The Buzzard

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

There was a buzzard in the sky. It was hovering above Louisa. She put her straw hat on and forgot about the bird. Her hand was full of grains. She opened it, threw them in the air to let them fall like rain over Jollie, her hen. Louisa then started reading and Jollie started  pecking.

Jollie was quite plump. Well fed on cereals and other delicacies. As for her safety, within the six years of her life, she had only been chased once by a fox which had slipped away in the woods, distracted by the sound of boots. She had been lucky on that day as with many other days in various incidents. Always stoically, she went on with her life. Her simple mind liked her daily drills. Same eating habits, same leisurely walks, same encounters, the familiar buzz around her. The problem with Jollie had always been her obstinacy. She preferred roosting on a tree rather than inside the pen.

The buzzard was hovering above. Wide brown and fawn  wingspan. It must have left the forest for the open land in search of a treat. Jollie looked up a couple of times. She could see the stranger intruding on her little tête-à-tête with Louisa. Its sharp peea-ay call had alerted her. Still, it was quite high above them. But attacks can happen swiftly. Jollie's instinct might have told her that the raptor could fall like a stone from its height and land on its prey.

Louisa was reading when she heard Jollie's sudden bwwaaaakk and a flight of wings. The bird of prey had swooped down on her, clawed her back and was trying to lift her up. She was heavy. It tried again and again. Louisa rushed up and grabbed her squatting chook with her two hands pressed on her wings. The buzzard used its weapons frantically. Tug-of-war. She hung on to the victim. It clung on to its prey. The feathered legs and mighty yellow claws were hooking on to Jollie with frenzied flapping over Louisa's hands.  They were big strong slaps falling like hammer blows. With equal stubborness, Louisa tightened her grip. Jollie had to be saved. The two had a good understanding; moreover, the hen's eggs had a rich yellow yolk. The battle lasted one minute at least during which Louisa's hands suffered rhythmic blow after blow. She thought her bones had turned into fine shell grit. All the same, she wouldn't let go of her bundle of feathers.

Using its bird common sense, the buzzard then retracted its claws, dropped its beaten wings and gave up. The prey was too big and Louisa's hands were in the way. The hungry bird had lost the battle. Vanquished, it turned its head to her. In its piercing eyes was wild anger. Defeat can be quite enraging. But the sky was wide open for it to deploy its redoubtable wingspan, and continue its hunt. It flew towards the forest, then perhaps beyond, over a field where food might be easier to catch. It might have to lower its hopes of feasting on a big meal. Instead, content itself with a small finely-boned fieldmouse. To at least recover some of its dignity, its self-image as bird of prey. 

Louisa's hands were covered with bruises. Garish purple splotches. Jollie had a couple of claw marks. In her autumn plumage, droplets of blood didn't show clearly; they just made the small area on her back smudgy and matted. The buzzard had left neither of them intact. Its visit would be remembered. The sky would be watched with more scrutiny.

The bench in the shade of the afternoon had been there for years for them to meet for their short interludes. They would continue with Louisa reading and Jollie pecking. The buzzard might have trusted its memory. Unsuccessful attacks in hazardous places were to be bypassed. It did not return.

One night, under the trembling stars, a shadow was lurking. In the morning, Louisa found a few feathers, collected three of the prettiest ones and put them in a rustic brass pitcher vase.