My brother, whether he realises it or not, is still at one with his roots. His current residence is in Didcot, five miles south of Oxford, a top floor flat of a two-storey apartment that nestles amongst red-bricked houses with brown window frames. If you look at his housing estate on Google maps, it bears anatomical resemblance to a heart, with a main road for an artery that feeds off into little capillary cul de sacs. Here he lives with content, over five hours’ drive from the nearest family member. My brother is unmoved by places and locations. It’s not that he particularly likes living in suburbia; it’s more that the things about suburbia that people loathe, or admire and are drawn to, simply aren’t of interest to him.
At least they don’t seem to be of interest to him. It can be hard to tell sometimes.
The red kites didn’t seem to interest him, not even the one I saw out of his lounge window, patrolling the suburb with bent head, its wings and tail forming angles unfamiliar to me.
“But look at it! It’s incredible! And it’s rare!” For me, this Red Kite was a big deal; only the third I’d ever seen, the first two being sighted on the way here as they flew over the M40. In the 16th century, the Kite was persecuted to the edge of extinction in the British Isles for being verminous, and then in the 19th century, when their numbers were so low, it was pursued for being rare and valuable. Egg collectors all but wiped them out, leaving only a handful left to breed in Wales. After around a hundred years of conservation efforts, the Red Kite is now enjoying some resurgence, particularly in this area of England.
“You think every bird is a Red Kite,” he replied good-humouredly, turning back to his PS3.
The following morning after breakfast, I slipped out. I’d sighted a straight concrete path from the bathroom window and had decided to go looking for it. The houses were silent; around them, the scrubby spots of hedges and trees turning to bud were noisy with sparrows and blackbirds. Crossing a road, I found the path and was led through a small grassy park, into cul de sacs that themselves held paths to other cul de sacs. I was soon lost in the capillaries.
The Kite I’d seen yesterday was already patrolling its patch, floating with a calm rigidity a few metres above the rooftops. Much has been said about these birds of prey and their striking long, forked tails; less has been said about the fact that the toy of the same name that’s cast into the air and held up by the wind was so called because of the manner of the bird’s flight. There was something arresting about how the bird above me used its tail to feel its way and lock into the wind’s unseen gusts and fluctuating thermals – it was if it were double jointed. As it swung and paused directly over my head, for several, separate split seconds, it seemed to lose its sense of animation; it was, in one and the same moment, a bird and the semblance of a bird; in flight, and suspended in flight. I had an urge to test the tautness of tightened string, and I felt my thumbs twitch deep in my coat pocket.
It was magical. I stared up at it; it didn’t stare back, but continued to monitor the cul de sac, eyes keen for carrion, perhaps, or a spilt bin bag. I suddenly felt sorry for it. Such a creature, I thought, should be scanning fields and hedgerows. Looking around me at the tarmac, the red bricks and the brown window frames, I felt a familiar and directionless sense of guilt.
The bird disappeared from view. I remained standing there for a few moments, suspended as if in fluid. And as I stood there I wondered whether, if I ever came back to these parts, I would become more like my brother, and in time not bother to raise my head at the Kites that carved their way through the Oxfordshire skies.