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Translated by K.M.Cook-Horujy
Illustrated by I.Semenov
Under my window is a front garden with low wrought-iron railings round it. In winter the yardman sweeps the snow off the street behind the iron railings, and I throw bits of bread out of the small top window for the sparrows.
As soon as they notice the bread in the snow, they come scooping down and perch on the branches of the tree which grows in front of my window. They sit there for a long time, peeking anxiously left and right, but not daring to fly down. They must be afraid of the passers-by in the street.
Then one sparrow is brave enough to fly down from the branch, settle in the snow and start pecking the bread. Another sparrow sees him and flutters down too. He is followed by a third, then a fourth... And soon the whole flock is pecking away at the bread in the snow, not paying the slightest attention to the passers-by.
Sparrows are by nature friendly, sociable birds. They are fond of dining at the communal table, so to speak. One of them hopped up to a piece of bread and began pecking at it from underneath. Another tossed his head, puffed out his chest like a proud steed, and pecked away at the same piece from the top. Realising suddenly that he was disturbing his fellow sparrow, he hopped over at once to another piece close by. "There are enough pieces for everyone!" he seemed to be saying. "No need to squabble over them."
Not all sparrows are so obliging, however. Some get hold of a piece of bread and drag it aside, so that no one else can get it.
You can't help laughing when you watch these stand-offish sparrows. One of them dug a heavy piece of bread out of the snow, dragged it away from the other sparrows and was about to tuck into it, when another sparrow flew up, snatched the bread rudely and flew off with it.
You should have seen the poor sparrow who had been taken unawares. He looked so surprised. His beak was gawping open in amazement.
I noticed the greedy sparrow who takes other sparrows' bread long ago and have even thought up a name for him — Afonka Meany. Afonka Meany never eats with the rest of the sparrows. He flies up suddenly when no one is expecting him, grabs the largest piece from some unsuspecting fellow sparrow and flies off with it up into the eaves. Sometimes he steals such a big piece that it pulls his head down and he has to fly almost upside down. He flaps his wings so hard I can hear the noise through the closed window.
I am sure that one day Afonka Meany will grab such a big piece that it will pull him down to the ground. I deliberately throw him big pieces to see where his greed will land him up.
There's another troublemaker who I call Bully. He's forever swooping down on some poor, innocent sparrow, whom he shoves out of the way to peck once or twice at his food. Then he repeats the whole procedure with a second and a third. Perhaps he does it out of envy or because the other sparrows' food always looks nicer, but he's always pouncing upon them!
In the end he tries it on a sparrow who's as aggressive as he is or simply won't give way, who doesn't want other sparrows' food, but refuses to part with his own. Then they charge each other, bang chests and fly up like two fighting cocks. Bully tries to peck the other bird hard, but the other bird fights back. In the heat of the battle they forget all about the bread. It's great fun watching them!
When the sparrows have eaten all the bread, they fly up and perch in the tree to have a rest. They clean their beaks on the branches and look well-fed and pleased with life.
One day I decided to give them a surprise, that is, an unexpected present.
"Why should they have to hop about in the snow, poor things, getting their legs all cold! I'll fix it so they can eat without leaving the tree."
I put on my hat and coat, went into the garden and began to stick pieces of soft bread on the branches of the tree.
"There," I thought. "The sparrows will be pleased!"
Then I went inside and waited. I stood by the window for a whole hour or so, but not a single sparrow showed the slightest interest.
"What's the matter?" I wondered. "Can't they see it?"
Suddenly a strange, scruffy sparrow flew down from somewhere and perched on the branch next to the bits of bread. He had a funny short tail, as if it had been plucked, the feathers on his neck were all tousled and there was a broken feather sticking up on his back.
"Who's this Scruffy-Duffy?" I thought. "I've never seen one like him before. Perhaps he's just escaped from a hungry cat or had a scrap with someone."
Meanwhile Scruffy-Duffy sat on the branch and did not even notice the bread. Then he suddenly caught sight of it. His eyes began to blink nervously, his beak dropped open in dismay, he let go of the branch without meaning to and dropped down as if he had been shot. Halfway to the ground, he suddenly came to, flapped his wings and flew away, gradually gaining height, at an oblique angle across the street.
I burst out laughing. The silly sparrow had been afraid of the bread stuck on the branch. At first he did not notice the bits around him, and perched on the branch as usual. But then he saw something strange sitting next to him, and got so scared that he fell off the branch. After all he had never seen bread growing on trees before.
The other, more cautious sparrows must have noticed something strange on the tree straightaway and decided not to sit on it. They probably hadn't realised that it was bread. Sparrows may be small, but they are very careful. Anything unusual puts them on their guard.
I don't know what the sparrows thought, of course. Maybe they imagined the bits of bread were living creatures who might hurt them. In any case not a single sparrow ventured near the tree while the bread was on the branches. But as soon as I took it away, they flew over again as carefree as ever.
After that I never saw Scruffy-Duffy again. He had probably strayed over from another street.
As a matter of fact I'm very fond of sparrows. They're very lovable and amusing. I used to wonder why we laugh at them, until I realised that what amuses us about them is what amuses us in human beings. We laugh at people who think only of themselves and not of others. We laugh at louts, boors, bullies and squabblers who are selfish and can't get on with other people. We laugh at greedy, envious people who try to grab everything for themselves, and at snooty know-alls who think they're the cat's whiskers and nobody else counts for anything. And we laugh at people who are scatter-brained, careless or cowardly, afraid of silly little things. A friend of mine (a very learned professor) once told me that we laugh at sparrows when we notice that they are like human beings.
But I think it's the other way round: we laugh at people -when we notice that they are like sparrows in some way.
Think about it, when you've got a moment.
Author: Nosov N.; illustrated by Semenov I.
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