How to Play Hide-and-Seek with Fledglings
‘Is there a baby in her belly?’
‘It’s a boy, silly!’
‘How do you know?’
Big brother hadn’t answered, the younger one had chuckled disapprovingly. I had peered from my kitchen window to follow their eyes watching a puffed-up Drongo. It was perched at the uppermost bare branch of the Jackfruit tree, basking in the spring sunshine, its long-forked black tail hanging majestically. Several levels down, its partner, somewhat smaller in size, cooped between the broad leaves.
My older son used to think of me as a big fat hen. ‘Nine, ten, a big fat hen,’ used to be a cue for him to jump onto my lap. I always felt like a proud mother hen. Now, I was still that big, fat hen brooding and eavesdropping on her chicks!
The brothers—thirteen and five—had retreated to the warmth of our home where lunch was due.
In my head, I had coiled up a little more that day.
Over the days, the Drongo nest took shape. I removed fallen-off twigs, observed Drongo mom and dad make a cup-shaped nest tirelessly in the tree’s foliage. Like the priest’s avani palaka!
My younger son watched the dutiful parents guarding the nest against intruders, picking quarrels with older tenants of the tree, like squirrels and crows, and squabbling over fly-catch. His interest spurred me to google Drongo birds. I diligently fed him bird facts: Drongo has a lion’s heart trapped in the body of a bird. If his home is invaded, he raises a din and fights trespassers off. Researchers say they possess the theory of mind. They can mimic alarms to stave off dangers to other birds too.
I was happy to answer him; letting him make his own inferences too, knowing that only some of what he assumed would be true. He didn’t bother his older brother anymore, preferring to self-tutor or ask me.
The older boy, like most boys his age, was content he knew most things, relying on the truths flashing on glowing screens at the command of his fingertips. For those that weren’t, he had experienced friends. The big fat hen only let him know most of it was only partly true. Or, only parts of the changeable truth. He’d know—if ever he found out the whole.
Parenting is, by no means, spoon-feeding.
April saw our garden getting used to the warmth. Zinnia and Petunia made way to Jasmine.
Two Drongo nestlings appeared; their hungry red beaks always wide open, begging. I watched them as I cleared cobwebs from the corners of my older son’s bedroom. He was away at his School’s Summer Camp. I had begun to accept that he was trying to keep us, intruders, out of his space—barricading his bedroom, locking his phone with thumb-prints and writing mysterious notes in indecipherable code.
But as I shuffled about his unoccupied room, it gave me shivers, thinking how it’d look—hollow and unlived—when he’d leave for college. How he’d fly away on full-grown wings, and I’d have to let go—further still!
I didn’t have to tell their father I missed my first-born—missed him sharing tiny details, waiting for me to notice the small wound on his knee. Their father knew; he told me it was also part of our growing up. I observed his face, wise and stoic like a monk. He said that letting go was ‘the Art of Living’: letting go the warmth of womb for the world, then letting go of our bodies, satiated in the belief that we have had our fill of its pleasures and pains.
On the Sunday lunch table days later, our older son regaled us with stories from the Summer Camp he was just back from. His father listened intently, making appropriate noises. The big, fat hen, however, couldn’t help notice the ellipses in his monologue.
Towards the end of his story, he declared nonchalantly, ‘I didn’t quite miss you.’
I knew it was true. It was like the unlearning of parenting; discovering the mistakes I must’ve made at his age, how small gestures must have annoyed and saddened my parents. How I had been hiding away things from them and they must’ve been seeking. A game of hide-and-seek that we’d been playing all along: just like today.
We were playing hide-and-seek; I and my five-year-old, pretending to be searching. I had been to the garden, watered the rose bushes and strolled back. He ran in from under the settee and gleefully told me, ‘Mom, you couldn’t find me!’
I knew I wouldn’t be able to find either of them.
I cuddled him. We watched the Drongo fledgelings taking their first lessons in flight. They were distinct from their parents—a white patch at the end of each tail.
Mandira Pattnaik’s works have been published most recently in Commuterlit, Citron Review, New World Writing, Panoplyzine, Spelk, Lunate, Flash Flood and Splonk. She is from India. Her tweets are @MandiraPattnaik