“The Boy Who Killed Birds”

Karla Villarreal


He was seven years old and it ended when he was seventeen. According to the notebooks found in his closet, the boy killed five thousand three hundred twenty-one birds. To tally the oviparous murders must have been easy for him, but to count the tally from early years was frustrating, for there are traces of dirt and sweat. The boy as a man shall not appear in this space and time, hence, it is in the reader’s consideration his whereabouts. What I can report is that today, on this small Mexican beach, the sky seems very blue and the trees very quiet. Wherever the reader thinks the boy is now, what matters to me, the investigator, (and should to the reader) is —and let me prescind from adjectives for the sake of mystery— the reasons why.

*

“Today I killed a bird,” his diary reads, “and it felt good.” He was seven years old then and his vowels were stiff and squared. His mother, who with a mixture of kindness and skepticism served strong iced coffee and cookies, stared at me somewhat concerned across the humble table. “No one goes to jail for killing birds, right?”

Out the window, the warm wind whispered to the palm trees, and the waves to the rocks.

I wanted to shake my head, but my PETA name tag was proudly pinned to my chest. The whole reason why I was there was to take this man, once a boy, a bird killer, to trial. Someone heard about him, and the company sent me over to Mexico to investigate the case. “You know Spanish, you go and bring back a story. This is an unprecedented one,” my boss told me a few weeks ago. Neither of us knew how to proceed or react; no one had ever gone to jail for killing birds. But then again, this boy had killed five thousand three hundred twenty-one birds. That made him a serial bird killer.  

“Let’s hear the story. I’m ready when you are,” I redirected the conversation and took a sip of coffee.

*

The boy, who will be called such throughout the story, started shooting birds down on his backyard. “I was a single mother working as a baker in the early mornings, a housekeeper during the afternoon, and a cook in the evening,” the boy’s mother said. “I hardly ever had enough hours of sleep, so I clearly remember that I thought I’d finally gone crazy when one day I stepped into the backyard after my last shift, and found eight dead birds spread across. It was a terrifying scene. Each one of the tiny creatures was being crawled on by ants. Panicking, I ran to the laundry room to get the broom. I put all eight birds and ants into a black plastic bag and placed it outside, where the garbage man was to pick it up in the morning.”

“How did you find out it was the boy who did it?”

“At first I thought a bigger animal killed them, but then I found a wooden slingshot on the terrace. Later, in his bedroom, I found a collection of heavy and pointy stones. He came home from school and I asked if he had killed the birds. He said, yes, mom, I did, and when I asked why, he said, because they deserved it.”

“Did he say why?”

“No,” the boy’s mother said with her eyes wrinkled in hopelessness, “He ended up saying he wouldn’t do it again after I told him it wasn’t right to kill animals.”

“But he didn’t stop,” I said.

The woman shook her head.

“Why are you here, again?” she asked, her throat filled with nervousness.

I smiled and took a sip of coffee, hoping she’d forget the question. But then she insisted with her facial expression.

“I just find your son’s story interesting, and would like to know the details.”

The woman nodded slowly, looking at her feet.

Again, out the window, the wind kissed the palm trees, and the waves the rocks.

“So, when did you find that big bag everyone talks about?” I asked, remembering the first thing I heard about the boy’s case.

She looked up at me, imploring me to move on to the next question. But then she sighed in surrender.

“It wasn’t one bag,” she said. “My boy was little; he didn’t know what to do with the dead birds. Instead of stopping killing them, he began to accumulate them in plastic bags which he hid in this old garage we didn’t use. One would think the smell could let one know about the dead birds, but no. It wasn’t until I saw a thin viscous line of worms shaking underneath the garage door that I knew what my boy had done.”

I had to contain my nausea.

“What happened next?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you open the garage door?

“Well, of course, lady, what is wrong with you?”

I smiled nervously.

“I called El Tipuk, the gardener of the house where I was a housekeeper. I told him: bring your heaviest material and bring that big truck of yours; also bring venom and latex gloves and masks.”

An orange-pink light bathed a corner of the house. The sun was setting.

“He came, thank God. El Tipuk always comes. Four bags full of ants, worms, skeletons, feathers, and blood were rotting the plastic. It was a nightmare. Never in my life had I felt more disgust or fear. I could only think my boy will be a human murderer when he grows up. He is only ten and has killed more than one thousand innocent, tiny brown birds. Poor Tipuk threw up three times and had to clean it by himself, as I was in a complete state of panic. The boy came home when El Tipuk was finishing loading the truck. I couldn’t tell him anything but, please, stop. He only nodded. I confiscated all the weapons and potential weapons I found, but nothing stopped him. His determination was outstanding. He just wanted to kill birds—all the birds.”

The orange-pink light was bathing my feet now.

“Do you mind if we step outside?” I asked. I wanted to see the prominent sky illuminating the ocean and the very few birds that had survived this boy’s hunt.

She said better let us go to the terrace, as we’d have a more beautiful view there. We climbed the outer stairs. The orange sunset filled my whole body with peace. The sea was tranquil and sliding; the waves breaking; the children playing; the old couples walking; some people standing still, taking pictures or simply breathing in the salty air.

“So, ma’am,” I uttered.

“Yes, miss?”

“What happened next?”

“He continued drawing little lines on his notebook. He got rid of the dead birds; he hid them here and there; he buried some; he threw them to the ocean. He became so good at it, the whole thing scared me to death. One day his teacher called me to see his art projects; it was blood and vengeance and darkness. He was growing darker and lonelier and sadder. But he never spoke. He was like his dad.”

I nodded.

“It never occurred to me,” she suddenly exclaimed. I turned to see her; the sun was almost completely hidden, but yet his rays were filling us with bliss. “That he was doing it because of the lie.”

“What lie?”

She looked at me with one brow arched.

“You don’t know why he did it?”

“No, that’s what I’ve been asking.”

She took a deep breath. The rays were more dispersed now. I always hated the short duration of the sunset.

“On his high school graduation, he came to me and said, Mother, I want to go to Germany. He said he had read about the Holocaust and he was intrigued. I thought, this boy is crazy, he wants to kill people now, like the Nazis did. I was terrified, lady, completely spooked. But then it hit me; my boy was becoming a murderer because of my fault. I had to tell him the truth.”

“What truth?”

“I told him, Son, your father didn’t die from streptococcus. He had the AIDS, but I couldn’t say it, because people would have banished us from the town.”

“Excuse me?”

“Streptococcus is an illness sometimes carried by birds—you didn’t know?”

I shook my head. And suddenly realized we were in complete darkness. The ocean seemed to have grown stronger and louder.

“So you’re saying the boy thought birds had killed his father?”

“Yes, lady,” she said and started crying. “Now look at the sky, the trees. We barely have birds anymore. All because of me. He was sad and bitter and vengeful for ten years, lady. All because of me.”

I put my arm around her shoulders.

*

I was to stay in the town for a week. The first four days were to be dedicated to the collection of facts and proofs; friday’s objective was to find this man, once a boy, and kindly ask him to present himself in court. The weekend was designated for my pleasure and rest. Yet, it was my first day, and I couldn’t wait to go back home.  

In the morning, before heading to the airport, I went to visit the boy’s mother. She was as alone as the birdless sky.

“Ma’am, I forgot to ask,” I said, drinking my iced coffee. She nodded. “How’s your son?”

She smiled hopefully.

“He seems fine. He has not killed a bird in twenty-two years.”

The sun was rising. Bright and strong.

Fiction piece by Karla Villarreal