For Part 1 of The Christmas Bird click here:

Over the next few days the tiny ball of downy fluff that was the Christmas bird changed. Orange and black feathers appeared and the tell-tale crest of the hoopoe bird could be seen. There were other signs that this bird was a hoopoe that the girls soon noted, not always with pleasure.

The hoopoe was rather a dirty little thing. After feeding it would reverse back a few steps and shoot poo out of its rear end. The first time the bird did this Kelly was horrified.

“Look! Look!” she shouted. “The bird made a mess. Yucky!”

It took a while for the girls to latch on to this and take the necessary precautions with newspaper laid down around the bird’s basket home. The bird, whom the girls named Hoopie, continued to feed enthusiastically from the syringe. The quantities of food that Hoopie consumed in a day were quite astonishing to Stella and Beth, who had the task of feeding the bird several times a day.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around, the family had supper and settled down to see in the New Year in front of the television. The family was living in a small house on a working farm and in the distance the celebrations of the farm workers could be heard above the noise of the television.

At midnight the farm workers quarters exploded with noise and happy shouting. They had been celebrating all day by drinking vast quantities of Umqombothi, a home-made African beer made from maize and sorghum, from the communal drum called a gogogo. Stella knew this as she had watched the New Year’s Eve preparations by the farm workers with great interest. The women had prepared great quantities of samp and beans for the evening meal, along with other traditional foods. Stella had been fascinated to watch the cooking of this popular dish which was made from boiled samp, boiled sugar beans, fried garlic and onion and chopped potatoes. Stella thought the addition of the potatoes was quite unexpected.

At midnight, fire crackers were let off and old Mecca, the seemingly ancient mother of the farm supervisor, could be heard staggering around drunkenly and shouting “Happy!”, “Happy!”

When Stella and Beth checked on Hoopie, just before going to bed, they noticed a horrible pungent smell of rotting meat. They soon realised this terrible odour was coming from their little bird which had been disturbed by all the commotion and was unsettled and upset.

The New Year heralded good news for the family as their father was notified of his success with a job application. He would be starting work immediately and this was a huge relief to their anxious mother. It wasn’t the nicest job, in Stella’s opinion. Father would be delivering newspapers to the airport and this involved his getting up at 4A.M. in the morning every day, seven days a week, and driving to the distribution centre to load the newspapers onto the truck and take them to the airport in time for the first flights at 6A.M.

Some further good news was that Easter was early that year and a friend of the family’s had offered them their holiday home in Trafalgar, a little town along the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal, over the Easter holiday period. The younger children were very excited to go as it had been a long time since they had been to the beach.

Stella and Beth were worried.

“What about Hoopie? What will we do with him?”

Their Mother tried to reassure them that Trafalgar, which is on the north bank of the Mpenjati River which enters the Indian Ocean at the Mpenjati Nature Reserve, would be a great place for Hoopie. They could take him with them in the car.

To be continued