Sometimes, when I’m standing around in the kitchen, waiting for the espresso machine to heat up, I see a common magpie land in our front yard. It’ll hop there, glance around, strut around with a swagger, looking all classy in black-and-white, like it’s walking on a red carpet on its way to a gala dinner.
Although, there’s something a little sneaky about it, too. It hops, looks around, as if to see if anybody is watching its every move.
Of course, it’s right. Whatever it does, it will have to do that in just a fraction of a second because when I see it, I tap the window to scare it away. That’s not always so popular with the kids, especially with Son, who refers to himself as “an animal lover.”
But I tell them that even if the magpie looks classy, the gala dinner it’s supposedly attending, will take place in our garbage. That sounds disgusting enough to them, so I’m safe. Son may be an animal lover, but he hates seeing trash on the streets as well, so as long as I only scare the magpies away, he’s fine with it.
And that’s all I do. I simply tap the window, maybe – maybe – wave my fist, but that’s all for show. And I know the magpies know it.
I may not be as big an animal lover as Son, who literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. The other day, he collected about two dozen ants into an old ice cream jar, and built a little ant farm of his own. Unfortunately, the air holes I made were a little too small, and the ants seemed a little dizzy the next morning. I didn’t mean that, though, I was just worried that if I make the holes any bigger, the ants would escape.
I do like animals. Few things make me laugh as much as the BBC’s “Walk on the wild side” in which animals get dubbed with funny voices and dialogues.
I just don’t like cats. I don’t think they’re cute, and I don’t admire their “free spirit”. I don’t understand why cats are allowed to roam around free in cities. Sure, there may be rats, but I doubt that cats running wild can help with the rodent problem. The less I have cats in my life, the better.
That creates a small problem when we go visit Dad, who – against all odds – has two of them lying around. Son and Daughter like them, of course, so for their, and Dad’s, sake, I have to have a cordial relationship with the cats. They don’t enter our bedroom, and I don’t enter theirs. They don’t sit on my lap, and I won’t sit on them.
I won’t say anything to Dad, because he’s an animal lover, too.
When I was 5, my father found an injured magpie somewhere, and took it home to take care of it. He named it “Roope” and when the family went for a drive, Roope had his box in the back, where he could see what was going on.
Now, I thought it was pretty cool, because I had just read a Finnish book about a boy and his magpie. His talking magpie. Vinski, the boy, and Vinsentti, the magpie, had some great adventures together, in their small town in Finland, pulling pranks, and shadowing thieves.
I don’t remember what happened to Roope, but I assume that Dad set him free when his wing had got better.
After that, we got a guinea pig. Her name was Roosa, and she was my pet, at least in theory. I fed her with lettuce, and I took care of her, as much as you can take care of a guinea pig. But I liked Roosa, and I’d like to think that she liked me, too.
Our third pet also had a name that began with an R. His name was Riku. He was a German sheppard that we had got from my aunt. We visited her once when the puppies had just been born, and we – at least Dad and I – fell in love with them cuties and on our way home, Mom and Dad decided that we’d take a puppy. I loved it. So, Dad drove back there that night, and chose the one that stayed in the back of their cage, when the rest of them rushed to see who was coming.
That good-natured dog turned into our best friend. He was there to greet me when I got back from school, and he was there to play with me after school. He was a crocodile, The Phantom’s wolf, and a lion, whatever I needed. Sure, he puked on my Wham album, and yes, he may have destroyed a pillow or two, but he was also always there when Mom was home alone, or when we went for a bike ride, or when Dad needed a buddy.
Riku died just a few weeks before my high school ending festival. I had planned to dress up as The Phantom, and he was going to be my Devil – “Not a dog. A wolf.”
I still went as The Phantom, and I graduated and moved out to go to college. About a year later, Dad got himself a new German shepard. That one, I got to name. He was tiny, but his paws were gigantic. He was black, and he showed no respect for anything or anybody, so I named him Eddie. After Eddie Murphy.
He was Dad’s best friend for a good ten years, and I remember when he called me to tell me he had taken Eddie to the vet. That he was gone.
When Riku died, Dad got him a tombstone, and every Christmas, on our way home from my Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves, we’d stop at the pet cemetary, find Riku’s spot, and dig the tombstone up from under all the snow.
I don’t know where Eddie got buried.
When I was ten years old, I, too, loved animals. I wanted to know everything about every animal, and Jacques Cousteau was my idol. My parents encouraged me, so they even let me join a mail order club that published “animal cards”. Every month I got a new package with a set of cards.
On one side of the card, there was a photo of an animal, and information on which category (mammals), and sub-category (apes) it belonged in. On the other, there was a long description of the animal. I put all the cards in a red, plastic box, by category, and in alphabetical order.
The other day, I found Son sitting on the floor in his room, with probably hundreds of those cards around him. He was sorting them, by category, in alphabetical order, trying to learn new things.
“Dad, you know that I’m an animal lover,” he told me.
“Besides, these cards have already helped me get over my fear of snakes,” he added.
I didn’t know he had been afraid of snakes. I thought he loved all animals. I was about to ask him about that, but then I heard him hum the Indiana Jones theme song and I remembered that Mr. Jones was afraid of snakes.
I’m just glad Son’s not afraid of the snakes anymore, even if there aren’t any snakes where we live. There are magpies, though, but he won’t have to be afraid of them.
Not with me around.