To Trap a Hummingbird

To Trap a Hummingbird

To Trap a Hummingbird 1280 853 Clementine E. Burnley

The summer we turned eight Anua and I talked about how we could trap the hummingbird which hovered above the calla lilies on Community Field. We were sure it was the same one each time. We said how that would be the best part of the school holidays. Or maybe it was the thought of how the other eight year olds would gather around us, silent for once while we showed them how we flattened ourselves on the rough grass below the guavas, how we each disciplined the other to silence even as we crushed tiny biting midges to bloody smears, even as our tummies growled and thundered. All the while our hummingbird was sudden flashes of colour between the trees.

To trap a hummingbird was something we talked about, but didn’t expect. We talked about how it would be to look down on the row of sag-roofed duplexes our parents rented next door to each other, like the pentecostal preachers who spoke in tongues, and who before they flew helicopter missions into territory disputed between their churches, kissed the ground. That summer we talked ‘copters, the hummingbird and school.

Anua and I were friends in that age before kids choose each other. We were the same age, in the same class. We walked to school together. I defended Anua when the boys teased him for how he ran, with short quick steps, his hands held away from his body at waist height, like a creature about to become airborne.

The mothers of our Quarter had prepared for three months of seasonal rain, and school holidays. They had hung their good chairs with pieces of white lace they called antimacassars. They warned us. The long-name cloth would show grease, dirt and whatever else we might bring in from our play. We were best off staying outdoors.

I’d pointed out to Anua once, how the other boys bunched up their hands into fists at their sides, or thrust them into pockets or crossed them behind their backs, leaning forward like a row of penguins in their black uniform pants and white cotton shirts.

‘Yea, I see em,’ he’d said.

I saw the movement first, pounced and almost let go. The hummingbird was a frantic flutter, heartbeats that blended into a single thrum, the scratch of sharp claws, peck of beak, the caged flash of a single eye.

I hesitated. Anua’s face was locked and barred. He held out his hands.

I saw the hummingbird once as it lifted over the lilies. Then it was gone.

My head was tight and strange inside.

‘You are such a woman-man,’ I said. ‘Why did you even come?’

My voice had taken on the pitch of a strangled balloon.

‘I didn’t,’ Anua said.

We took home bites, burrs in our socks and a new distance. After that day we still saw each other every day as he came in or I went out. When the boys teased Anua I looked away.

Header photograph © Ricky Garni.

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