Anissa has called herself a writer since she was six but has only just learnt to prioritise her creative work. She has called many countries home, but her birth country, New Zealand, won in the end.
I was fiercely anticipating my figs ripening. I’d been looking forward to them for months. Figs reminded me of bucolic sunny days on a Balkan island. To taste them was to be transported back. I liked that. We were in coronavirus lockdown so being transported anywhere was a treat. I hadn’t been into town for weeks – I was craving fresh fruit.
Our fig tree was a picture of abundance. Metres from the house with frequent foot traffic, I had thought it safe from the birds. The Morning of the First Figs finally arrived, and my heart sank before I stepped off the deck. The two plump and purpled figs I had earmarked for eating had already been sampled by birds. Savaged might be a better word. They lay gaping their pink plundered innards to the skies. I had woken to the gleeful sounds of silvereyes. Now I knew why.
I had spent the previous year teaching my son’s cat not to hunt birds but that morning I put her in the fig tree with instructions to deter any birdish foray with no qualms. I had lent bird netting to a friend the previous season and after a flurry of texts, ventured down the hill to retrieve it. An everyday act made oddly clandestine by the lockdown rules. It went up that night.
It's a big tree. The netting covered about a third of it. The peep-peep-chatter continued but I figured between the netting and the cat we’d still get some fruit.
I started picking the next day. I had asked around my garden people and discovered the trick was to pick them with the stalk intact when they were big, soft and just starting to blush. They ripened beautifully on a sunny windowsill – a glorious thing in the mouth fresh, Rachel-from-down-the-road's honey was the perfect accompaniment.
I abandoned a few figs higher up the tree to the birds. An offering. I came to love the chatter of them, the flit-flit-dip of wings out the corner of my eye. The netting obsolete as the birds found their way under and around. I resolved to take it down when I saw two juveniles standing on the netting, pecking through the holes to feast.
I was doing the daily check for ripening figs when I heard the PEEP. A tiny scrap of olive green was upside-down, hanging and utterly ensnared. After rushing back in for my dainty embroidery scissors I climbed up into the green and cut a swathe of net free to remove her. She was panting and had been trapped long enough to fight herself tightly knit into the net. It was around her neck, wing and legs. The black of it disappearing into her feathers at multiple points. I sank down onto the grass under the tree and held her firmly but gently in the cradle of my fist. All other thought fled as I trimmed and cut, terrified of hurting her, talking to her all the while. There was more tangle than bird.
I worked fast, my heart dipping as her eyes fluttered lower. It was intense micro-surgery trying to work out how she was tangled and where. When her head lolled, I thought I had lost her, and my heart sank. But as the last piece of netting fell free, she revived, peeped and we talked about the joys of figs and flying while she gathered strength. Finally, standing, I opened my hand and she uncurled her legs and claws and sat, featherlight and trembling on the palm of my hand looking around, calling. I held her up to the tree, away from the net, and eventually she stepped out onto a branch and sat peeping (I had placed her next to a fig in case she needed sustenance). She sounded indignant so I stepped back, pulling the netting down with me into the shadows of the bay tree and watched. They came in minutes. The flit-flit of wings a tickle then a flood. Raucousness of bird lungs tiny but loud ensued as the clan came together, a dance of fast-moving sound and whispering feathers gathering around their lost one.
She stayed, flitting from tree to tree, her brethren coming and going as I commiserated from the deck. I too was unable to go far – the coronavirus casting the invisible net of lockdown. I worried (for no reason I could see) that she was too hurt to fly properly and was scared for her alone in the cold of the dark. I worried too at the morepork’s hunting call that night but when I shone my torch into the fig tree, the light reflected off a row of silver eyes, shuffled in close on a branch up high, each no bigger than a fig. Her clan had come.
They were all gone by dawn’s chorus – a steady flow fading into the morning's light, flit-flitting from fig to branch to sky and lost to the greater green of the world. I threw the net away.