In this memory, I am five years old. April turns into May. As the pink cherry blossom flowers rain on the ground and the baby green leaves start appearing on the tree branches, new excitement arrives in our community of tiny half-dilapidated apartments – swallows.
Just outside of our community’s premise, among the many neighbourhood shops is a meat shop called Endo. One day, on our way back from kindergarten, somebody calls out.
“Look, birds’ nests!”
When I look up, there are a few places right under the roof of Endo meat shop where round things are attached. I have never seen birds’ nests before. I have only heard of them in my storybooks.
“What birds?” Somebody asks.
“Those are swallows,” one of the adults replies. “They are laying eggs inside the nests!”
As I watch, a few birds fly back and go inside the round objects under the roof. First, I am surprised to see the elegant way in which these black-coloured birds fly. What a difference from the crows! Then, I am also surprised that there is enough space inside for these birds to go in because the nest does not look very large.
In Japanese, swallows are called Tsubame. The word is a little hard to pronounce correctly. My little brother, who is also watching the birds eagerly, calls it Tsunabe.
Everybody’s gaze is now fixed on the birds flying in and out of the nest.
“They are parent birds,” somebody explains. “They are protecting their eggs. Soon, there will be baby birds!”
From that day on, we all look forward to seeing the swallows under the roof of Endo meat shop. Over the course of the next few weeks, we see one of the nests attacked and destroyed by crows, then, we watch little heads of chicks peeking from the remaining nests, their mouths opening and closing eagerly for food. Quickly, the chicks grow into birds with dark blue feathers and white tummies. They practice flying, and in no time, we find the nests empty.
“When will they come back?” Somebody asks.
“We will see them again next year,” the adults answer. “Let’s hope they will come back here!”
At home, my brother keeps talking about his tsunabe. He already looks forward to seeing them again next summer.