with the eyes.

“JOHN”dad this time at the conservatory door, near.

I told the bird that I would be back later, promised! I then got up and walked out of the shed, carefully closed the door and ran back into the conservatory, past my dad. “Wash your hands before you sit at the table”.

During tea I broached the subject of how you fixed birds that had broken wings. I tried to make it sound like one of those things that often just popped into my head at random and was presented to them as a question. Nan had a parrot, what would she do? I learned that it had once been ill and it had gone to the vets. They lost interest though when I started talking about normal birds that flew around outside. It was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that under no circumstances should I ever touch a dead bird.

After tea was done and I had finished drying up with my sister, which for the record was my absolutely most hated job ever, I asked if I could go back into the garden. I was told that I now needed to get ready for bed! I protested that I would only need a few minutes but the answer was a firm 'no!' and in this house there really was not much arguing at all.

I got ready, went to bed. I remember I wore light blue cotton pyjama bottoms and a matching long sleeved t-shirt. Around the cuffs and neck, and at the elasticated bit at my feet the material was thicker and dark blue. I lay in bed with my eyes closed willing my mind into the birds, telling it I would be there later, all the while this was wrapped in love and not a small amount of hope.

By 10:30 it was dark, too dark to read using natural light, I wasn't reading by torch as I needed the battery power for something else.

I waited for my parents to lock down the house, listened to them walk upstairs, moving about and getting into bed. I waited longer, the bedside clock ticking relentlessly, its luminous hands slowly moving round. I could not afford to be caught, being shot at dawn for an attempted breakout would be the best I could hope for if this were the case.

I climbed out of bed, crept to my bedroom door and slowly opened it. I had read books about Ninjas and special soldiers that did everything in very small motions. This was what I was now doing. With my door opened enough to squeeze through I stepped into the kitchen and crept bare footed across the cold lino covered floor. I slowly pulled across the stiff bolts at the top and the bottom, eased down the door handle, opened this and then stepped down into the conservatory, closing the door behind.

The conservatory door was more of an obstacle, it had a lock on it like the one on the front door, needed turning around with one hand and then opening the door handle in the other. I had to stuff the torch into the elasticated top of my pyjama bottoms to do this. I clicked the button that would stop the latch locking when I pushed it too and stepped outside into the night. There must have been the general background noise you get from living in suburbia, maybe an owl, a dog barking, passing cars, people shouting and laughing on the way home from the pub. Every noise I made though seemed to resonate and would surely soon have one of my parents rising from their bed.

Barefooted I quickly made my way across the hard concrete and stone mixed path to the shed door, slowly opened it and stepped into the shed and closed it again. I carefully moved forward in the mostly dark confine to where I knew the birds nest was. My heart beat fast, I didn't want to reach out and touch it in the dark in case I hurt it. I turned on the torch.

At some point, probably very near the end it had tried to crawl out of the nest, it hadn't got far though. Its body was twisted to one side and its neck impossibly long, hung over the plastic side of the nest, its beak just a little open. I immediately scooped it into my hands, it wasn't completely cold but not warm. I couldn't believe it! I told it it couldn't die, it needed to live, I so needed it to live. I still had huge reserves of love, I had seen that Jesus had brought people back from the dead, maybe if I loved enough I could bring the sparrow back. Tears streamed down my face 'You have to live!, You have to live!, Please Please!' I begged. Its eyes were open but somewhere else, not here.

After a while crouching down hurt so I sat back down on the dusty shed floor, in my blue pyjamas. No amount of love though made any change at all. I have no idea how long I sat there, crying, begging for the sparrow to live but in the end I realised I couldn't bring it back. I placed it carefully back in the nest, found a small trawl and then took it outside to the patch of mud where dad grew vegetables. I dug the deepest hole I possible could, carefully placed the bird at the bottom and very reluctantly filled it back up again.

I felt so guilty and sad, my promise broken, of all I felt so guilty it had to die alone.

I eventually made it back to my room and lay on my back in my bed, looking at the ceiling. I have cried many times during my life since, but only once in the same way as I did for the remainder of that night. It was not even crying, it was the sobbing that comes from the very core of your being, from deep inside. It has no end because the pain that is pulling your very being apart, will be with you all your life. Tears streamed down my face and soaked my pillow, I went through a ton of tissues and even just gave up, using my sleeve, sniffing back in between sobs that racked my small body as they bubbled one after the other to the surface. Whenever I closed my eyes I hoped its soul was far far above, sweeping across the countryside but knew that I was sorry, knew that I had given it as much love as I had.

Submission: 27 May 2006
Revision: none