The Green Bean

Themba Lewis

In 1982 I was a diplomat’s kid in Kathmandu, Nepal. I lived in Kalimati, opposite Lincoln School and down from the Rana Palace that now housed the Nepal office of USAID, hundreds of murmuring pigeons, and the occasional predatory owl (and requisite rodent prey). I lived in Takura House, an awkwardly architectured concrete and brick block, painted yellow, with a flat roof perfect for kite-flying and housing our rabbits, Lopsy, the tough one, and Funnybunny, docile and lacking in personality, but easier to catch and pet.

Kite-flying was a dangerous thrill. We heard often of other kids like us, broken or killed when they fell from rooftops in the heat of kite battling. We coated our string with tapioca paste and powered glass and cut any other kites we could from the sky, watching them float and spin downward when we won, and reeling in hundreds of meters of kite string across rice paddies and neighborhood rooftops when we didn’t. The battles themselves could mean running and pulling at the kite string, forcing it upward or outward, dodging an adversary working to encircle the line. Inevitably a troop of the younger kids would strike off to recover any fallen kites, tearing through the rice paddies and overgrown fields barefoot or nearly so. A cut kite, after all, was fair game to whomever might recover it, and a good fighter, even if cut, would happily be used again with some alterations and repairs.

The monkeys came often, sitting along our back yard wall and scavenging leftover rice or other offerings at the Puja place at the base of the sturdy tree at one corner of the yard. The wall had been diverted around the trunk to ensure the tree remained publicly accessible, and the brass bell rang regularly, and incense burned, throughout the day as walking commuters passed.

But this is meant to be the story of Green Bean. A story I have tried to write before, but which has never come out quite right. Perhaps it’s the nature of the story itself, or the time, or the telling. How does someone recreate such a specific place and time as Nepal, in the early eighties, as a seven-year-old boy? Perhaps that is best left to the imagination of the reader, suffice it to say it was magical world of giant serpents and two-faced gods, living goddesses and animal sacrifices; thick warm sticky blood on the sidewalks and walls. I had seen a lady in her fine sari slip on goat’s blood at a temple in the rain once and fall, almost comically, into a pool of blood so thick she had trouble coming to her feet again, and when she did, she was covered with the dark slime. I remember the sound of the kukhuri blades slicing living necks. It was a clean and visceral sound. A swishing noise that you could feel in your body. I remember the eyes of the decapitated sitting open in heads placed aside while bodies convulsed and twitched on the pavement, blood collected in bowls. Rice and tika powder at the ready for mixing and wearing.

The memories are too numerous, the tangents too many, for a descriptive telling of the Green Bean tale, so I’ll just begin where I should: Green Bean was a small, solid green, Himalayan parrot. I do not know the origins of Green Bean, nor do I know his fate, but I know that I was part of a great transition in his life, and he in mine. In fact, I don’t even know if he was, indeed, ‘him’. I like to hope that his days after those that intersected with mine were the best in his short life – although I hope, in terms of parrot life spans, that he did quite well.

Green Bean had not been hatched in captivity, of that I am reasonably sure. But where he had been born, I do not know. I think now about the Terai, the hot, dry, tiger and elephant infested lowlands along the Indian border. I had heard Green Bean had been captured there and loaded on a truck, likely Tata, for the grueling, and no-doubt overloaded, journey along the winding seasick road up the mountains and back down again into the markets of the Kathmandu valley – the valley that had, before the folkloric legends with their mighty blades sliced a pass in the sheer mountains themselves, allowing the waters and serpents to flow into oblivion like a great drain, been a vast inland sea.

I imagine Green Been in a bamboo box, maybe even an up-turned doko, in the noisy city, poked at by children and eyed by prowling and hungry cats. My imagination fails at this point, but I can tell you what I do know: Green Bean ended up under the care of Cass Estes, 4th grader and tomboy, who could not, for whatever reason, continue to care for him, and thus he came to Takura House in Kalimati.

Green Bean was given free access to our second-floor screened porch, which jutted off the corner of my parent’s bedroom, screened on two sides, from floor to ceiling. The porch made quite the aviary, lined by a railing upon which Green Bean could sit and look out, and large enough to fly across with considerable airtime. Green Bean sat through readings of The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe and all of the Roald Dahl favorites. He called and chirped at us when we played in the yard below, flying to and from his favorite spots, darting, at times, from one end of the aviary to the other. He became comfortable on that porch, and watched with neither apprehension nor fear when we would emerge into his domain, monopolizing the chair and table for our reading sessions, drinking fresh lemon soda as the sun slowly set. I had never seen another parrot like Green Bean in Nepal, and in the absence of kin, he became comfortable with us, eyeing the squawking and disheveled crows noisily perched in the trees that lined the yard, and the kites – of the predatory bird variety – circling at great height overhead, searching for rodents and smaller birds (like Green Bean) that might make easy prey if set-upon by surprise, at high speed, from above.

Green Bean came to recognize us, and would become visibly excited when I climbed up over the perimeter wall and thumped to the ground in our yard, home from school. A series of bubbling whistles and chirps would start as I picked myself up and walked towards the back door, past our garden and the Puja place. I’d drop my backpack at the door and climb the wide staircase over the laundry area up to the second floor, down the hall, through the bedroom, and out onto the porch. Green Bean would chirp and tilt his head. And it continued like this for many days, until one day, which, on the outset, seemed just like any other.

On that day I came home as normal, pulling myself up the brick wall until I could get one leg over, swinging my body around, careful to avoid the broken glass sunk into the top of the wall as a (clearly ineffective) deterrent for those tempted to scale it, and dropping into our yard. I walked, as was routine, to the backdoor and up the stairs. I had no reason to suspect anything different from Green Bean, so I could not have fathomed what I was about to find.

I crossed the bedroom to the far corner and slowly opened the door to the screen porch, careful, as I had become, to be aware of Green Bean in the case that he was just behind the door, in danger of being knocked by it. But Green Bean was not behind the door. Instead I saw him at the far corner of the porch, pacing the ground anxiously, distracted, agitated, barely cognizant of my presence.

Then I saw them.

Green Bean cranked his head toward me and chirped, then turned back again, peering out through the thin screen, to the world beyond. I heard another chirp, and another, and another, swelling into a cacophony of sound. Little green parrots lined the narrow outer ledge of the porch in their multitudes, one against the other, jostling for balance and position, tilting their heads watching me. Their calls were echoed by yet even more, in the trees that lined our property. As I stepped onto the porch I saw, to my astonishment, green parrots in the hundreds, swarming the branches and limbs, chattering and popping, playing and singing in the treetops. The crows had gone, and the parrots had come.

Green Bean, I said, looking at him, pressed as he was against the screen, beak to beak with an identical looking wild mirror image of himself on the outside. He looked back as I walked over, watching me move towards him. Green Bean, I said again, bending down and picking him up carefully in my hands, feeling his warmth and delicate body through his feathers. I brought his face to mine. You want to go?

Without thinking I was through the door with Green Bean in hand, and down the hall. Up again, two short flights, to the rooftop door. I pushed it hard with my shoulder and it swung open with force. Lopsy and Funnybunny took little notice. The parrots were here too. They crossed the sky and alighted, briefly, on the roof as I walked to the edge over the screened porch, adjacent to our solar water heaters. I stood for a moment with Green Bean, and we both looked out at the trees. This was the best thing I had ever done for him, I thought to myself, and the best thing I could do for him. One of the best things I’d ever done, period. I opened my hands.

Green Bean crossed the yard he had so long watched us play in, before landing in a tree branch. Before long I couldn’t tell him from the rest, and within an hour all the parrots had gone, and they never returned. Wherever they went, Green Bean had also gone.

They had taken him.

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