I saw a flamingo for the first time while traveling through Kenya. I’d seen flamingos before, but never in the flesh. I was hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. And there, at the very start of my trek, they stood. Five flamingos in a row.
There they stood.
Five flamingos in a row.
Though I had only just begun my journey and had a pressing day before me, the peculiarities of the flamingos trapped my focus and I stopped to observe them before continuing. The day was smoldering, the sky empty, and all that stood between them and I was a thirsty, naked tree. A dune below the tree blocked the fullness of my vision. I inched forward and felt my hand press against the trunk of the tree; it’s grainy, dry texture scratching against my moist skin. I dug one hand into the dune and let my legs lay downward. Like a snake, I slithered forward on my belly trying to relieve some heat and get closer to the lavish pink birds. Five flamingos in a row. They had organized themselves in ascending order of height; shortest on the left, tallest on the right.
What were they doing standing in a row? They stood in a small oasis and I saw their shadows in the reflection. Ten flamingos. Remarkably unphased by my presence, I slithered forward even more so that my body now fell down the backside of the dune toward the oasis; my feet pushed up against the white, dead tree.
How could they not notice me? I thought.
I was mere feet away from them, but there they were still going about their flamingo business.
2. A list is not a list if it has only one entry.
Inching forward, I reached out towards the oasis’ shoreline. Dipping the ends of my fingers in the muddy water, my forehead cooled. No flamingo so much as even acknowledged me. Are they lost in concentration? Are they asleep? But, if then, how are they moving? Not one of them has blinked even once; do they see me at all? Nothing was clear.
My fascination with the flamingos could only be paralleled by their collective indifference towards me. A tinge of self-doubt crept into my soul. A small shiver ran through my veins. Apparently, I was unimportant. I removed my hand from the oasis and ran it through my hair, numbing me. Considering my options, I pulled out an iPhone from my trouser pocket. I lifted it and pointed the device squarely at the crèche of flamingos but received nothing but the same, tired indifference. Turning the iPhone on I scrolled to the camera feature and pressed a button for flash. This will get them, surely. Taking a deep breath in consideration of taking a flash photograph of a crèche of flamingos only a few feet away, I pondered the possible implications of this act.
1. Flamingo A, the shortest one, will notice first, followed by the others, and proceed to attack me.
2. The order of attack will differ, but still occur nonetheless.
3. Flamingo A will notice first, become startled, and, followed by the others, flock. (Can flamingos fly?)
4. The order of flight will differ, but still occur nonetheless.
Amidst these thoughts, I impulsively tapped the capture image button. Sweat began to build around my forehead as my heart rhythmically pumped against the sand dune I lay upon; I gasped in concert with the flash of my iPhone. With eyes wide, I watched the flamingos.
There they stood, five flamingoes in a row; reactionless. It was as if nothing happened. I looked from the flamingos to the photograph on my iPhone and saw a picture of five flamingos in a row wading in an oasis. I looked back up at the flamingos. Flamingo D pecked at its feathers, flamingo E cocked its head up at the cloudless sky, and flamingos A through C persisted with their feeding. Not even one of them had responded to my presence in the slightest.
Three days later, I stood atop Mount Kilimanjaro and looked down at the continent of Africa below. A puff of ghostly white air kissed the sky as I took deep, outward breaths. I sat on some protruding shira and closed my eyes in meditation, a practiced ritual I’d adopted in high-altitude trekking. What’s next? I found myself visualizing the scene of the flamingos. The flamingos with their baby pink feathers, skeleton-like stick legs with screws for knees, long, curved S-necks, yellow marble eyes, and black-tipped beaks. Are lawn flamingos a thing in Africa? I found myself wondering.
When my mother turned forty, my family planned a surprise birthday party for her. My father took her to a birthday breakfast while aunts and uncles of mine from far away traveled for the occasion. While she dined over blueberry pancakes, the lot of us at home worked tirelessly to decorate. I was ten. My aunt handed me a big plastic box with a blue cover and said, “Put these on the front lawn.”
I opened the box and there they were, dozens of plastic pink flamingos. Going about my task I wondered about a flamingo’s significance. When my father brought her home, the flamingos were the first sign of something different.
Perhaps it’s their bright pink feathers. Perhaps it’s their rare sightings. Perhaps it’s their behavioural traits. Perhaps it’s their social cohesions. Or, perhaps, perhaps it is the questions. The questions, sense of wonder, and supreme fascination they stimulate about their significance that could be the answer.