If you want to talk to the hornbills, you will find them at the usual place at the usual time. It is breeding season. The females have locked themselves away in their nests, where they will remain for a few months laying their eggs and caring for their young. The males are busy hunting for food, feeding their women, worrying about the next command that will be hurled at them, and snatching precious moments of time to work on their secret project. A surprise for the girls and the little ones, the leader of the clan declares.
The male hornbills spend their stolen moments of time burrowing away underground in the centre of their mammoth cage. Each day they start digging close to noon and keep at it for an hour, taking care to finish before the caretakers of the bird park return from their lunch to check on the birds. Often they continue digging at night, noiselessly in the dark. When the birds call it a day, the creeper plants reposition themselves to hide the entrance to the secret tunnel.
At first they don't want to talk about it, the birds that is. But once they are convinced we mean them no harm, they break into a ceaseless chatter.
The tunnel is to be their means of escape from the cage, they say.
Progress is excruciatingly slow, they admit but they remain hopeful.
Getting closer to freedom, they keep telling themselves.
Our children will learn to crawl before they learn to fly, one of the clan chuckles.
They want to leave so their children can learn to fly in the free skies, they explain. Learn to hunt for food, fight their enemies, build their own nests. Things they can't learn growing up in a cage, they say.
We ask them why they won't consider flying away as an option. They say their children will be too young and their women too weak to fly afar.
And how long would it take them to dig the tunnel to the other end of the world? They have been digging for five years now. Another six months, a year, maybe two at most, who knows. They hope to keep digging for as long as it takes them to make good their escape.
And they quote from the movies to prove they are not off their rockers. (They have seen all the good movies, they assure us.)
Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all, one says.
Hope is a good thing, another chips in, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
We think it is impossible to argue against conviction that strong.