Sunday, May 24, 2020
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Little Cooper

A loud screech of ‘Krar-raak, Krar-raak’ broke the stillness in the lazy afternoon. I opened one eye in disdain, disgruntled at having been disturbed from my siesta. 

I felt someone settle amidst my branches. The touch that followed jolted me awake.

Was it…? Dare I hope?

I craned my neck as far as I could. My girth had expanded, I realized. Time and age were my perfect excuses. Grunting under the weight, I discerned them.

Yes, it was them for sure.

I rejoiced upon seeing them. After so many years, the promise had been fulfilled. My leaves danced in the breeze and I welcomed them with open arms. 

Ah, such bliss to be united with old friends!

I think I had lived only to see this day. Otherwise, who could ever forget that ghastly night…

Five years ago…

The breeze gently caressed my leaves. The woods and I came alive at the crack of dawn. Sunlight treaded softly on the moss like grass, laden with dew. The earth was fragrant and all my senses were awake. I spotted the kangaroo in the distance with her joey peeking out of the pouch. The koala ripped some of my leaves to satiate his hunger. A squirrel ran up and down my bark scavenging for food.

And here I was, waiting for Cooper to wake. Yes, Cooper! My friend, my pride. The south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo who lived in the hollow of my tree trunk along with his mate, Bella. Cooper and Bella had made me their home a couple of years ago. A tall Eucalyptus, I stood in the middle of the woods with my branches spread out and my green leaves rustling in the morning breeze.

I knew Cooper’s routine by heart. He would rouse himself and set off, spreading his dark wings to glide effortlessly to look for food. Earlier, Bella and Cooper used to forage for food together. But as Bella was confined to the hollow now, the task fell upon Cooper to feed her. Bella was nesting. A white, lusterless egg sat in the middle of the hollow whose floor was layered with wood chips. Bella spent most of the day sitting on it, warming it with her body heat. Since the average time of egg incubation was thirty days, I assumed that there were two weeks more to go. Before a little Cooper was in our midst. Screaming loudly in my ears, ‘Krar-raak, Krar-raak.’ How I was waiting for that day…

This is what gave me the greatest joy. Creating happy families. And Cooper and Bella were special to me. 

I knew Cooper would be on his way soon. He didn’t have to go too far to look for food. This part of the woods was thick with trees and the forest floor was scattered with seeds, nuts, berries and other small insects. And soon enough, he was back with a small branch laden with a cluster of seed capsules. He followed this routine numerous times in a day. After the little one, they would take turns looking for food. Predators lurked around and the young parents would need to be on guard, until little Cooper learnt to fly and take care of himself.

Ahh, Parenting was about to change their lives! 

I recalled how carefree they both were earlier. They would both spend the day sunning and preening themselves, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. Only stepping out for food or to explore other parts of the woods. But I remained their anchor, their home. Wherever they went, they made sure to be back before dusk. 

Cooper was majestic in his black coat of feathers that glistened in the sun. His tail boasted of red bands and his shrieks and screeches of ‘Krar-raak, Krar-raak’ alerted me even when he was a mile away. Bella had always been more poised, more graceful. Glossy black with a sprinkling of yellow spots on her body that looked like fairy dust to my eyes, she was the perfect complement for his flamboyant self. The orange bands on her tail were striking and only added to her beauty.

Today Cooper had settled himself on one of my branches. We sat for a while in companionable silence. After a while, he edged closer to the trunk. And then he said that he had heard whispers in the woods this morning. Something about a wall of flame that had engulfed the north side of the forest and was headed this way.

Huh! I scoffed. I had witnessed many such fires. Started by humans with a lit matchstick or cigarette and doused later by those very humans! Sometimes it was because of land clearing while at others it was sheer carelessness. Cooper was concerned, because with a little Cooper on the way, Bella and he were confined to the tree hollow. Sensing his fear, I was quick to reassure him that nothing would happen. And I would not let any harm come to them.

But I was naïve in my estimation. 

Nothing had prepared me for what was to come that night. It started somewhere after dusk. Night descended early in the woods and I sensed that the air was heavy and warmer than usual. All was silent except the occasional hooting of the night owl. 

Thwack! It was followed by a Crash.

The air was stifling and thick with smoke. Through the heat, I chanced upon the glowing ball nearby. There was incessant chirping followed by the screeching of the birds. A herd of animals was seen running in my direction in a bid to save themselves from the tentacles of the flaming fire. Only some were lucky to make it through. Flocks of birds flapped their wings, some collapsing mid-air due to the thick smoke while some others were lucky to navigate their way out of the blistering heat.

So, it was true what Cooper had heard on the forest floor today. The fire was here now. An arm’s length away.

Hearing wings flapping, I glanced up. Cooper and Bella had eased out of the hollow to settle on the branch outside. They peeked in the direction of the raging fire which was growing by the minute and destroying everything in its path. It made a horrible, sizzling sound as it devoured trees, some of which were my babies too and animals and birds. The air was filled with the smell of animal flesh burning and charring wood.

I heard the couple whisper, as they watched the flaming fingers widen their periphery. Nervous, Cooper flew round in a circle to survey the damage in the area. Bella flapped about, going in and out of the hollow. And all this while, I hoped to see some humans surface with huge contraptions that spouted water, dousing the raging inferno. 

Alas! That was not to be.

As the blaze grew stronger, Cooper and Bella were unable to reach a consensus. They turned to me, their trusted confidante, seeking guidance, looking for answers. Like all new parents to-be, they were holding on to a tiny flicker of hope. I was left with no choice, but to tell them the truth. A truth that was like bitter medicine being shoved down the throat.

I reminded Cooper and Bella that they were part of a rare breed of the bird family. A breed that was now on the verge of extinction. They were the only resident red-tailed black cockatoos in the vicinity. Although endangered, they were both young and had a long life ahead of them. And since it was not possible to carry the egg out of the hollow, they were left with only one choice. To abandon it.

‘Krar-raak, Krar-raak’ Cooper and Bella shrieked in unison. To them, I had written their death sentence. Not wanting to accept it, their talons dug into my bark, scratching me in places. I didn’t mind the pain they caused; these physical wounds would heal. To abandon the nest and the egg was not an easy decision. One that would haunt them for life.

Time ticked and we watched the blaze edge closer every minute. Cooper and Bella were shattered that I was in harm’s way as well and nothing could be done to save me. But I reminded them that I was resilient. I had survived forest fires in the past. 

All that I wanted to extract from them, was a promise. A promise that we would meet sometime again in the future. When the woods would be green and fragrant again. When they would fly in with a little Cooper trailing behind them.

They promised me so. The heat was intensifying and I knew that the fire would engulf me and the surroundings soon. I begged them to leave before it was too late. 

As the black birds soared in the dark yellow-orangey sky, I felt their eyes on me while the fire licked my base. The heat soon burnt and sizzled. I cradled the egg in my belly while the fire burnt my bark. Tenaciously, I held on, my roots digging deeper into the soil. The fire passed me by as quickly as it had come, moving on to its next target.

I like to believe that god felt the need to intervene and droplets of rain dropped down soon, cooling all that it touched. Before long, it had turned to a steady downpour and the fire had no choice but to surrender, bowing its head down in defeat.

My roots survived, but the bark and branches were charred. It would be a long time before I revived.

Present time…

Lush green leaves covered my branches and my trunk was thicker and wider than ever before. While I complained about the additional weight, a part of me was happier to be stronger, older and wiser. And now my happiness was complete. Cooper and Bella were back with little Cooper in tow. They were visiting, having settled in another Eucalyptus tree who was a distant cousin of mine. Bella truly lived up to her name and was even more beautiful. Cooper had mellowed down. I liked to think that he had finally grown up since he became a parent. 

But the one who truly stole my heart was ‘Little Cooper’. His shrieks of ‘Krar-raak, Krar-raak’ were music to my ears.

***

Photo By: Pixabay

***

This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here:  https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
Get your copy of Death at Midnight here:
www.artoonsinn.com/shop or
https://www.amazon.in/dp/8194132649

Room8 appreciates your rating of the story out of 10 in the comments.

Sheetal Ashpalia
Sheetal Ashpalia
A dreamer, a believer, these words best describe Sheetal. She loves penning her thoughts and writing is slowly turning into a passion. Apart from reading and writing, she enjoys singing and painting.
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