March 18, Magpie Interlude

This morning after getting off the bus, I heard a crash and turned around in alarm. A woman had fallen from the bus steps and onto the metal bench.

I felt so bad for her– I could see that she was rubbing her forearm and she just seemed resigned to this misfortune, as if this were another bad day. I wish I could have done something for her but she got up, brushed herself off, and sat on the bench to wait for her transfer. I would later see her in the women’s locker room at my gym, fully well and making plans to meet someone for dinner.

A chance for redemption came later in the morning when I was sitting at my desk. Another crash sounded but to my surprise, it was a Korean Magpie that had flown in through one of the open windows and couldn’t find its way out.

(I had to wonder why the windows were open; AQI levels were in the red today which means I can’t see Mount Bukhan from the fourth floor.)

Korean Magpies are beautiful birds: A deep black and blue with a white belly. Since my school is at the foot of a small mountain, these are the birds I see most often. And the ones that like to antagonize Korea’s squirrels which resemble North American squirrels in every way except for the off putting grandpa-esque tuft of black hair that sprouts from their little ears.

I threw open as many windows as I could but the bird flew around the corner and towards the other end of the long, long hall. It knocked around in the men’s bathroom as I tried to coax it out and towards the windows but in distress it flew past me and all the way to the women’s bathroom on the other side.

Magpies are not small birds. This one had a wing span close to two feet and I knew if it kept panicking and pecking at windows we’d have a dead bird on our hands.

Grabbing a long forgotten umbrella from outside the 3-2 homeroom, I rushed down the hall.

I like to think that C saw a white blue rush past our classroom doors and finally realized that I am in fact a big weirdo. If she doesn’t know by now, she’ll have to find out soon. My days without students have come to this: finding post it notes and wrangling birds.

The Magpie was desperately pecking at one of the stall windows, beak open and panting desperately. I opened the pane next to the sink but it was too frightened to fly past me.

But I had a ridiculous umbrella in hand and the hope I wouldn’t get my eyes scratched out so I slid the bathroom door closed and inched into the stall with the window.

I am intimately familiar with this particular stall, because it’s the one that I usually choose. I can catch a breeze and even people watch while doing my business.

Wedged between the brown stall door and the toilet, I stuck the white tip of the umbrella between the inner pane and wall and pried, praying that the Magpie wouldn’t fly out and claw my face, or panic itself into a heart attack.

The outer pane was open but the inner glass pane was still shut. The bird wedged itself between the two, growing more and more agitated and I knew it would tire itself out irreversibly if it kept that up.

The window didn’t budge.

Umbrella action intensifying, I kept talking to the Magpie but I’m not sure if it helped. Maybe I should have spoken Korean.

Finally the tip wedged itself between the metal frame and window sill. I was worried about sliding the window and catching its feathers in the sliding frame in a bloody display but it had the sense, or blind panic, to raise its tail so I could wiggle the wider part of the umbrella through and finally wedge the window open. As soon as the opening was hand width the Magpie wriggled through in the blink of an eye and sailed away.

Western nursery rhymes say one magpie brings sorrow but Eastern belief holds one magpie brings luck and fortune.

As it was a Korean Magpie, I’ll hope for the latter.

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