F E A T U R E
When we lose someone or something, we don’t think of them as being lost or ceasing to exist. We think of random details and how we failed to pick up the hints. The more substantial the loss, the subtler its trail.
It was a peculiar spectrum of loss when one of my budgies died. The first pet I ever lost. Loss that could never be presaged. It wasn’t just disenfranchised. It was an awakening.
I recollect her vivaciousness, how she loved being in human company. I remember seeing her perched, preening herself. A telltale sign that a budgie’s doing well. Despite that I remember seeing her tiny body tilted unusually to the right. I now regret not taking her up on my arm then and there. An hour later, she was found lifeless on the ground. She had suffered a stroke.
Several months hence, the details now seem insignificant compared to how that made me feel afterwards. How she had died without being held or caressed the way she always was, one last time. All I could think of was her warm feet perched on my finger. The way she tapped and nibbled on them and pecked me on my nose every time. Her antics with her plastic ball. I couldn’t shake the unusual thoughts my mind had conjured. Frost stricken wings, icy feet, blue body now touched by blues of death, stiff and like withered vines. It was as if she had taken the beautiful sky blue and warmth with her. Maybe this is how beloved things are bound to end up one way or another.
I was supposed to go to the mall that day. And I did. After I had run out of all my momentary tears, I got on a bus with my mother. Thankful for once that I had to wear a face mask to prevent my fragile heart from stopping in its tracks because of the pandemic air. A dam broke as I sat in the bus. Tears rolled down my cheeks, drenching all kinds of masks I had put on. I let out obstructed, puffed breaths into the air that reeked of death, ready to literally plunge the wind out of my lungs if I breathed out, unguarded.
Next came the culpability. Whose fault was it that she passed away? Had I been unintentionally incautious? Had she fallen down because we had left the perch askew? Or was it an unfortunate mishap while playing with the other birds? How could I have missed the footprints death had left, no matter how unnoticeable? Her death made me feel guilty of complicity. There are ways to cope for people afflicted with all sorts of things. But there are no how-to-cope-with guides to come to terms with the fact that you might or might not have unintentionally caused a death.
I incredulously thought I was Voldemort. And she was one of my 7 horcruxes (Ironic how even the numbers added up right). One seventh of my heart destroyed.
Afterwards that night, as I lay ruminating conflicting thoughts, an unusual thought peeked through the haze of my grief. Burials and deaths were documented in “Bills of mortality” in the 16th century. But centuries later, there’s no Bill of mortality or even a birth certificate, let alone one in death, to identify birds. My tiny budgie might not even exist in the perpetual stream of life events when those who love her pass away. She only exists in the contents of cell phone memory and the gallery of our memories.
It’s times like this when the beautiful promises of growing up seem like propaganda. Most things could be replaced and forgotten as a kid. An identical imposter in place of a lost favourite plushie. A better toy truck to replace the outdated model. But memories that take root and entangle as an adult, refuse to untether for promises of better ones. Despite the growing lethargic moss of grief around them, the evocation of my blue bird with intricate wings somehow nourishes my errant human memories.
Passivity of life makes all pains numb and tolerable. Some of us opt to make loss easier through belief in divine intercession. If an omniscient creator wants to take away my cherished pet (or anything in general), there’s not much space left for a guilt trip. Since then, trying to accept the cruel, random cold shoulder of life has made things a lot easier. The more the love, the greater price to pay.
Familiar grief cannot prepare us for more losses we’re sure to suffer. Each one is bound to feel like a stake to the heart. But as fallible humans, the bereavement, the regret makes us what we are. And blocking them out would seep the humanity out. I can only cherish the things I love, safeguard and hold on to what remains, until I can’t.