A constant hum of noise swirled about me, blown on a biting, gusty wind. Sandwiches were stuffed into cavernous mouths to appease a chorus of growling stomachs. I was jostled and bumped by kids who ran past me, breathing expletives as they chased each other. There was nothing unusual about this typical school day; the grey weather cast a pall over the fortress-like institute.
Next to me a friend walked, our footfalls falling in time with each other. I murmured an answer, not really hearing the question, and found my eyes drawn to the concrete path beneath me. In the corner of the path, where it joined a sharp, orange brick wall, a broken sparrow fluttered wildly. We continued our gait towards our lunch time shelter, marching past the dying bird. My eyes tracked it as we stepped past, taking in its pain-contorted body being jerked about by the angry, tearing wind.
Feeling my own spasm of pain deep within my heart at the misery of the small frail creature, I walked on. When we arrived at our chosen destination, my mind was weighed down with anguish; the helpless little body flapping about in death throes played over and over in my head. I found myself sharing my concerns with the companions around me. A turn of a shoulder or the beginning of a new conversation indicated that no-one was interested. No-one cared for the plight of a mere sparrow.
Resolved to console my own grief and guilt and aid the dying bird, I left the shelter for the concrete tomb where the bird still sat. His poor body, vulnerable to the course wind and susceptible to booted feet, still writhed with pain. Standing over him, upon the cold concrete slab, I lowered my hand and gently picked him up. His delicate feathers felt so soft in my hand as I looked into his black eyes and saw an exhausted terror there. I placed his mottled body in my palm, positioning myself so as to shield him from the scathing wind, caressing his small head with the tip of my finger.
Torn with horrible indecision, I stood cupping the fragile creature, the warmth from his body and staccato rhythm of his heart filled my hand. As I looked down at him again, his black eyes began to close, giving in to his exhaustion. He obviously felt secure within my hand. Seeing his pain and fatigue I decided to go for help. As I walked through the school, stepping as lightly as I could so that my shuddering steps wouldn’t jar his already insurmountable pain, people peered at him, gawking in complacency.
My eyes fell upon three teachers – authority figures – walking in succession towards me. I stopped my own steps and held aloft the sparrow who was drawing in his final breaths.
The first adult walked past without a look at me or the sparrow. The second looked into my cupped hand then backed away quickly as though the dying bird might somehow become his burden. The final teacher mumbled a sympathetic eulogy condemning the sparrow to death then breezed past.
Disillusioned and stung by the lack of help or compassion, I left my modern concrete world, left to return the broken bird to his birthplace. I found a wooded area, thick with green beauty and serenity. I stood beneath a great leafy tree that held at bay the cold wind. Kneeling down beneath the tree I looked at the crumpled bird in my palm. The kneeling motion had awoken him and his black eyes squinted up at me. His neck, twisted at such a curious angle, was beyond any help from me. Swallowing hard and blinking through the tears that slipped unnoticed down my face, I lowered him gently onto the ground. My tears fell for his pain and for my own helplessness. He lay in his grave of soft ground beneath the great tree, his eyes wide with pain and fear and something else. A look of loneliness… abandonment.
A loud mechanical bell chimed, the one that told me to leave this world and rejoin my modern life once again. I turned away from the dying bird, back to my unfeeling world, crying with impotent anger at a compassionless and uncaring society.
It was only later when I stopped hating everyone who didn’t care about him, that I realised I too belonged in their ranks. In fact, I felt guiltier than any who witnessed the passing of that little bird, for they were not the ones who promised the sparrow warmth and security in his last moments of life, then dumped him beneath a tree to die cold, alone