“You’re nothing but a birdbrain!” Sam yelled. The boys behind him laughed as they all ran away.
Their cackling reminded Tami of grackles. “That’s not an insult!” she shouted at their fleeing backs. They didn’t turn around. “It’s not,” she said to herself. The tears in her eyes said otherwise.
She turned and walked the other way, away from the boys, the broken blacktop, and the walls where their taunts echoed. There were no birds ever on campus except for the occasional turkey vulture circling lazily overhead or seagulls lining the flat roofs of the buildings before the storms rolled in.
It wasn’t her fault. The birds had called to her since she could follow them, toddling along behind them. They waited for her and, if she was quiet and very still, one would sometimes alight on her shoulder and chatter in her ear. They told her stories and tried to teach her songs. She remembered the stories, but could never get the songs correct. The birds said it was because humans’ throats weren’t made right, but they still loved her.
“Why are you crying?” the bullfinch flitted by her ear asked as Tami turned up the street towards home.
“Not crying.” She wiped the back of her hand over her eyes.
“Of course, but why are you sad? Are you sad your flock is gone?”
Tami looked up at the bullfinch and frowned. “I don’t have a flock.”
“Not those boys?”
She snorted. “No, they were making fun of me.”
“Birdbrain is not an insult. We are quite intelligent.”
She nodded. “But humans use it as an insult.”
The bullfinch didn’t answer, but didn’t fly away either. It stayed until Tami reached her house. “I must go talk to the others.”
“Stay safe,” Tami said and watched until the bullfinch was not even a speck in the sky.
The next day after school, the taunts began, again.
“Birdbrain!” they yelled. The other students in the yard hurried away.
The group of boys didn’t run away laughing, but began following Tami and her heart sped faster as their footsteps grew closer.
“Leave me alone,” she said to her feet and hurried down the street, pulling the straps of her backpack tighter.
“Come back, birdbrain!”
Just as she pushed off to begin her desperate sprint away, she heard a cry behind her. No, not a cry. A deafening roar of hundreds of bullfinches, their chirps and songs combining into a mighty bellow. Tami turned around and saw the boys stopped in their tracks like frozen deer as the bellowing of bullfinches circled overhead, casting a shadow of a roiling raincloud.
The first bird dove and struck its stocky beak against the crown of Sam’s head. He cried out and tried to hit the bird, but he was too slow. Another bird dove down and struck another boy on the head, pulling out a strand of brown hair as if it were straw for a nest. Then the bullfinches called as one and a wave descended on the boys, who cried out and began running away.
And Tami laughed, tears running down her face, hands white from clenching her backpack straps so tight. She watched the bellowing of bullfinches chase the boys until she could no longer see either group. When she got home, there was a bullfinch waiting for her in the yard.
“Thank you,” she said. She’d have liked to say more, but would have ended up crying, which always seemed to confuse the birds.
The bird seemed to smile, but that was of course just her imagination. “You never have to thank your flock. We are a flock.” Then the bullfinch flew away and Tami waved until at last she was waving only to the sky.