Kevin perched on his usual telephone wire and surveyed all that was happening around him. It had been a routine day for him so far.
He’d been to the park that morning to fight against his fellow starlings and a couple of pigeons for the food thrown by the usual human. Pigeons were tough, but a bit slow and stupid, so the starlings could always get their fair share.
After the park, Kevin had winged his way to town centre. It was always hit and miss there. Sometimes, the humans dropped food aplenty. Other days, there would barely be scraps. A bird always had to be wary of security there as well; they would often chase them away. On this particular day, it had been slim pickings and it was a damned child who’d scared him away.
The telephone wire where he now sat was where he contemplated the world. Occasionally, other starlings would join him, but it was generally a quiet area he could be alone.
His attention was grabbed by a familiar sound. It was one of his own kind crying somewhere nearby. Even more worryingly, it sounded like somebody he knew.
Kevin leapt off the branch and fluttered effortlessly towards a tree from where the crying was coming. He edged along the branches to the source of the sound. Sure enough, there was another starling perched there and Kevin slowly moved towards them. “Hey Mitch. Are you alright buddy?”
Mitch looked around, startled by the intrusion. “Kev! What are you doing here? Go away!”
“Sorry pal. I heard you crying from the wire and I wanted to see you were okay.”
“As you can see, I’m not okay. Please just leave me alone.”
Kevin gulped apprehensively. He was in two minds as whether to do as Mitch had asked or stay and try to find out what was causing his friend such distress. He quickly opted for the latter. “Listen Mitch, I’m your friend and I’m here for you. You don’t have to act proud in front of me. Remember the day when I was on the bird feeder in that garden and the cat attacked me? I cried like a nest full of chicks for hours after that.”
An amused look crossed Mitch’s face for the briefest of moments. “It was a kitten!”
“Yeah, yeah, alright!” Kevin muttered with feigned irritation. “Just don’t think you have to suffer in silence. We’ve been through a lot together.”
The pair stood together on the branch. It was a secluded spot with leaves obscuring anyone’s view looking in; however, there were enough peepholes to see out and keep an eye on everything. Kevin could understand why Mitch might have chosen this spot to be alone.
“It’s all so hard,” Mitch muttered.
“This! Life! It doesn’t matter what I do to try and make something more of it, nothing works and I’m stuck here doing the same old things day after day.”
“What more is there to life than finding good places to eat, strutting for female attention, and flying away from big, scary things?”
Mitch looked at Kevin. “Exactly! Every little bit more I’ve found soon gets taken away.”
“You’ve found more?!” Kevin asked with genuine astonishment.
“I had a friend: a human.”
Kevin looked incredulous. “Humans are not friends! They’re one of two things: a source of food or deadly. We all know what happened to Miguel. All he did was relieve himself on that big metal thing with the four round bits underneath and the human caught him and snapped his neck.”
“Not all humans are like that, Kev. Some are really nice if you’d only give them a chance.”
“Taking chances gets you killed!”
“I visited this human every day. Don’t get me wrong, I was scared at first. It’d throw some seeds, nuts, fruit, and things; I’d snatch up as much as I could and then wing it. I did that for a few days until I realised this human wasn’t doing anything when I came. It’d sit there and watch me with that weird mouth thing they do.”
“Oh, you mean when it goes up at the corners?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Such ugly creatures!” Kevin muttered with a shudder.
“I don’t know. Their faces grow on you when you spend enough time around them.”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, Mitch my old mucker! Anyway, carry on.”
“I kept going back. I’m not gonna say no to free nuts and fruit! I’d edge closer to the human each day and it did nothing more than sit and watch. It’d say hello and that was about it.”
“How do you know it was saying hello and not “I’m gonna eat you the moment you get too close”?”
“Have you ever seen a human eating a starling?”
“They eat chickens.”
“So do you when their remains get dropped.”
“Good point,” Kevin conceded with a thoughtful tilt of the head.
“I carried on showing up. The human started to put food next to it on the bench and it did nothing other than talk at me. I could tell from the tone of its voice that it was telling me a story. It was trying to connect with me. I tried to talk back, but the language barrier was a bit too much.”
Kevin was hooked now and stared at Mitch enraptured. “Then what happened?”
“A day came where it put some nuts in its claw and held them out to me. I wouldn’t go near at first. I felt alright eating the nuts at its side; taking them directly from its claw was a bit much. At least it was for a couple of days. Then, one day, I went for it. Do you know what the human did?”
“Nothing! I took a nut and flew away to the end of the garden just in case. It didn’t flinch. So, I went back over and got another. In the end, I was stood on its claw eating all I could cram in. All it did was watch me and talk.”
“You must be mental! Their claws freak me out. They don’t even make any sense. I think it’s the fact they can’t even fly that bothers me the most. It must take them ages to get anywhere having to walk. Even the metal boxes with round bits underneath they sit in have to go along on those grey things. They’re a weird species!”
“They aren’t weird, Kev. They’re different. And they’re smart. I’m realising that now. They think in a completely different way to how we do.”
Kevin rolled his eyes petulantly. “Wow! So defensive! Sorry for belittling your precious humans!”
“If you aren’t gonna listen to me then you might as well go away. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about this because I knew I’d get the kind of reaction I’m getting.”
“I’m sorry, Mitch. It’s hard for me to get my head around. I won’t say anything more about the humans now, I promise.”
Mitch gathered himself and resumed his story. “After that day, I knew I could trust the human. It wasn’t a danger to me. It never had been. I sat on its leg or shoulder and we’d talk together for ages. Neither of us could understand the other, yet, somehow, we could understand each other perfectly. I felt happy with it. It was my friend; we were friends.”
“Why do you keep saying “Were”?”
A bout of crying followed the question. Mitch recovered enough after several seconds to answer. “We did the same thing at the same time each day for a couple of months, and then…”
“Yeah?” Kevin urged.
“It wasn’t there. I turned up one day and then it wasn’t there. It hasn’t been there since.”
“Have you any idea what happened to it?”
“Not a clue. It’s been weeks. I’m worried something bad has happened.”
“Ah, bud, I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can say that’ll make it any easier. Maybe try and get yourself a mate. That could take your mind off it.”
“Ha! Tried that and already been given one of the middle remiges. That’s another reason I’m so down. She was gorgeous. Her beak was just the right shade of pink and her retrices fanned out in the most provocative way.”
“She sounds hot! What happened there?”
“I made my move and it felt like I was getting somewhere—then along came Geoff!”
“Oh, no! Not Bighead Geoff!”
“As soon as he turned up with his blabber beak I was yesterday’s news. This’ll be the sixth straight season he’s planted eggs in a chick.”
“I can’t stand that bloke!”
“I just feel so down, Kev. I don’t see what the point is anymore. I’m nine years old and I’ve achieved nothing with my life.”
“Have you tried going to the doctors?”
“Why the doctors?”
“Dude, you always get ladies hanging around at the doctors. Go and work your charm. Plus, we can laugh at the dumb humans who look all ill and sit in that room waiting for ages for another human to talk to them. Sometimes you see them get stabbed with a needle. It’s pretty weird.”
“Why would they let another human stab them with a needle?”
“Beats me! Like I say, Mitch, they’re a weird species.”
“I’m sort of intrigued.”
“Come on; we can go now. I’ve got your back, buddy. I’ll help you through this. I’m glad you told me.”
“You know what, Kev? I’m glad I told you too. It’s probably time I started to get over the human and get on with my life.”
“Damned right! Don’t forget them though. You found a good human there. Maybe they aren’t all as bad as I first thought.”
Mitch smiled and stood up straight. “You’re right, they aren’t. But you know what?”
“Us starlings aren’t too bad ourselves.”
Thank you to all who have read, commented, and contributed to Mental Health Awareness Month. There’ll be more mental health themed posts to come as the fight against stigma continues!