by Dayna Desastre | Writing |

The Birds of Laysan Isle - by Dayna Desastre

April 24th, 1923.

This is the day they watched the Laysan Apapane bird disappear.
The old man, his eyes concealed by rough and wrinkled skin, gazed distantly into the crème colored sandstorm of grime and dust. His beady, hidden eyes- wet, brown dog eyes- narrowed, blinking back a chemist’s mixture of sand and saline. He brought his baggy paw to his face as his lips moved in a whisper; he was counting.

“One Mississippi, two Mississippi,” a blistering torrent of wind. “Three Mississippi,” a flash, the downbeat flutter of flapping wings.

As the sun set on the dreary, Hawaiian island, fire spilling into the ocean and glowing through the sandstorm like a mirage, the old man counted the waltz step of the Apapane.

“Four Mississippi” and “Five Mississippi” wavered in the air, hovering amongst the sand. “Six Mississippi,” a calloused break and the beat of a bird.

The other men were counting too.

The rebellious boy, his tanned skin tight against his hairless skull, tapped his toes to the rhythm as the doctor blinked in numbered threes. They popped their knuckles, clicked their tongues and rapped out beats.

Three years ago, they waited patiently for the Millerbird on these very shores. The doctor and the carpenter set off into the barren, sandy landscape, a pair of primitive binoculars in hand, as the rest of the caravan waited, counting, lodged between the tourists with their flowered leis, straw hats and sun burnt shoulders. Just two days ago, the bald-headed boy spotted the hairless, ragged fetus of a baby Millerbird draped haphazardly on a grove of rocks and gravel. He heard the distant, whispering cry of a tweeting mother.

And now, amongst the rich, American vacationers, they counted, eager and wishful and waiting for the return of their colleagues. The old man kept whispering and whispering and whispering.

The men waited and eventually the tourists left, bored with the sands of Laysan and curious to see another endangered isle with which they would easily tire of. The were replaced with more visitors; the burnt faces and whining children... And then yet another noisy, careless group.

The men stood shameless and as reproachful as statues.

Night fell and still the doctor and the carpenter had not returned. Only when, as the priest noted nobly from his pocket watch, dawn approached at three am, did their silhouettes grace the horizon.

“Andre,” the old man called out to the doctor. The silhouettes grew features and the reddened shade of tired skin. Andre outstretched his arms, his leathered fingers cradling a small, obsolete object.

The men circled around and the doctor drew his palms apart.

A small Millerbird, it’s feathers soft of down, shivered in the oyster of Andre’s hands. The men held their breathe, silent, gazing romantically at the infant bird.

It’s skin was so thin, it’s down so tufted and missing in various places, that one could almost view the delicate stew of organs, the soupy plasma and stringy veins badgering the small bird to life. And it could barely raise it’s head, or stretch it’s tiny wings, it’s brown beak gasping for the cold sting of salted ocean air.

The old man started counting, under his breath and almost instinctively.

“One Mississippi, two Mississippi,” the Millerbird’s lungs expanded weakly under the bones of it’s chest. He sighed “Three Mississippi” and the bird heaved as only a dying, flightless babe could.

They were all counting, tapping out beats, blinking along. Two seconds seemed infinitely longer than one, each moment drifting slowly, painfully, and ebbing away- so precious and yet so undoubtedly lost.

The men counted seconds as the tiny bird died, cradled in the hands of a healing man- a doctor- and surrounded by the carpenter, the priest, the child and the wise- those who created this Earth for humans to use, and abuse, and destroy.

“One Mississippi, Two Mississippi.” The old, wise man shook his head as the bird gasped. He blinked his beady eyes; eyes filled with a chemist’s potion of saline and sweat, and watched as the baby Laysan Millerbird sighed it’s final breath.

They were more primitive now, more simple and awkward beings, primitive as the birds and the beasts surrounding them. Captivated as moths to a glowing light, drawn to the picturesque image of mortality, of the perils and purpose and dangers of life, which lay in their very own hands.

Andre cupped the tiny bird in his fingers that had failed to heal, and the bald child dug a grave in the sand. The old man counted the seconds until the Millerbird was buried and until the blowing, moving sand concealed the location of it’s grave.

They never saw a Laysan Millerbird again.

It is April 24th, 1923 and there are men gathered on the shore of the beaches of Laysan, blinking and counting, watching a sandstorm.

The old man, his eyes concealed by rough and wrinkled skin, whispers to himself, one hand to his face.

“One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three”

The Laysan Apapane flashes across the sky; defiant, luminescent; the angel of all that had saw and all who would never see.