Here I sit, writing after a lengthy drive with my wife. Every weekend or so we take off, making our way through and around town to experience the weather, the comings and goings of other people, and to just be free of the home in which we are both confined while working throughout the bulk of the week. Often it's a great experience, and it gives us at least some sense of freedom. Today, though, a shadow was cast over our traditional outing.
While conversing about plans for the decor of our apartment, we rounded a bend in a moderately trafficked back road and spied something flapping about in the middle of the opposite lane. There lay a struggling, obviously injured mallard. He flopped here and there while making efforts to thrust himself toward the far side of the road. Clearly, after studying his movements as we approached his position, we could see that he wasn't capable of standing or using his legs. His neck flopped about as if he was attempting to use it as a means of pulling himself along while his wings fluttered about him. I immediately pulled off to the side of the road.
We continued to spectate him in order to monitor his progress as I quickly dialed about with my phone, attempting to find an agency which might assist in caring for his injuries. No valid or accessible options presented themselves. So, I jumped out of the car, grabbed a pair of work gloves from the back, and headed over to assist him in gaining the safety of the other side before another careless motorist accidentally, or purposefully (people can be truly despicable), further injured him.
As I approached, another individual pulled into the median, studying the mallard's status. He announced his assessment of the bird's condition to me as I crossed into the middle of the road. We conversed as I made my way around, toward the duck's rear, in order to lift him while keeping his wings in check. As I did so, the creature's eyes, wild and desperate, gazed into mine. I recognized his fear, the mortal dread of diminishing vitality. Standing above him I determined that his breath was labored as he infrequently gulped it in. Clearly the poor beast was fading away.
Reaching down with gloved hands, I embraced the mallard. As I lifted him off of the pavement I could feel him begin to go limp. The man from the median suggested that I take him beyond the tree on the nearby roadside so that he wouldn't accidentally make his way back into traffic. Agreeing, I quickly carried him over, past the tree, toward a culvert a safe distance from the road. His eyes continued to peer into mine as I laid his debilitated figure upon the grass. Within a few seconds his heaving breast ceased to heave. The wind stirred his feathers but no animation which sourced itself from within his being continued the movements he had once freely perpetrated in life. The truth of his apparent death just then hit me full on.
In a daze I said a few words to the other concerned person and then walked back to my car, feeling completely defeated. My wife watched me approach with a mournful gaze. "At least he won't be left to die in the road, smashed by some other car. Nothing deserves to die like that," I said. We sat a while contemplating the duck's passing before making our way back home.
I sit here now, unable to forget the poor bird and the look of his eyes as the sun surrenders to the dim of oncoming night.