The eagle looks small, folded rather like an origami peace crane. She’s used to seeing those dark silhouettes standing defiantly on the road, feasting on roadkill. Sometimes from a distance they look as tall as men, guarding their carrion treasure. Anyone who has watched eagles soaring high, or perched majestically in a skeletal tree, surveying their territory, must agree that they are the royalty of our skies.
This one is not so imposing, its injured body lying on the roadside scree, feathers fanning so disjoint and sere. It nonetheless remains a predatorial machine. Its folded wings are dark chocolate, shoulders burly as a kangaroo; its hooked beak resembles a dinosaur’s claw; its legs look oversized, exaggerated by feathered pantaloons; its talons, large as her own fingers, capable of piercing a body as easily as a knife through a ripe fig.
She can’t bear the thought of it dying out here, being picked over by the other birds, lizards, ants and maggots.
‘I’ll take you, Eagle.’
She covers its eyes in a soft cloth, and wraps it in a light cotton sarong. There is no struggle. The eagle is lighter than she thinks. She lays it gently on the back seat of her car and drives to the closest town almost one hundred kilometres away.
The vet says it’s touch and go. Wedge-tailed eagles are a protected species so they’ll try to save it. He says eagles nearly always have a lifelong mate who will be at risk now too. This one will require rehabilitation, and that’s no mean feat with a bird of this power.
That night she sleeps in a run down fifty-dollar-a-night motel. She dreams of the eagle as if it’s her minder, her spirit, her creation ancestor. In her dream she flies over the land, sees its colour and topography. She hears whistling and yelping and she’s looking everywhere—her vision has become circumferential and piercingly sharp. She spies smaller birds and animals below but she’s not hunting for food. She’s only hunting for one thing, calling, calling, calling his name.
But she only hears distressed whistling and screeching, whistling and screeching.
And then she realises it’s her own voice.
The morning comes and she’s back on the road. The eagle has survived the night but has broken a wing and is missing flight feathers. It could take months.
She has to find him, tell him to hang on.
So she’s driving back now. Back to the scene of the accident, roughly one hundred kilometres through the harsh gibber plains and painted hills. So many bodies—cattle, roos, reptiles, birds—littered along this death-route. She fears she won’t know which one to stop near.
But almost on the click of one hundred, she sees a striking shape in the arms of a solitary bloodwood tree. She pulls up immediately, cuts the engine and steps from her vehicle.
His head turns like a mechanical doll in the Christmas windows.
She decides to speak to him from here.
‘She has a broken wing. She’ll be coming back, I promise. I’ll bring her back myself if I have to.’
The eagle watches, listens, hopefully understands.
She stares into his eyes, desperately trying to push her brain waves telepathically into him.
He shakes his feathers out, extends his broad wings and takes to the air. She can almost feel the rhythmic whop whop whop of his wings where she stands. It matches her contracting heart.