Excerpt of A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
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'Ah yes,' said Rose Mbikwa, looking up
at the large dark bird with elegant tail
soaring high above the car park of the
Nairobi Museum, 'a black kite. Which is,
of course, not black but
Mr Malik smiled. How many times had he
heard Rose Mbikwa say those words?
Almost as many times as he had been on
the Tuesday morning bird walk.
You never know exactly how many kinds of
birds you will see on the Tuesday
morning bird walk of the East African
Society but you can be sure to see a
kite. Expert scavengers, they thrive on
the detritus of human society in and
around Nairobi. At
his first school sports day (how many
years ago was that now - could it really
be fifty?) Mr Malik remembered little of
the sprinting and javelin throwing and
fathers' sack race but he would never
forget the kite which swooped down from
nowhere to snatch a devilled chicken leg
from his very hand. He could still
recall the brush of feathers against his
face and that single moment when as the
bird's talons closed around the prize
its yellow eye looked into his. Of
course it wasn't quite accurate to say
that he had no memories of the javelin
throwing. Few would forget the incident
with the Governor General's wife's corgi.
There was already a good turnout. Seated
along the low wall in front of the
museum a gaggle of Young Ornithologists
(YOs), mostly students training to be
tourist guides, chattered and preened.
The Old Hands were also out in force.
Joan Baker and Hilary
Fotherington-Thomas were leaning against
a car talking to a couple of pink-faced
men, one bearded, whose pocket-infested
khaki clothing instantly identified them
as tourists and their accents as
Australian. Standing furtively to one
side were Patsy King and Jonathan Evans.
They had been carrying on their Tuesday
morning affair for almost two years now
and though Mr Malik had never had an
affair, he supposed that a certain
furtiveness was necessary to achieve
full satisfaction in these things. The
two were an unlikely match. Imagine a
giraffe, towering above the wide
savannah. Now imagine a warthog. But Mr
Malik was used to seeing the lanky
figure of Patsy King striding along road
or track, her 10 x 50 binoculars
one large hand, with Jonathan Evans
trotting along beside her. To Mr Malik
they seemed, like members of his own
family, no longer remarkable.
Keeping himself to himself as usual was
Thomas Nyambe. He was standing with
his back to the crowd, looking up
towards the sky, entranced. Mr Nyambe
loved birds, and had been coming to the
bird walks even longer than Mr Malik.
Tuesday was his rostered morning off
from his job as government driver. A
driver in Kenya is seldom paid enough to
afford a car of his own, so as usual Mr
Nyambe had walked to the museum from his
home in Factory Road, just behind the
railway station. As usual Mr
Malik would offer him a lift to wherever
they were going that day.
A bang and a rattle and a loud curse
through an open window announced the
arrival of Tom Turnbull driving over the
speed bump in his yellow Morris Minor
(the speed bump had been there over a
year now but still it took him by
surprise). He opened the door of the
car, got out, and slammed it. He cursed,
opened the door, and slammed it again.
The distant town hall clock struck nine.
'Good morning and welcome,' said Rose.
All conversation ceased, all heads turned.
'I see a few new faces here - and many
old ones - but I welcome all of you to
the Tuesday morning bird walk. My name
is Rose Mbikwa.'
Mr Malik had got used to it by now, the
transformation of Rose's normal low
contralto speaking voice into her public
voice of distance-shrinking volume and
clarity. Rose looked around the group,
nodding here and smiling there, then
conferred again with the young woman who
had earlier pointed out the kite.
Excerpted from A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
by Nicholas Drayson. Copyright © 2008 by Nicholas Drayson . Excerpted by
permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.