“Stop pushing, Milly. You’ll like to heave me clean out the other side.”
“Hell’s bells, Helen…get your ample derriere up in that rickshaw. My book says we need to be in the park early.” To demonstrate her superior knowledge of ornithology, Milly proudly held up The Book of Indian Birds, written by Salim Ali—the ‘Birdman of India.’
Milly and Helen have been friends since grade school. And after ten years of widowhood, they decided to explore a new adventure together—bird watching. Never one to do anything halfway, Milly convinced Helen that they had to travel to Keoladeo Ghana National Park to observe the last known pair of Central Siberian Crane, found only in India.
So there they were, two women in their early-eighties, climbing into a cycle-rickshaw driven by Rattan, eager to explore the twenty-eight square kilometer park of wetland, woodland, grass and scrubs.
“Now remember, Rattan, I have a list of what we absolutely must see. We did not travel 8,000 miles to be disappointed—and we won’t leave until we’ve seen at least 150 different species of birds.” Milly extracted the itinerary from her book, retrieved reading spectacles from her pocket, and began enumerating endemic birds as Rattan pedaled into the park.
“The Siberian Crane is first…”
“Excuse, Miss Milly, but crane has not seen in five years.” Milly ignored Rattan and his broken English, and proceeded with her recitation.
“…the Greylag Goose—and we need to make them fly so we can hear their honking—the Dalmatian Pelican, although I don’t know why they call it that because it hardly looks like a Dalmatian to me…does it to you, Helen?” Milly thrust the bird book toward Helen, but did not wait for a response before continuing.
“…the Greater Painted Snipe—the female is the colorful one, which is just the opposite of all other bird species, doncha know. And remember snipe hunts at camp, Helen? We’d laugh ourselves silly watching new campers holding their bags all night long, waiting for imaginary snipes. Lands alive—I never knew there was such a thing as a real snipe until we became learned ornithologists.”
“Oh hush, Milly, let someone else talk, for pity sakes.” Helen interrupted Milly’s one-way conversation to voice her own wishes. “Rattan, I would like to see oodles of eagles. My Harold loved eagles, and I know he would find the Crested Serpent Eagle fascinating.” Helen peered through Bushnell binoculars, scanning the skies and treetops for signs of one of the magnificent birds of prey.
“Speaking of serpents, I also made a list of what we do not wish to see.” Commanding center stage again, Milly produced a second list from a different book. “Under no circumstances do we want to encounter any snakes or other slimy reptiles known to inhabit this park. According to my Indian reptile book, that would include cobras, vipers, kraits, wolf snakes, blind snakes, checkered keel backs, sand boas, various lizards, and skinks. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing the forest calote—the picture looks beautiful, don’t you think, Helen?”
Milly shoved the reptile book toward Helen, causing her to jump back and shriek in response.
“For lands sake, no. You said there would be no creepy-crawly things on this trip, and now you’ve gone and rattled off half-a-dozen vermin. Why did I ever let you talk me into this?” Helen cautiously eyed the foliage around them and shimmied her generous physique to the center of the rickshaw.
“Hell’s bells, Helen, pipe down. I’ll tell Rattan to stay plum away from Python Point.”
“Python Point?!” Helen’s ear-splitting screech caused a gaggle of Greylag Geese to take flight in front of the rickshaw, resulting in Rattan momentarily losing his balance and colliding with a rock—or rather, an eighteen foot python curled up in the sun.
Helen’s horrendous howling competed with the loud, cackling kiYAAA-ga-ga call of the geese, while Milly stood gaping at a den of Indian pythons in various sunning positions—some looking like logs, others resembling small boulders.
“Oh sweet Jesus in heaven. Deliver us from this brood of vipers and I promise to never make fun of the ladies sewing circle again. And I’ll volunteer in the nursery. And I’ll stop saying hell’s bells—even though I don’t think that’s really swearing.”
“Miss Milly, we go see Cuckoo-dove now?”
Before Milly could reply, Helen rose to her feet and thundered, ”Hell’s bells, no, Rattan. Just pedal like the dickens and get me out of this serpent-infested country!”
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