When we first moved to Australia, we rented a three bedroom villa in a cul de sac for around the same price that we had been paying for a tiny, unheated one-bedroom flat in Brighton. It was brilliant to have loads of space – and of course, deadly, because we immediately began to fill it with junk. Collections of magazines, new kitchen equipment, boxes and boxes of second hand books.
The villa faced the street and was detached but in a cluster of around six buildings, each with its own back and front yards. Our neighbour was separated from us by the shared open car port area in which we parked our cars, side by side.
‘What is she doing?’ asked my husband one afternoon, peering through the net curtains at the figure of the woman next door, who was standing in the garden with a large saucepan.
‘Why don’t you asked her?’ I replied, ‘Instead of peering through the net curtains like an old woman.’
At this my husband retreated to his default tactic.
‘What do you think she is doing, Moody?’ he asked the dog, “Do you reckon mum will go and find out?’
To be fair, the tactic worked. I went outside to see what was going on.
Hannah, my neighbour was apparently hurling fistfuls of cooked rice into the road from the saucepan she was carrying. This was not normal behaviour from her but her motives became clear when I followed the trajectory of the rice grains to the verge and saw that we had two visitors.
A pair of ducks, who were wasting no time in hoovering up the food.
‘Wow!’ I said, ‘how long have they been here?’
‘They came yesterday afternoon around the same time, and they have come back today,’ she explained. ‘Aren’t they cute? I had this rice left over from dinner last night so I thought I would see if they were hungry.’
I did not say anything but alarm bells started ringing, I was pretty sure I had read somewhere about how, despite the fact that everyone likes to take bread down to the park to feed the ducks, it is not the ideal food for them. I resolved to google it later.
The ducks stayed for about 40 mins, ate their fill, waddled around for a bit and then suddenly took off. There were a number of parks within close flying distance to the house and they could have come from any of them. Later that evening, as I googled ‘FOOD YOU CAN FEED DUCKS’ I resolved to make sure that their next visit, if there was one, was a bit easier on their digestive systems. On the way back home from work the next day, I dropped into the pet store and bought some poultry feed, which, they assured me, was suitable for ducks.
Bang on time, the two feathered figures appeared, loitering on the verge.
My neighbour appeared with a bowl of water and I poured the duck feed into a large plastic bucket which we stashed in our shared garage area. From this bucket we grabbed handfuls of feed and scattered it onto the grass for them to eat.
Day after day, at almost the same time in the afternoon, Mr and Mrs Duck would appear. Even Moody the dog, the gentlest poodle you could know, felt some genetic memory stirring and used to stand at the window, quivering with expectation every afternoon until he saw them appear.
If we were late to go out and deliver their dinner, they would waddle up the driveway and approach the window, as if to complain about the slowness of service.
This went on for around five weeks. The one afternoon, they did not appear.
We had no idea where that had come from so had no idea what had happened. The bucket with the meal in it sat unused with a brick keeping its lid firm, as the dust and dirt accumulated on it.
The months passed, and the memory of the ducks faded, but one day, around a year later, I spotted Moody whimpering at the window, tail twitching.
The ducks were back. While we may have forgotten, the ducks most certainly had not.
We lived in that house for around four years and every year, Mr and Mrs Duck would appear at four o’clock every afternoon for around a five week period, then they would fly off to do what ducks do, until the next year. They were like a gift of the season, dropping in to see us before moving on through and I hope the people that moved in afterwards took heed of the note I left them and the bucket of food stashed safely in the carport awaiting their annual visit.
I miss those ducks.