It was while on their way to an expansive local park less than ten minutes by foot from the Ossyrians’ rented flat in order to – as Ajax touchingly put it – go on a ‘parakeet safari’ that one of the most important lessons of the entire mission to Earth was learned. The tale, as so many are, is slightly harrowing but also shot through with a strange kind of beauty…but first a (necessary) digression.
Many years earlier, according to a local taxi driver who told the tale to ‘T’, there had been a small aviary – most likely yet another of the beach town’s many amusements catering to citified tourists – that had contained a few pairs (presumably among other types of birds as well) of bright green parakeets. And the emphasis is on the word bright; lime, emerald, beryl, peridot, the colour of the shoreline Pacific at noon in the middle of August…all come to mind. Smaller than a wood pigeon but much larger than sparrows, the parakeets also had blood-red beaks that curved wickedly like their larger parrot cousins, and sky blue under-feathers on wings and long tails. They were exceptionally bold creatures, with raucous voices and sassy personalities. In fact, their loud conversations could be overheard from several meters away. According to the taxi driver’s account, one stormy night the aviary had toppled and several breeding pairs of delighted parakeets had made a wind-blown dash for freedom. Whatever the veracity of the story, it was an undeniable fact that when ‘T’ and the pair of Chihuahuas arrived in Margate there were literally hundreds (and probably thousands) of the perky invaders from unknown tropics making voracious (though beautiful) pests of themselves all over the Isle of Thanet…and that, of course, included Margate. The trees in the park near the Ossyrians’ flat made a favourite roosting place and the trio would often drop by to try and spot the birds.
It was during one of these forays, while off his lead and obliviously chasing various interesting smells through the bracken, that Alfie nearly lost his life. He had wandered quite far from ‘T’ and Ajax who, engrossed in the search for roosting parakeets, hadn’t yet noticed his absence. Suddenly a monstrous, bullet-headed Staffordshire Terrier loomed over the diminutive Chihuahua, intent on an easy, enjoyable afternoon of unspeakable violence. Its owner was lost in a cannabis-inspired reverie somewhere on the edge of the sprawling park and the big drooling dog had been free to wander wherever it pleased. The desperate shriek ripped from Alfie’s cream-coloured throat alerted his companions but they were too far away to offer any assistance and could only stare in horror as the larger dog slyly moved in for the kill. Just when it appeared that all must be lost, a complete stranger rushed up a nearby path and, positioning himself between Alfie and certain death, offered his own body as a shield. The larger dog, frustrated at being thwarted from its blood sport issued a deep throated growl…but the grim-faced stranger stood his ground. Suddenly, thrusting forward, the muscular Terrier reared up and savaged the stranger’s forearm in an enraged attempt to gain access to the petrified Chihuahua. By this time other humans, including ‘T’ (carrying Ajax in his arms safely out of harm’s way) had arrived at the scene. The Terrier’s scowling owner had also been rousted from his reverie and, grabbing his dog by the collar, cuffed it to fawning submission before both (fearful of the law) made a fast exit.
‘You’re bleeding, man!’ one of the newly arrived humans shouted. It was true; the courageous stranger’s forearm would clearly require medical attention. ‘Quick – I’ve got a car and can drive you to the QEQM (that’s Margate-speak for the local emergency room hospital) where they’ll put things right in no time.’ Alfie’s saviour smiled wanly, accepted ‘T’s breathless thanks, and scratched a very subdued black, cream, and russet Chihuahua briefly behind the ears before allowing himself to be escorted to the waiting auto.
‘If I were an Earthling,’ ‘T’ croaked, ‘I’d pour myself a stiff shot of whisky!’ Alfie, thoroughly embarrassed by all of the fuss (and still more than a little shaken), was oddly silent and refused to meet the Director’s gaze. ‘Still…’ ‘T’s thought possessed that familiar pensive quality, ‘what we just witnessed contained, after all, yet another lesson regarding the ways of these amazing people.’ ‘What do you mean, ‘T’,’ Ajax cooed. ‘Yet another safeguard of hope…a sure defender; strong and undefeatable.’ He swallowed hard, ‘it’s called sacrifice; a word that hasn’t existed in the Ossyrian vocabulary for many thousands of revolutions around the inner sun.’
‘Why,’ Ajax replied, with more than a little melancholy tinging the soft vibration of his thought, ‘do you think words like that disappeared from our language, ‘T’?’ ‘Because,’ ‘T’ replied, ‘they come from a primitive, wild, beautiful place that we have forgotten but is still very much accessible to the people of Earth; the language of the heart, one speaking to another. And, as embedded in one of their own ancient tongues, it leads to a magnificent way of living- cor agere (courage): to act with heart.’
+ + +
The beach below the tiny flat occupied by ‘T’ and the pair of Chihuahuas was packed with people. Alfie had had something of an upset stomach for the last couple of days due to the fact that he had talked ‘T’ into letting him eat an entire sticky toffee pudding; something no sane owner of a real Chihuahua would ever allow for two reasons – first, delicate canine digestive tracts and second, the fact that dogs almost never had their teeth brushed. Since the weather was beautiful – sunny and nearly warm – and Alfie finally felt much better, the three Ossyrian fact-finding agents agreed that it would be a grand idea to take a long, leisurely walk along the crowded boulevard overlooking Margate’s famous sands.
‘You know, one of the things that really strikes me about humans,’ Ajax’s expressive, amber-coloured eyes narrowed with concentration as he gazed at all of the semi-naked humans basking on the sands or frolicking in the (chilly) water, ‘is their resilient ability – no matter what other circumstances there may be – to have FUN.’ ‘You have a point there, bro,’ Alfie signalled, trotting slightly ahead, ‘and I noticed that too. I mean, they spend so much time bickering with each other, working at jobs they don’t like, worrying about any number of real or imagined insecurities, and just generally stressing out…and yet, when the day is done (and just as often when it isn’t) they always seem up for a party, or an excuse to let their hair down and just…relax. It really is extraordinary!’
Eliot’s Gazebo looking out on a more typical Margate day.
‘T’, grasping the Chihuahuas’ leads with one hand, removed a tattered notebook from a pocket of his jumper with the other. ‘I think you are on to something, guys…’ and, motioning toward an old Edwardian Era gazebo where (some say) that long ago T.S. Eliot wrote a part of his famous poem called ‘The Wasteland’, signalled that they should take a break so he could jot down some notes.
When ‘T’ had finished scribbling in his log the Chihuahuas were eager to know what kind of fresh insight had brightened the Director’s agile mind. ‘So, boss,’ Alfie’s thought-tone crackled with interest, ‘things on the home worlds are generally serene, invariably healthy, tepidly happy, and never unjust. There is very little sadness, a lot of gladness…but rip roaring JOY is a rare commodity. Ossyrians almost never laugh (nor do they cry), and the word fun doesn’t exist in our vocabulary, why is that?’ ‘Because there is no antithesis,’ ‘T’ whispered enigmatically, ‘and, in a very similar way, that irrepressible hope for which this species is so renowned depends on the very same thing.’