Now I know why birds sit on telephone lines. They listen.
I am either nine or ten years old. At the orphanage they call me Miguel.
When I want to feel important, I say, “Call me Don Miguel.”
I used to act important all the time because I felt I wasn’t.
Back then no one liked me very much because I didn’t like other people.
But last year, I began to learn two important things: I was learning to see, not just look. And I was learning to listen, not just hear.
I used to lie in the dark and make up relatives that I didn’t have. My favorite relative was a nice old man who spoke Spanish, like me.
One day a man came to see me. He said he was my uncle.
“I don’t have an uncle,” I said.
“Now you do,” he said.
He was an old man who liked children. He had a boy once who went to Korea. His daughter moved to the city. He said the city can be a difficult place in which to live. He taught me how to see and listen. I don’t know if he is my uncle or not; neither did he, but he came to see me often. I guess if you act like an uncle all the time, you are one. I was mot a good student before my uncle came along. He took me walking in the fields. At one point he spread his arms and said, “It is all here.”
“What?” I said.
“Everything you need to know,” he replied.
At first it appeared to be nothing more than just a few trees. I thought I was nowhere.
Then he had me close my eyes. First I heard the breeze in the grass, then in the trees. I also heard a faraway train and a barking dog. For a while I heard nothing. I was almost scared, he said to listen harder.
I heard my heart beat.
Because I used to be so sad, I had almost forgotten that I had a heart.
Once I asked him who he was.
“An experiment,” he said.
He grinned and said, “Nobody knows. Like you, there is no one in the world like me. So who is to say what I will be.”
One day in the field he showed me the way the breeze made the trees move. The rustling of the leaves made a sound that frightened a nearby bird. It flew away.
We watched the bird drop an acorn.
“The bird,” he said, “can make a seed move. From that seed the oak can grow fifty feet tall. It will be a friend to those who want one.”
I always knew that trees were there, but I never knew they were real like me.
One Sunday I was angry. When my uncle came, I said: “I don’t have anything. I wish I had something.”
“You have everything worth having,” he said. “And I will give you even more. I will give some secrets of the universe. Do you believe me?”
“Yes,” I said, wanting to believe him.
He gave me three small seeds.
“Put each seed into a small box filled with dirt. Then care for them. Talk to them if you wish. They will grow with you.”
Now they are in larger boxes. One of the plants has grown up to my knee. I sometimes wonder what else it is up to.
Another time we were walking in the field when we saw two birds on a telephone line. They seemed so peaceful. Then suddenly they flew away. My uncle just laughed.
“See,” he said. “Someone said something they didn’t like. Be careful what you tell the birds.”
One night I passed by the office of the orphanage. A man I don’t like very much was on the phone. He was angry and loud.
When he left, I went into the office and picked up the phone. I heard the funniest sound.
“Listen,” I said. “Listen, birds. Come on back, never mind what he says. We like you.”
One day uncle did not come. I waited and waited but he did not come. The man I don’t like at the orphanage said uncle was sick.
“May I go see him?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’ll call him for you.”
“Don’t do that,” I said.
“You’ll make the birds fly away.”
I sneaked into the office one night and called uncle.
“Are you all right?” I said.
“Yes, but I must go away.”
“To make room for something else.”
“Will you come back?”
“I will help you remember me, if you want me to.”
“I do… I do…”
When I went to bed at night, I would try to imagine that he was there. He was harder and harder to see. One night, he was not there at all. There was only a green fields.
I went back to our field. It was raining. The sky was dark, the way I was inside. I looked for uncle everywhere. I called his name.
I was anger for a while. I said some things out loud that I shouldn’t have said. Two birds flew out of the tree. I made them get wet.
On the way back, I saw something that was only an inch or two tall. It was where that bird dropped the acorn. I didn’t tell anybody, but I knew.
Someday uncle will be fifty feet tall.