Friend Who Came From The Sky: It was one of those days in March, when a wind starts blowing from nowhere, ending in a thunderstorm. A cool breeze had been blowing since afternoon, and the sky was rapidly becoming over-cast. There were sudden creaks as little branches of trees broke in the strong breeze and fell. The air was full of last year’s leaves.
Friend Who Came From The Sky: Padma Rao
Mini sat in her wheelchair in the balcony of their first floor flat, and watched the children playing in the park outside. The children did not seem to mind the strong breeze, or the yellow leaves of the neem falling on their heads. They were engrossed in their ball game.
“Mini, come inside,” called her mother from the kitchen.
“Just a minute, Mummy,” said Mini in her quavering voice, straining forward in the wheelchair to look at the game below.
Her mother came out on balcony. “Mini, baby, it is too windy to sit outside. Come on inside, that is a good girl!”
Mini continued to peer through the balcony railings. “In one moment,” she pleaded.
Her mother looked at the children in the park, sighed, and went back into the house saying, “Mind, you get into the house before it starts raining. I don’t want you to get wet.”
Mini was twelve years old and a spastic. A spastic is a person who has no control over his hands and legs from birth. Mini could not walk, or button up her shirt, but she could crawl and had learnt to use her hand to brush her teeth and use a spoon to eat. She could also manoeuvre her wheelchair. She went to a special school where she was taught exercises and underwent speech therapy, as well as learnt the usual subjects like other children.
But Mini had no friends. Ever since they had come to this house six months ago, Mini had had no one to play with. All the neighbourhood children seemed to be busy with their own games and schools, and they had never become friendly with Mini. It was Mini’s favourite pastime to watch the children at their play.
Big drops of rain started to fall. But the children went on with their game. The big red ball bobbed up and down. Suddenly, there was another ball among the children. A brown one. The girls started screaming, and the boys shouted at the top of their voices. A boy bent down to touch the ball, when it suddenly flapped its wings and flew up. Before Mini knew what was happening, the new ‘ball’ had flown into her balcony and landed on her lap.
It took a moment before Mini recovered from her shock. She saw that the thing in her lap was not a ball at all, but a bird! It was sitting in her lap, all huddled up in fright. The rain started falling in earnest now.
“Mini!” shouted her mother as she came out to wheel the girl in. “What is this?” she cried, startled when she saw the bird.
“Mummy, it is a duck! He came from the sky!” Mini whispered.
The bird was indeed a duck, a shoveller, a yearly visitor to India from the cold north. He was probably migrating back to his native land with his flock, when he must have lost his way in the strong current of wind that was blowing. In his frantic efforts to rejoin his mates, he had hurt himself on his wings.
He was a beautiful wild duck. His down was soft and velvety, and his beak was broad like a shovel. His feathers glinted blue, white and brown. At the moment he looked exhausted.
Mini’s mother tried to pick him up, when suddenly he nipped her hand. “Ouch!” she cried, drawing her hand back.
All at once he fluttered to the ground and huddled in a corner of the living room.
All through the evening, Mini and her mother tried to make the duck eat. They put breadcrumbs, nuts and fruits in front of him, but he would not touch a thing.
“Mummy, give him some mashed rice and milk,” suggested Mini.
Her mother mashed some cooked rice in a bowl, added milk and sugar, and opening the bird’s beak, fed him with an ink filler.
As soon as he had some food in his stomach, the duck became visibly more alert. His eyes brightened, and he tried to open his wings but gave it up after a few efforts. “I know what his name ‘is. It is Mitra!” Mini said. Her mother smiled.
“Where shall we put Mitra to bed, Mini?” her father asked her.
“Papa, I want him near me. He may need me in the night,” said Mini. Finally they settled Mitra in a basketful of straw, beside Mini’s bed.
Contrary to her expectations, Mitra did not wake Mini up in the night at all. When she woke up early in the morning, Mini’s first thought was to look into the basket by her bedside. To her horror she realized it was empty.
“Mitra! Mitra!” shouted Mini, getting up on one elbow. Then she saw him looking brightly at her from the bathroom. She burst out laughing.
The bird could only hop along, though he tried valiantly to fly. When Mini crawled up to him, he flapped his wings and hopped away. Mini made a supreme effort and caught him. Promptly he nipped her.
“Mini! What happened?” cried her mother in alarm, entering the room. But when she saw the duck in her daughter’s arms, her alarm turned to merriment. “I have brought breakfast for you and your friend!” she announced.
The doorbell rang when Mini was cajoling Mitra to eat his break-fast. When Mini’s mother opened the door, she was greeted by a group of children, all dressed smartly in their school uniforms.
“Aunty, may we see the bird?” they asked.
The children were thrilled to see Mitra being fed with an ink filler. They helped Mini to hold him still while he was being fed. They had to leave soon to catch the school bus. “We will be back in the afternoon, Mini,” they said. Mini also got ready to go to her school.
“Poor ducky, how he must be missing his friends,” said Bunty one of the children, in the evening, watching the duck.
“It is all the more hard for him now to make new friends because he is lame,” said Anju, and realizing too late what she had said, quickly covered her mouth.
“We will make him strong!” said Mini. After this incident, the neighbourhood children became very friendly with Mini. The children had at last realized the anguish Mini must have gone through because they did not play with her.
The next day Anju brought a fat book with her. “See! You can read all about ducks in this! Mitra is called a shoveller!” The children crowded around her excitedly, and read all about the habits of shovellers.
“Mitra must have flown hundreds of miles, no?” said little Priya. “Not hundreds, thousands!” corrected Bunty. “He will fly back thousands of miles to his home again.”
Finally, the day of departure for their avian friend arrived. Mini’s father took all the children and the duck to a nearby lake. The children lifted Mitra from Mini’s lap and gently released him into the lake. He started swimming, shovelling the water with his beak. The children stood there for a long time watching.
The next day, Mini went into the balcony to watch the children play. There was no one in the park. Suddenly the doorbell rang, and in trooped all the children. “Aunty; please send Mini to the park to play with us,” they said. “We will bring her back safely in her wheelchair.” With the help of willing little hands, Mini was taken down the stairs to the park.
Mini never had reason to feel lonely again.