Here are the first few pages of my latest novel, a children’s book which could also be a fable for adults, Rinku & the Silver Wings. I am also posting a few sentences at a time on Instagram.

Rinku & the Silver Wings—by Nartana Premachandra

 

Chapter 1

 

On a warm, lusciously green tropical island, a little bright blue kingfisher sat on a branch of a flowering tree, trembling.

 

She was terrified.

 

She was all alone, thousands of miles away from her family.

 

A sudden gust of wind shook her. She shivered once more.

 

What was she doing here?

 

Suddenly, a huge bird, with dark, velvety feathers that shimmered in the tropical sunlight swooped down next to her.

 

She almost sped away, but something in her made her hang onto the branch tightly. She’d agreed to come here, after all.

 

“Hello, little kingfisher,” said the rook—a kind of regal crow—gently, “What is your name?”

 

“Rinku,” the little kingfisher announced, nervously, a little surprised by the huge bird’s paternal tone.

 

The crow sensed its anxiety. “Is this your first Avian Nations Conference?” it asked gently.

 

Rinku nodded, fluttered its feathers.

 

“You’re alone, aren’t you?” the rook asked.

 

Rinku nodded, grasping onto the branch with all her might. Despite its tender tone, this big crow really scared her.

 

“Don’t be scared. You will learn a lot at this conference, and meet birds of a thousand different kinds here. And now that I know your name, I will mark you off on our checklist.  Come now, the cardinals are calling us to attention.”

 

‘Is that what that is?” asked Rinku. “I heard them. Bright red birds chirping nonstop. It sounded as if they were blowing whistles.”

 

The crow nodded. “Cardinals are beautiful birds as red as tomatoes.  And their calls are insistent—that’s why we use them like…shepherds. To herd our birds along!”  The crow laughed at his own image, and continued. “They are from North America, a land so far away I know you’ve never been there.”

 

Rinku shook her head. She’d never been here either. Or anywhere else outside of her little coastal home of Udupi, on the western coast of India.

 

The crow continued. “I think all the birds must have arrived. Let’s fly off now, and go to our meeting-place---the valley, across the river there. Five minutes as the crow flies!” The large black bird laughed, a strange sort of cawing guffaw. Rinku relaxed, slightly. “Come on!”

 

The crow flew off. 

 

But even though the rook had tried to reassure her, Rinku wanted to cry.

 

For suddenly she felt so terribly scared, to be the only one of her family, her community, here.

 

Actually, she did cry. A tear slipped from her right eye, and would’ve fallen to the ground, but the wind caught it, and dried it so quickly it disappeared.

 

The little lonely kingfisher sighed. If she didn’t follow the crow, her long journey here would be a complete waste.

 

And she’d disappoint her parents so.

 

So, she summoned all her courage, and even though she could fly, asked the wind to please welcome her, and not let her fall as she flew into its bracing embrace.

 

Rinku relaxed the grip of her little feet on her twig,

 

and leapt.

 

----

 

The little kingfisher gasped.

 

Vultures.

 

Grotesque hunched creatures, with bills still smeared with blood from their last meals, huddled together in a group at her side. Some had bodies of rancid gold, others of sickly green. All had soiled white heads.

 

Even the two younger vultures in the group looked angry and old.

 

The little kingfisher quivered.  What was she doing here?

 

She’d followed the crow, and after exactly five minutes (the crow was right!), had landed in a glade of tropical trees—banyan, breadfruit, jackfruit--nestled deep in a valley of high breeze-caressed hills.  In the distance a waterfall thundered; Rinku gasped in wonder, for it was so tall its water evaporated into a silver mist before it struck the earth.

 

At first she had no idea where to land, for there were birds everywhere. Sober bald eagles with a wingspan spun for endless wind. Tiny Jamaican Todys, as leaf-green as a dream of spring.  Orange-bellied leafbirds whose bellies were as sunnily orange as well, an orange.   What seemed like hundreds of flying tomatoes---those must be the cardinals. Rinku gasped. They were beautiful. Crafted only, of unafraid red.

 

She hadn’t  known where to perch herself, so she just chose a branch with a free spot big enough for a small bird, and then, to her dismay, noticed a grimy group of vultures at her side. 

 

They not simply looked terrifying, they smelled hideous.

 

Rinku got scared. She had to get away…

 

At that moment another crow appeared at her side, stick in mouth, and said, “You, little kingfisher, go perch on the third lowest branch on the left side of the hibiscus wrapped in the yellow-pink flowering vine. That’s where all the kingfishers and related birds are going.”

 

Rinku nodded in relief.  She’d be far away from the vultures.  She found the third lowest branch on the left side of the hibiscus draped in flowers simply dripping with radiant mustard and magenta.  A handful of other kingfishers greeted her with a nod, but no speech.

 

Truth be told, everyone seemed a little lost.

 

Rinku thought about nothing for what seemed a long while. She simply listened to her own heart beat quickly, amidst a cacophony of chirping, whoops, koo-koos.

 

Finally, a slowly growing chorus of “Hoo-Hoo,” “Hoo-Hoo-hoo hoo!” spread over the crowd of birds.

 

Rinku looked up, along with all the other birds alongside her.

 

A huge cloud, profoundly white, scalloped with black shadows here, dark brown shadows there, seemed to descend from the skies.

 

Was it going to rain? Rinku was confused. The wind was still strong—maybe it was bringing in clouds from the ocean. Maybe the “Hoo-Hoo” was the strong song of the wind.

 

A second later, however, she realized how mistaken she was.

 

She wasn’t watching a cloud fall from the skies.

 

A snowy owl was swooping down, from the top of an ylang-ylang tree.  It was the largest owl she’d seen in her young life; and definitely the whitest.  It shone simply, brightly, amongst the vivid variety of avian life around her. Like what Rinku imagined a snowflake would look like in a bouquet of roses, crocuses, and lotus-flowers. (For, living in South India, she’d never seen snowflakes).

 

It was surrounded by a crowd of owls, of different types. Sullen heart-shaped ashy-faced owls. Glaring gray screech owls. Creamy-golden crafty-looking desert eagle-owls.

All the owls landed within the hollow of an ancient banyan tree worn out by the world.

 

And then, silence.  The only sound in the green glade was the lifting and shifting of a thousand leaves in the ever-dancing wind.

 

All the birds, even the honking geese and hard-headed cardinals, seemed to have fallen still.

 

Rinku hardly breathed.

 

What was going to happen next?

 

--

 

The snowy owl stepped out of the hollow, and quietly began speaking.

 

“My fellow avian brethren, let the second annual Avian Nations conference begin.  My name is Sir Ookpik, and I am Vice-President of the Second Annual Avian Nations Conference. Allow me to say how pleased and gratified I am that you have all elected to come to the conference.”

 

Suddenly several birds—slender-necked swans, ptarmigans—ruffled their feathers and honked angrily. “You owls! You steal our eggs!” cried a swan as velvety white as Sir Ookpik. (But she had a much sharper beak).

 

Sir Ookpik acknowledged the swan’s interruption but didn’t let himself get ruffled. “Look, there is such a thing as a food chain, and it’s not my fault I’m higher on it than you. It’s an accident of nature, that’s all.”

 

The swan, named Wilhemina, started to cry. Her beloved, a magnificent black swan named Wallace, tried to soothe her. “There there, my love,” he honked gently, “Don’t let him get to you.”

 

Sir Ookpik ignored them both and continued. “But look. We have more important issues to discuss here. My friends, we have to put aside our differences if we aim to start solving all the problems that face our very being.  For whether we are cockatoo or loon, hummingbird or vulture (Here Rinku looked over at the vultures. One particularly humpbacked crooked-looking creature glared at her. It was one of the younger ones, but it looked deadly. She shivered and turned back to the snowy owl), we form a brotherhood of birds. A brotherhood of birds!” he repeated, strongly.

 

“Before I introduce the President of the Conference, I would just like to say that I am from the Arctic, and love nothing better than sitting upon the icy stillness of the tundra, staring into a completely black sky sparkling with so many stars their light nearly hurts my eyes.  But I have sacrificed my time, left my home and flown all the way here, to these beautiful but very crowded Pacific islands, in the interest of we avians. For, as I said, our very being is threatened, and we need to take back our planet!”

 

Rinku looked at her fellow kingfishers. A Jamaican Tody peered at her, gave her a look of incomprehension. “I have no idea what he is talking about,” the green bird whispered. “Me neither,” said Rinku.

 

Sir Ookpik kept speaking. “I now have the pleasure to introduce the President of our conference.”  He ruffled his feathers, and glared at the other birds (But maybe he was smiling, thought Rinku. You just couldn’t tell because he was born with such a serious face.)

 

He turned around, to make space for a hidden bird to appear.  All feathered folk still maintained their silence.

 

Rinku and all the other birds started suddenly chirping.  For they’d all expected another owl, and instead a completely different species of bird, as silvery-black as a rain cloud appeared.

 

“I present to you Madame Perroquet!” exclaimed Sir Ookpik, proudly.

 

And Rinku stared at a magnificent grey African parrot. She was elegantly gray, an exquisite blending of white and black, night and day.  Against the kaleidoscope of color she shimmered like a silvery shadow.

 

The parrot must’ve been hiding out of sight in the hollow of the banyan, in order to make a grand appearance. 

 

Madame Perroquet cleared her throat, and started speaking in a voice resonant with genuine warmth.  “Thank you, Sir Ookpik,” she began. She turned to the snowy owl, bowed her head, gently squawked, ruffled her feathers.  She turned back to her avian audience. “My fellow winged creatures of the wind, let the second conference of the world’s birds begin!”

 

A few birds cooed in response. Most sat waiting expectantly for the President’s words.

 

“This is only our second annual Avian Nations conference.  We need years to prepare for the conference---how to invite birds, whom to invite, and of course, where to have it.  I hope you all like the choice of this year’s conference? There’s nothing like the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific, is there?  At least, that’s what humans call it. We call it The Land on the Edge of the World. We chose it because of its remoteness. This island we are on is completely uninhabited by people.”

 

Chirps. Caws. Lots of feather-ruffling. This dreamy verdant island was a bird’s paradise.

 

And as it so happened, a group of birds-of-paradise perching on a guava tree, their plumage splashed with the tropical yellow sun and azure of the South Pacific, called out grandly.  “It’s gorgeous!” said one.

 

Sir Ookpik interjected, in a tone  increasingly condescending,  “It’s the right places for the masses. Beautiful, lush, it attracts commoners. But my Arctic soul revels in emptiness. Look at the singular beauty of one single, simple, icicle. Here, there are too many plants crowding one’s vision to understand such heartrending minimalist loveliness.”

 

Madame Perroquet ignored Sir Ookpik. She nodded to the birds-of-paradise, and said,  “Good,” she said.  “I am pleased you are pleased.  Now, I’ll get right to the point.  Sir

Ookpik told you that we need to take back our planet. What he meant by that was, the humans with whom we share this planet are extremely selfish and careless and have polluted this earth very badly. And even the selfless and caring ones can’t seem to really do anything about it.”

 

Madame Perroquet’s pure black beak glimmered like a black pearl in a pirate’s treasure chest.

 

“So, we convened the first Avian Nations Conference, in order to do something about it.

It was five years ago, on Easter Island in the South Pacific.  Unfortunately, however, tourists spotted us, and started staring at us with black sorts of tubes and started snapping small square things, which distracted us to no end. On top of that, many birds felt uncomfortable with so many foreign kinds of birds around. So, we squawked and talked, and nothing much came of the conference.”

 

She sighed, continued. “I can see why people talk about cleaning up the earth and don’t do much about it. It’s hard to get along with people different than yourself.”

 

Here she panned her eyes upon all the birds perched in dozens of species of trees, from toucans--whose long gold beaks looked like the scabbard of a pirate’s sword--roosting in pecan trees, to hyacinth macaws in macadamia-nut trees.

 

“We, however, have to get along with each other. We have no choice, if we want to keep living on this earth. Already numbers of us are dwindling in many places around the world.”

 

Sir Ookpik jumped in, his feathers as fluffy as snow. “Remember what bonds us as birds!” he said, grandly, gravely, glaring at the assembly of raptors and gentler birds around him. “Aside from some useless (but tasty) insects, and those bizarre creepy bats, we are the only beings who fly! Aside, of course, from those of you who are unfortunate enough to be flightless.”  And as if to demonstrate his wonder at his own being he lifted off the banyan, circled around the arboreal arena, and came back to roost near Madame Perroquet.

 

A furious honking.

 

But not from the swans, this time.

 

An Emperor penguin puffed up with pride in himself waddled to the banyan, looked up at the Vice-President, and said, “Unfortunate to be flightless? How dare you!! We can’t fly, but we are birds as well! You’d never make it in the Antarctic you weak old owl!”

 

Sir Ookpik seemed to have had enough with impertinent fowl. He glanced at the penguin impatiently, and said, “Look, sir. I live atop the world. You live upon its bottom. No more need be said.”

 

Rinku whispered to the Jamaican Tody, “No more needs to be said, but he will speak more. He likes to hear his own hooting.”

 

The grass-green bird laughed, as much as a bird could laugh. He shook so hard his branch trembled.

 

Madame Perroquet interrupted, squawking and nearly snapping at the owl swollen with his own being.  “Sir Ookpik!” she exclaimed furiously. “You and our penguin representative may be poles apart in your way of thinking, but it’s enough. We have serious business to attend to.  Now sit down and be still. Or stand still, penguin sir.”

 

The Vice-President muttered and fluttered about but the President ignored him once more. She turned to the audience of avians, “Now, I would like to introduce first, a trio of wandering albatross. Many of you are acquainted with albatrosses, as they flew many of you here.”

 

Rinku nodded, as did the Jamaican Tody. “Did you come here on an albatross?” asked Rinku. The green jewel of a bird nodded. “I was a little scared, but it was great. Never flown so high nor for so long in my life. There were three of us on board. A nightingale, who sang us beautiful songs at night, while we soared underneath the stars, and a bee hummingbird. He was smaller than me!”

 

“Really?” asked Rinku, for the Tody was awfully tiny.

 

The Tody nodded. “I’d never seen a bird so small. He lives on what humans call Cuba. By the way, my name’s Toby. Toby, the Jamaican Tody.”

 

Rinku smiled. “I’m Rinku. From India.”

 

They shushed one another, and stopped talking, because an albatross had begun speaking.

 

“Good day everyone,” it said politely, elegantly, its plumage a humble gray-black-and-off-white against the profound green of the forest.  “My name is Albert. And these are my brothers, Bertram and Ross.”

 

“Al-bert Bar-tram and Ross! Al-ba-tross! You think your mother would’ve given you those names if you’d been born loons?” cried a red-throated (and scarlet-eyed) loon, slowly, dreamily elongating each syllable.

 

Albert gently responded. “I have no idea, as I was not present when she made her decision.”  He politely continued, “We, along with our brethren perched on the oak-trees over there, have had the grand pleasure of ferrying many of you fowl across the earth. I trust you have all enjoyed your rides?”

 

A cheer went up for the albatrosses. If birds could’ve clapped they would’ve.  Instead, they swung their wings rapidly, clucked, cooed, hooted, made an assortment of very strange sounds, even sang. Some stamped wide waddling feet.

 

“You’re my heroes!” cried the same Emperor Penguin who’d had a spat with Sir Ookpik. “I mean, I’m very proud to be a flightless bird, but if I could fly, I’d be an albatross! To be able to glide with the wind, for ages, and never land! No way I’d be a smart-aleck owl.”

 

Sir Ookpik was about to open his beak but Madame Perroquet slapped him sternly, but gently, with her right wing.

 

A rockhopper penguin added, “You fly forever! You guys are the rock stars of the bird world!!” And in fact, with his yellow plume reaching from his brow down to past his ears the rockhopper penguin looked like a human rock star.

 

The albatrosses hadn’t actually carried the penguins here, of course, for the penguins were simply too large. The crows, master tool-users that they were, had crafted lightweight baskets from wood, grains, and spider-silk (which was stronger than steel!) to carry the penguins. It took four albatrosses to lift one basket of two penguins. That’s why there were only four penguins here—an emperor, king, rockhopper and a little blue.  (Their rather bouffant northern friends the puffins were represented at the conference as well, but had flown on their own, albeit escorted by an albatross).  A pair of gray stormy petrels had followed the albatross airlift, just to keep an eye on things, to dive into the waves and help right a penguin if one—especially the little blue--accidentally fell out of the basket.

 

Sir Ookpik shuddered. “Rock stars,” he muttered under his breath, for Madame Perroquet was keeping an eye on him. “Only a bird who lived at the bottom of the world would be enamored of a rock star.”

 

If an albatross could’ve turned rose-red at the appreciation from the avians, Albert would’ve. “Please, please,” he said, “Calm down. We are merely using our natural-born skills for the use of this world at large.”

 

He continued. “We albatross spend our lives flying around the world. We fly for hours, even days, at times, without ever landing.”

 

Bertram picked up from his brother. “We love this earth. It’s more beautiful than you can even imagine, when you see it from the sky all the time.”

 

Ross continued. “We’re lucky enough to fly everywhere. And as none of us are young chicks anymore, we have seen how the earth has changed over the years.” 

 

It was strange—at the words ‘young chick’ Ross seemed to suddenly sadden. Rinku looked at Toby, but Toby was staring at the brothers albatross, in a kind of awe. His gaze seemed to say, ‘I wish I could fly like them.’

 

Rinku looked back towards the speakers.

 

“And my, has it changed.” Albert picked up from his brother Ross. “You see, my fellow winged creatures of the wind,” he said, “In what humans call the Pacific Ocean, in what used to be pristine water as pure blue and as clear as a cloudless sky, there is a huge, huge, garbage patch.”

 

Bertram nodded. “It’s like an open wound to us. But instead of bleeding blood, it’s bleeding plastic.”

 

Rinku whispered to Toby, “What’s plastic?”

 

“Something people make,” Toby responded.  “They use it for all kinds of things. Actually I’ve seen some birds pick it up from the ground and use it to make their nests.”

 

All the birds erupted in inquisitive cries.  “What is plastic?” they said, in the chaotic, yet haunting language of blue-footed boobys and whippoorwills, buff-breasted sandpipers and whimbrels.

 

“Very good question,” responded Ross, who had composed himself and looked directly into the feathered crowd.  “It’s a kind of material people make. They use it for all kinds of things.”

 

“From their clothing to the giant birds they fly,” added Albert.

 

“But the problem is,” said Bertram, “they make so much of it, and don’t know what to do with it, that much of gets thrown into the ocean.”

 

Ross added, “On top of that, many birds and sea-creatures eat it by mistake, and die.”

 

Rinku noticed a change once more in Ross’ comportment; he seemed to tremble. But he quickly straightened his back and flapped his wings, which seemed to steady him.

 

Oh, at Ross’ statement how the audience of birds cooed, trilled, clacked, even cried.  Rinku shivered.  She looked at Toby in concern.  “How awful,” she said. Toby simply nodded. He was so upset he couldn’t say a word.

 

Albert spoke, evenly. “It is awful,” he said. “It’s true.  And people want to do something about it. It’s just that they have so many other problems, with wars, very weird leaders”—at this point he looked at Sir Ookpik but the prominent owl was staring at himself in a small pool of water at the base of the tree and didn’t hear him—"and the inability to get along with people different from themselves, which leads to lack of cooperation.”

 

“We can’t allow lack of cooperation to defeat us,” interrupted Madame Perroquet pointedly. She turned to Albert. “Go on, Albert.”

 

Albert nodded, and continued. “And the main problem is lack of money.”

 

“What’s money?” Rinku asked Toby. Toby shook his head. And when he shook his head, his whole body shook. He really was a very cute bird.

 

Many of the other birds asked the albatrosses the same question. “What is money?” asked a shy scarlet ibis, flaming pinkish-red against a white-magnolia tree.

 

To Rinku’s surprise, the albatrosses seemed at a loss for words. Albert looked to Bertram for help. Bertram looked to Ross. And Ross, in turn, looked to Albert. Each sighed in turn, and then turned to Madame Perroquet. She’d been voted President of the Conference, because, after all, African grey parrots were among the most intelligent of birds.

 

But Madame Perroquet looked helplessly at the albatrosses. She seemed to not quite know what to say.

 

Then she heard Sir Ookpik start to open his beak—he’d had his fill of his own reflection, for the moment--and knew she had to leap in before he did.

 

She cleared her throat, and begin speaking, in a very presidential tone. Even if she didn’t

feel very confident, she had to appear confident. That’s what leaders did.

 

“My fellow avians,” she squawked, “money is a…uniquely human invention.  As a parrot, I have a basic understanding of human language, but it is not extensive. I know the names of places in human tongues, and certain very popular phrases, like ‘Hello’, ‘Love’, and ‘Rock Star,’”---she heard Sir Ookpik behind her nearly throw a fit at that phrase---“but I confess to be a little confused about money. They use it to buy things from each other. But it’s much more than that. If they don’t have it, they can’t seem to eat anything. That’s very hard, as a bird, to understand, as we take from the earth.  And if they have a lot of it, they seem to spend it on the wrong things.  After all, it’s not true that there’s no money, as I understand it, but that they just spend it on things that we as birds think are worthless. We think the first thing they should do is clean up the planet. But they don’t see it that way.”  She paused. “Have I helped? Made it clearer?”

 

“I’m-still-con-fused,” cried the red-throated, scarlet-eyed loon, stretching out each syllable in a slow, dancing, cadence.

 

“Birdbrain,” muttered Sir Ookpik impatiently--but under his breath. Madame Perroquet’s wing was stronger and harder than it looked.

 

Madame Perroquet quickly spoke. “I know it is confusing. That is why we have also invited pigeons here who live in the financial districts of major cities to help us along with their observations. You’ll meet them soon.”

 

A trio of common street pigeons sitting upon a fallen tree branch fluttered their wings in acknowledgement of the President’s words.

 

Albert spoke.  “It’s ok to be confused,” he said modestly. “we all are. But let’s not let that stop us from acting.”

 

Bertram nodded. “We have a plan to clean up the garbage!” he announced.

 

Ross added, “It involves all of us, everyone of us.”

 

Albert said, quietly, “We came up with the plan together, my brothers and I.”

 

Bertram jumped in. “There is a plastic garbage patch in the Pacific we will target. Most of the plastic pieces in the ocean are very small.  So we thought, if all of us cooperate, we can each pick up a little piece of plastic, and fly it to a huge crater the woodpeckers have carved on one of the uninhabited islands in the Pacific.  In honor of the woodpeckers’ work, we are calling the island Woody.”

 

A black woodpecker (with a spot of red on its head) asked in a rat-tat-tat-tone, “May I interrupt, Albert?”

 

Albert nodded. “Please,” he said politely.

 

The black woodpecker, sitting in a jacaranda tree, said, “My name is Jorge. My wife, Esmerelda, and I, along with members of our family and friends, have been at it for at least a year,  pecking away at the ground to create a big hole  on an island uninhabited by humans, not far from here.  I myself am able to peck away at a maximum of 12,000 times a day. Normally, of course, we peck wood, but we managed to modify our skills for the unique situation in which we find ourselves.”

 

A red-bellied woodpecker (whose belly was mostly white) jumped in. “My name is Oscar, Jorge’s best friend. We’ve managed to carve a huge cavern.  We think it should hold the plastic.”

 

Yet another, a yellow-bellied sapsucker named Carlos, added, “We hate to just throw the plastic in the earth. But we don’t know what else to do with it.”

 

The three woodpeckers looked at one another, and nodded, bobbing their heads in unison. They’d said all they’d needed to say.

 

Albert, “My brothers and I have seen the cavern the woodpeckers have carved, and think it will hold the plastic. Isn’t that right, Bertram?”

 

Bertam nodded. “Yes indeed. Isn’t that right, Ross?”

 

Ross nodded. “Most definitely, Bertram.”

 

Albert spoke.  “There. We have presented our plan to you. Any thoughts?”

 

Not one bird said one word. It seemed a daunting idea, to fly to a garbage patch in the Pacific, and clean up the mess, piece by plastic piece.

 

Finally, a cardinal chirped. “I think it’s a good idea,” it said. “At least, if it’s not good,  it’s an idea worth trying. You, Albert, Bertram, and Ross, have all seen the garbage in the ocean. Do you think we can really clean it up?”

 

The albatrosses looked to the ground for the first time, and didn’t respond immediately. Instead, they looked to Madame Perroquet for help.

 

She fluttered her wings, then squawked. “I’ve spoken at great length about this with Albert, Bertram, and Ross.  And the truth is…” she paused, looking into the eyes of every bird she possibly could.

 

She remained quiet for a second, not knowing quite what to say. She had to inspire confidence in her audience, not fear. So she chose her words carefully.

 

“The truth is, what we are considering has never before been attempted. Never.”  She paused once more, looked down at the ground, behind her at an irritated Sir Ookpik, and then in front of her at the dazzling array of birds watching her in absolute silence, without fluttering a single feather.  They were depending upon her. She gathered confidence in herself, and spoke once more, in a stronger tone. She repeated, “This has never before been attempted. And that is no reason not to attempt it. We have to attempt it. We will attempt it. This planet is ours as much as it is humans’. And if they won’t take care of it, we will, even though we never made the mess in the first place.”

 

Madame Perroquet felt her voice filling with fire. She was no mere parrot. She was a feathered winged wonder, who was staking her place in this beautiful and terribly wounded world.  “Our spirits will soar as high as a Ruppell’s vulture can fly!” She looked at the vultures, in pride.  And they, in turn, looked at one another in joy.  (Well, as much as in joy as it is possible for a vulture to appear).  Indeed, Rupert, a Ruppell’s vulture, took off into the skies, flew so high above the trees he seemed to melt into the clouds, and then swiftly landed and took his place among his fellow raptors. 

 

Rinku shivered. “Why did she choose a vulture to include in her speech?” she asked Toby. “They’re so scary-looking.”

 

“But they’re still birds” answered Toby, “and they have their role to play. They clean up so much garbage on the earth. And a Ruppell’s vulture can fly higher than any other bird.”

 

“How do you know that?” asked Rinku curiously.

 

“My father was a fanatic about bird knowledge,” answered Toby. “In our little wood in Jamaica, he used to borrow material from the Library of Birds and read all about us avians.”

 

“What’s the Library of Birds?” asked Rinku.

 

“Tell you later,” answered Toby.

 

“My fellow winged creatures of the wind,” said Madame Perroquet, “Let us take some rest now. The night is on its way. Sir Ookpik needs to catch some prey, as do the other owls.  We have prepared some snacks of seeds and berries for you. And the huge banyans behind us hold lots of nests of different sizes---to tell you the truth, you’ll be surprised at your accommodations. The African social weavers have done a marvelous job.”

 

She whistled at a group of social weavers—small birds, like sparrows, from the heart of the African continent—perched in a sandalwood tree.  They nervously bowed. They didn’t seem used to so much attention. “It’s nothing, nothing,” one said. “Just using our skills for the greater good, like Albert said.”

 

Madame Perroquet continued, “Sleep well--or eat well, my nocturnal friends--and then we will reconvene tomorrow.”

 

Sir Ookpik stepped in front of her, and said formally, “The first day’s meeting of the Second Avian Nations conference is now finished. I bid you good night.” And he flew off, in search of a rat or some other poor unsuspecting rodent.

 

Rinku said, “Come, Toby, let’s get something to eat and find our nests.”

 

“Good idea,” said Toby. “I’m so sleepy. Even though the albatrosses flew, and not me, I’m still tired after such a long journey.”

 

As both birds flew off, Rinku realized that while she was still a little nervous and confused, she wasn’t as terrified as before.

 

‘Can I really help with this,’ she wondered, ‘Can I help the other birds in cleaning up the garbage?’

 

It all seemed…a little impossible, but also…a little… exciting.