Kingfisher & the price of convenience

I’m not a birdwatcher, but having a turquoise blue bird in the mundanity of a PJ residential area is pretty exciting. Especially when most of the birds we see are either brown speckled sparrows or black mynahs with the bright yellow swath. Kingfishers make me think of clear rivers and glistening fat leaves in the shadow of trees.

Somehow they loom larger in my imagination. Seeing one perched there on an old antenna (like a skeletal artefact from an older era in broadcast television), I realised that it’s quite small. Not much larger than a dove maybe, except with an unexpected form of a large pair of beaks. They reminded me of the bulbous form of an old pair of black scissors that my grandma and aunts used to use for cutting cloth.

I stood there for a long time, looking at the kingfisher. It flapped its wings a couple of times and that was when I realised that they had a swatch of white that contrasted against the bright, bright blue. And made their flight seem more clackety than the usual grace I expect from birds. Bursts. But maybe because this one had a small silver fish in its beak. I almost missed it until I saw the other kingfisher – a little fatter, a little bigger, neck arched forward and gaze sharp. Just like how my dog is when he thinks I’m about to give him a treat.

This one balanced on an electrical wire, before it trilled a small song and flew-burst-hopped to the top of the pole to play loyal sphinx again for a maybe-bite.

A dust cloud of smaller brown birds landed on the roof nearby. Amazing how one small silver fish, a little larger than a king fisher’s beak, can summon a minor orchestra.

I’m reminded that behind this tall, flat, artificial blue metal-thin wall, is a stream. Or the ghost of a stream. I used to be able to hear it behind the mess of leafy plants clambering on top of each other by its banks.

Last year, I met some kids who lived in a house on the banks. They came by on evenings to play with my dog, and exchanged their exuberance for some cobbled together lessons in English. One time they brought me a plastic bag of many different sized tilapias from half my palm to the length of my feet because someone in the family caught a bunch. It was bounty. They were so excited to share these with me. I can count the number of times I actually cleaned a fish, this was 23 fish in total. It took me 6 hours, but I managed it.

They invited me to go to their house at another time. A breach in the chicken wire fence between the back road and the sloping bank towards the stream held some concrete stairs down towards some concrete, zinc and wooden houses that had a quietly beautiful organic geometry. Like a crystal growing. It reminded me a little of my home town. I met their aunt, father. They met my dog, who came with me. We talked about the kids, the random english lessons, the nosy well-intentioned neighbours who tell off the kids for playing with my dog because it’s haram (“sibuklah kan aunty? kita boleh samak!” the kids are very smart), and if I had kids of my own.

Then I went away for some days for work. And I came back. Waited for the kids. They didn’t show. I let the days of life take place. Then it became a little too long. So I walked to their house to let them know I’m back, and we can continue in the lessons/play. And I stopped. The porous chicken wire fence is now a blue metal-thin wall that stretched as long as the road, and tries to blend with sky (it’s the wrong blue). I have lost the stream. And the kids’ home and the homes of others who made a life and shelter within that concrete, zinc and wooden organic interdependent structure – no longer exists.

They have simply disappeared.