The one-legged mynah who dropped by one day – and now makes daily house calls
Many Singaporeans consider them a nuisance, but Raskolnikov was different. CNA Lifestyle’s May Seah shares what it's like being befriended by a derpy wild bird in the urban jungle.
Living in an urban jungle can be tough. You jostle with a huge population every morning commute. The brusque uncle at the hawker centre is less than polite to you. At night, you roost under your HDB roof, serenaded by the honking of cars.
Sometimes, all you want to do is perch in somebody’s window and stare into their house for hours on end.
At least, that’s the kind of existential crisis that seems to be facing the mynah who comes to my window every day to hang out.
THE MAJESTIC DERP
He started showing up a few months ago, a scruffy, beat-up little bird. We soon had an inkling that he was not like other birds. For one thing, instead of spending his time doing bird-appropriate things, he preferred to pass his day on the air-conditioning condenser unit just outside the window, preening, chirping and staring into our flat.
For another thing, he had only one leg. The other is badly maimed and he walks with a limp.
He was a funny sight: A ball of black feathers perched on a single yellow stem; a one-legged fighter who was small and runty, but obviously a survivor.
After weeks of the same routine had passed and we had established that neither of us was going anywhere, I named him Raskolnikov; he had a defiant yet curious stare in his beady eye, a signature look that a friend describes as “majestic yet derpy”. He definitely looked capable of offing his landlady before becoming an anti-heroic paragon of redemption through suffering.
Raskolnikov has now made himself entirely at home, progressing from chilling on the condenser outside to actually sitting in the window. He’s a regular guest and hangs out for hours on end, chatting loudly, clucking his little remarks sotto voce and doing a lot of derpy-majestic staring. He no longer flinches if we come too close. Instead, he cocks his head curiously when we talk to him. Yes – he seems to actually like us.
When you adopt a bird, you are a person who loves birds. When a bird adopts you, you are the chosen one. An imaginary sunbeam of light with appropriate bokeh shines down upon your head. The realms of all nature rise up and call you blessed.
MYNAH YOUR OWN BUSINESS
Of course, the Javan mynah is, as a collective species in Singapore, a known pest, roosting in huge congregations and feeding off scraps at hawker centres. But, as is often the case in life, once you are acquainted with one individual out of a vilified group, your perception of their community inevitably starts to change.
Once, Raskolnikov arrived wearing a big red ant on his head. It was perched at a jaunty angle in the scruffy feathers above his beak. The accessory, it appeared, had chosen him, not the other way around. We fretted about whether it was hurting him as he tried unsuccessfully to shake it off, but knew better than to attempt to touch him. He decided he had to see a man about a horse and cut his visit abruptly short that day.
To whence did he fly off? How did he eventually persuade the ant to disembark? What does he do with the rest of his time, when he’s not paying us court? A wise bird knows never to reveal too many mysteries.
Another time, he didn’t show up three days in a row. On the first day, we speculated about the reasons for his leave of absence. The second day, we were a little worried. By the third day, we began to wax philosophical about mortality in general, nature red in tooth and claw, and the vagaries of life.
After all, we’re always aware that each day we see him might be the last; that there will ineluctably be a day when he doesn’t come again.
But he returned on the fourth day, squawking obnoxiously, preening his feathers and pretending nothing had happened, like a boyfriend who doesn’t want to apologise after a fight.
If you’d told me how much the regular visits of a little bird could brighten up our household’s day, I wouldn’t have believed you.
But Raskolnikov has demonstrated how truly delightful it is to live in a garden city, where a one-legged bird might spend his nights in a big tree several storeys down and his days singing little ditties on his chosen window ledge.
He’s a daily reminder that freedom isn’t about escaping but about finding the place you want to be. That even if your pocket is empty, your heart is weary and you’re standing on your last leg, life goes on, bearing us all on its wings. And that even if you’re the commonest of mynahs, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the sort of little bird who inspires people to write you maudlin tributes – just by being your own quirky, funny, majestically derpy self.