I watch the lorikeets as they fly in search of a tree to settle in, wavering, hovering like a rainbow-coloured constellation as they tick off their selection criteria one by one. Shady spot, fairly dense foliage, enough protection from possible rainfall, not too close to walls so predators can spring unannounced.
As they choose a large scribbly gum the squabbling begins. The higher branches are the more favoured positions. Wings jostle like elbows, beaks snap at unsuspecting tail feathers, there is pushing and shoving; all the intrigue of a proper drama series is there.
I wonder how the lorikeets establish their pecking order. Is former bad behaviour taken into account? Are there some birds who don’t pull their weight or go against the wishes of the flock? Is consideration valued over strength? Is courage valued above compliance?
As my son and I watched he said that birds are nothing like people. The leaders are leaders because they look out for the group as a whole, not just for themselves. The group is just as important as one single bird. He said that humans decide who is important in a different way – by how big your house is, or what type of car you have, or how much money you earn. It’s all about being better than everyone else, not working hard to make sure the group is the best it can be. I was afraid my son was turning into a cynic until I discovered how he had come to this conclusion.
My friend, Ellena, and I have been friends for over 20 years. We have gone through so much together but lately our relationship has been strained due to her husband’s infidelity. She has caught him with other women, thrown him out, and taken him back four times. The aftermath of his infidelity is exhausting. Ellena freely admits that one of the reasons she can’t let him go is because of his massive salary. They have a very nice life. Holiday house. Boat. Bulging share portfolio. An apartment for his mistress.
How she is able to turn a blind eye to his other life without falling apart is a story for another day but one of the reasons is she doesn’t want to deny her children a lifetime of golden opportunities. They go to two of the top schools in Sydney. Their combined school fees are in excess of $60,000 per year which is just about what Alfie and I take home to our meagre little rented household.
Ellena invited us over for a party on Boxing Day. Jake didn’t want to go. He had plans to watch the cricket. We were invited over again on New Year’s Eve. Jake didn’t want to go, he wanted to watch the fireworks down at the Harbour. Jake and Ellena’s kids grew up together. For about 7 or 8 years they were inseparable so I was surprised he turned down two invitations in a row to see them. I thought they might have had a little tiff. Sometimes Jake can be oversensitive and fall out with people because they’ve said they didn’t like what he was wearing or he’s hopeless at football; but I sensed there was something more to it than that.
As we watched the birds, Jake admitted there was a problem with his old friends. Jake is going into the sixth grade this year. In 2009 he will be starting High School. Seems Ellena’s son was quite scathing about the fact that Jake was ‘far too poor’ to attend his posh school. Ellena’s daughter was equally scathing about Jake’s future career prospects claiming he would just end up working in a shop like his Dad, while her brother would be a corporate lawyer or an investment banker. ‘I can’t forgive them,’ Jake said.’ They think they are better than me because their Dad has more money than mine. That’s not being a true friend.’
It’s hard putting my relationship with my old friend on hold for the moment but I feel Jake has a right to his indignation. Does a true friend love you for what you have or for who you are?
As I watch the lorikeets settle to sleep, I notice how the smaller ones cosy up to the larger ones. Wings are extended as they gather together, the pecking order forgotten.There is a calm within the ranks as the garden changes colour and drowsy feathers fluff. Together, they are one. I realise that as humans, we still have a lot to learn.