my friend, the bulbul

six months ago, i moved into a house without seeing it beforehand. the first sight of my new residence was as i unlocked the door with my new key, having thrown around $3,000 at the real estate agent a few days prior.

inside, i saw gorgeous timber floorboards, chandeliers, brass lightswitches, & plant boxes at every window. the sun was beaming; it was the most beautiful house i’d ever seen, a huge terrace with the right parts renovated & the right parts left as they were. i walked through the place; it reminded me of my parents’ houses, both built in the mid-70s – but admittedly, this place was nicer.

in the six months that have passed, i have grown a special kind of love for the courtyard out the back. the walls were lined with jasmine & crawling vines, there were garden beds lining the edges of the narrow path, which was made up of bricks with love-hearts engraved on them; in the sitting areas, the bricks formed a circle. a huge cluster of rosemary, next to a bright pink plant, underneath a lilly pilly tree, which also secretly sheltered a lime tree. as you walked further down, there was a frangipani, a fig, a mulberry… then, even further, some new zealand ferns, a mandarin, wild mint, and my favourite of all: an avocado tree. when i saw the avocado for the first time, i actually cried a little. avocados hold their own significance in my life. they are my absolute favourite fruit, for starters, & the trees can take up to 40 years to begin producing them. in my mind, avocados are the literal fruits of patience, stability, dedication & hard work. i have always dreamed of having an avocado tree in my house, envied those who had one, & got angry at those who had one & did not appreciate it.

right down the back, there was one more tree that towered over the rest. it had papery leaves that always remained yellow, or at best a bright lime-green. a few branches beyond arms’ reach had snapped & were hanging way up. in the sky behind it, you could see the planes leaving sydney airport flying nearby – a marker of what it’s like to live in the inner west.

the morning after my first sleep in my new house, i heard a beautiful sound. there was a gorgeous bird hanging out in the tallest tree; the yellow one. i’d never seen one quite like it before. it was like a sparrow, but it had red cheeks, & a black crest on its head like a woodpecker. i could have sworn it was some exotic wonder. my housemates didn’t really pay attention to it (or the courtyard at all, for that matter). every morning i’d wake up, hear its call, have my coffee in the courtyard, & watch it in the tree. for a moment, i would always feel as though i was not stuck in the inner west of sydney – a noisy, built up place full of yuppies – but living somewhere tranquil, surrounded by wildlife.

i started sprouting snowpeas, snapdragons, marigold, onions, & some other plants. watching them grow from seed is another process in itself – i find myself taking on a strange parental kind of attitude towards them. after a few months, they were ready to plant into the beds. as i did this, i felt a kind of commitment with this house begin. when you plant your own plants in a bed, you want to watch them flourish & bloom. i really thought this was the nicest house i’d ever lived in, & that i wanted to stay here forever.

a few months later i visited my dad’s place, which is literally on the edge of the Royal National Park. both my parents live on the edge of the bush, with their backyards leading directly out to it. i love visiting them. my dad had an illustrated encyclopaedia of australian birds, & that was when i discovered the little bird that had been hanging out with me in the mornings was a red-whiskered bulbul, very common to the sydney region. the fact i had never seen one before, nor heard of it, stood as a symbol of the inner west mentality, i believe. my seedlings were growing.

the more i sat & listened, the more i realised there were these bulbuls all around my house. sometimes they hung out in the tree out the front, where my balcony overlooked the CBD. sometimes two or three would chirp in the courtyard. as the months progressed, the first bulbul i encountered – the one with the morning ritual in the yellow tree – started moving closer & closer to the back doors every morning; closer to where i was sitting, enjoying my breakfast.

this is my last day in this house.

this morning, when i went out for my coffee, i sat & looked at my plants. the snowpeas are happily producing pods, & the flowers are so close to blooming. after the long winter, all the vines & trees are beginning to wake up.

the bulbul flew over & landed in the tree closest to me. we sat & watched each other for a while. then it flew off.

i am sad to leave this house. very, very sad. i will miss the floorboards, the chandeliers, the courtyard, the trees, & i will sorely miss my plant ‘children’ that i watched grow from tiny seeds. but more than anything, i will miss my friend, the red-whiskered bulbul.


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