'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 Ornithological 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 enveloped in 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.
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