The hummingbird’s round black eye looked at me. He laid on his side on the hallway carpet. His tiny heart beat rapidly, his small ribcage trembling.
He had fallen out of the curtain folds when I closed them. The soft thud of his body on the carpet did not register with me; I thought a rubber cap from the curtain rod had fallen. Then I saw the oblong, colorful shadow on the carpet.
Kneeling down, I admired his shimmering green feathers, bluish head, long dark beak, and black gangly legs. He was still alive.
He was scared. I was scared. Without request, the stewardship of this teeny being had been thrust upon me. Beautiful and helpless, he was now a stone around my neck.
Don’t screw it up, I said to myself.
Don’t screw it up.
One wrong decision, one rough touch, one step of carelessness and he would be gone.
I nursed my husband Eric when he was dying of cancer. I did everything the doctors and nurses recommended. I measured medicines carefully, recorded important changes, kept a time log for administering meds and food. Helped his to the bathroom. Helped him into bed. Kept a heating pad on the ready for muscle cramps, sat with him through numerous doctor and Emergency Room visits.
Yet he died.
I gently scooped up the terrified hummingbird. He squeaked, a good sign. I did not want to be responsible for his life, but the responsibility was dropped at my feet – quite literally – and no one else was there to help.
A small outdoor lamp threw pale shadows across the warm summer darkness. I stepped out and gently placed him in the crook of the towering maple tree, on a bed of dried leaves.
Then I turned and walked into the house, not looking back. I would NOT develop a relationship with this bird.
A flip of a switch and the back yard was once again smothered in darkness. I tried to forget him. But I imagined him struggling to find a comfortable position or attempting to fly away into the darkness. His instinct would tell him what to do, right?
Why? I wondered. Why was this bird here, in my house, dropping at my feet? I caught my breath as a vision of Eric’s face appeared in my mind. For a split second, I believed it: the bird was Eric, coming to see me and check on me. It was possible.
I quickly banished the thought. Silly! Dead people don’t come back to visit their loved ones. Or do they?
Why would he test me by appearing as a vulnerable bird whom only I could help? Was it a test? Was it his idea of a joke? Was it the easiest way to get close to me? Or was it just a bird in an unusual situation?
The next morning, the dried leaf nest was empty. I scanned the branches above, but there were no hummingbirds to be seen. The dried leaves were in the same place, leaving no evidence of his sleeping or struggling.
The earth and his hummingbird family would take care of him now. He will tell his grandchildren of his brush with death in a Human’s house. In his version of the story, he would have stood up on the carpet and challenged me. They will listen in amazement, their round black eyes sparkling, their little heads tilting as they try to imagine getting that close to a Human.
And I will tell Eric to never do that again. If he must come back to see me, come as an inanimate object. Please.
A rock would be fine.