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U3A Writing: The Birthday Party

...On the big day we trooped off, knees scrubbed, hair slicked down, with instructions to say thank you for everything, only to take one cake at a time, and don't let the bantam go!

We let the bantam go...

Merle Parkin tells the delightful tale of a birthday gift which took wing.

Dickie lived on the next property to the McGinty tribe. Dickie had been an only child till his widowed mother remarried and presented him with a sister. Little sister Dolly was eight years younger though - too young really to play with him, so Dickie played with us McGintys. He often walked the two bush miles to our place, and we'd show him our latest clutch of bantam chicks, the current pet sleepy-lizards, sundry geckoes, bats or birds we were succouring.

Dickie particularly envied us our extensive flock of bantams, so when his mother invited us to his tenth birthday party, our mother told us she'd donate a pretty bantam for our gift to him.

On the big day we trooped off, knees scrubbed, hair slicked down, with instructions to say thank you for everything, only to take one cake at a time, and don't let the bantam go!

We let the bantam go.

I don't know how it happened, but the place it happened was a wide clearing where wind scour had left the ground bare over an area about the size of a sports oval. No tree or saltbush marred the pristine, sandy patch, and banty belted off across it till she reached the grey verge where mallee prickles abounded.

We shuddered, for we were all bare-footed, but she swerved and picked up speed while still following the edge of the sand. Round and round the perimeter we pursued her, the younger kids gradually dropping behind.

She started to tire and I gained on her. As my hand closed on her tail-feathers, she gave one terrified squawk and took off, leaving me clutching a handful of quills like some exotic posy.

We stood staring in awe as our birthday gift took wing and demonstrated her considerable flying ability by gaining height as she headed for a distant tree. She landed in the upper branches of the isolated cabbage-tree, and we picked our way carefully between the patches of bindiis till we crackled onto dry leaves under the trees. Quickly we all scrambled up into the branches. Chook had exhausted and terrified herself with her long flight, but she was still nervous and hopped from branch to branch. However finding all major branches occupied, she at last froze on a twig.

She fixed us with a beady stare, but every time one of us approached she'd raise her wings and go into take-off mode. We sent the littlest brother down below to find a fallen stick. It was too frail to brain her with, but we hoped to mesmerize her. This was easy enough to do on the ground but none of us had ever tried it up a tree, so we weren't too sure a mesmerized chook wouldn't just fall off its branch.

We sent the brother down again to break her fall. He fell the last few feet and bloodied his nose. He howled and said he'd leave, but we convinced him to stay by threatening to tell Mum that he'd let the chook go.

The serious business then began. I poised, ready to pounce, while a littler sister stroked the stick down the branch, getting nearer and nearer to the hen's feet. The hen's beady eyes focused on the stick. As it got nearer, the effort to focus sent her cross-eyed, and she hunkered down on the branch for a good swoon.

I pounced. With legs gripping the branch I got a two-handed grip on the chook, who came to her senses with much flapping, falsetto screeching and a cloud of feathers. The brother below howled anew, because in her excitement she'd evacuated all over him.

We picked handfuls of leaves and wiped my brother down. Apart from chook-dirt, he'd bloodied himself by wiping his nose on the front of his shirt. Come to think of it, the rest of us had a few scrapes and scratches, and wore bark-chips in our tousled hair. However, we set off in triumph for the party.

What Dickie's mother thought she never said, but Dickie was delighted with his present. He solemnly thanked us before perching her on the back of his chair. Her party behaviour was exemplary; she tucked her head under her wing and went to sleep.


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