Hummingbirds don’t fly

Hummingbirds don’t fly. Not as kite’s anyway. It seems that wing flapping is essential. I saw a video on the internet of a remote control flapping bird. I’d love to build one of them but that’s beyond me.

I build kites.

Round ones, box ones, parafoils, stars, diamonds – almost any shape you can think of. But the ones I love to build most are birds.

I guess that’s why you commissioned me to build the tufted coquette hummingbird. I should have thought a minute longer before saying yes.

I’ve seen plenty of hummingbird kites in the sky but nine out of ten of them are just pictures of hummingbirds painted on traditional kites. At least the others have attempted a hummingbird shape, but they are all so stylised and cartoony.

I could make you one of them but I don’t think you would be satisfied. You’ve actually seen the bird. Held it in your hand. Grown up with it flying around your Venezuelan garden.

I think I’ve got the colours. The orange tuft on top, the shimmering green chest with a polka dot cravat around the neck. The lilac-blue wings that open to show green and yellow running down to the brown tail feathers.

But the whole thing fails. The only way I can make it fly is to have those wings stretched out in a traditional static aeroplane style. It doesn’t look right. I want it to hover like the real thing with wings blurring as they move.

Back to the drawing board. I’ll see if I can find a solution before you visit.

*

I can’t believe how good it looks. It’s fantastic. Brilliant. The kite you’ve made looks just like the real thing, apart from being so big of course. My Coqueta Adornadas could sit comfortable in the palm of my hand even when I was only seven.

I took me four months. It’s hard to believe I had so much patience. Every day I’d sit where the hummingbirds fed. For one month they watched me and waited until their patience outwore my own.

The second month they trusted me enough to feed while I sat. The third month was the hardest. I would hold out my hand filled with sweet syrup until it ached so much I could hold it up no longer. But not one bird landed.

It was Abuela’s idea. My grandmother. Her idea to paint flowers on my hand. It still took a week but it worked. Abuela kept telling me to be patient.

I hope Toby has the patience to make the kite work.

*

Daniela liked the kite. She really did. It was great to see her huge smile when she first walked into the workshop. It’s a lovely smile.

She gushed. That’s the only word I can think of that gets anywhere near to how she reacted. She almost looked like she was going to cry. Happy tears; I think.

But that soon turned to sad tears once she realised the bird wouldn’t fly. I didn’t know it was so important to her. Something to do with her grandmother and the Day of the Dead celebrations on the first of November back in Sumpango. She’s hoping to take the kite with her.

That gives me just two months to find a solution. I don’t know what to do. I’ve put the bird in a corner and am getting on with other work. I’ve a commission for one of my regulars who wants a new kite for a festival. Building it will take a lot of time but at least I know what I am doing.

I can’t keep away. I keep coming back to that damn hummingbird. I don’t know why. There’s nothing I can actually do. I’ve tried the wings at all sorts of angles but none of the ones that work look right. I’ve tried out a few crazy ideas such as having vents through the chest. I don’t think that would go down well. It looked like the poor bird had been shot.

I’ve been on the internet looking for inspiration. I found myself looking at pictures of the giant kites used in the Sampango for the festival. I’d seen them before but hadn’t connected them to Venezula or to Daniela’s commission. Those kites are amazing. Some of them are twice the height of my house.

Most of them are simple discs but a few are more flower-like. That’s what gives me the idea. I remembered Daniela’s story about painting her hand like a flower so that she could feed the hummingbirds. Suddenly I know what I need to do.

*

I’ve never been up here in the Yorkshire Dales. Somehow the city sucks you in and doesn’t let you out. All this countryside on my doorstep.

I see you on the hillside. I can’t see my kite. I notice that you are holding a string and follow it up the hill with my eyes. You call out to someone named Matt at the other end of the string who is holding up a disk shape. It’s not my kite.

The wind fills the disk and transforms it into a bright red rosa de montaña, or a rose of Venezula as you might know it here in England. The flower is blown up into the sky.

And then I can’t believe what I see. My hummingbird jumps up and follows the flower. It hovers in front of it and its wings are a blur.

I laugh and wrap my arms around you in a hug. I then step back as I feel your English stiffness that is afraid of such effusiveness.

And then I cry and it is your turn to wrap your arms around me.

*

It’s a triumph. The flower pulls off the ground and drags the hummingbird into the air. And the bird hovers as though sucking nectar. The wings blur. They don’t actually move. There’s no rapid figure of eight in the air. I couldn’t replicate that. Instead I carefully angled the feathers and made loose connections so that the wings flutter like an aspen leaf. It’s perfect.

Daniella grabs me in a bear hug. She’s so pleased. And then she crumples as she remembers her grandmother, her Abuela.

I comfort her while surreptitiously keeping an eye on the kite to make sure it doesn’t fall out of the sky. Matt gives me a thumbs-up from the top of the hill and signals that he’s heading off to the car.

I wait until she’s calmed down and blown her nose. That’s always a sign that the crying has ended. She doesn’t apologise like many people would. She tells me she is grieving and that’s the right thing to do, but now that she has the kite she can communicate with her grandmother.

She takes hold of the string and watches the kite. I don’t believe in talking to ancestors through kites, but when she finally tells me what she has heard I happily agree.

She tells me that her grandmother always said that if she held out her hand long enough she would get what she wanted.

She holds out her hand.

She tells me that I need to fly the kite with her. I nod enthusiastically and take her hand in mine.

I am still nodding when she tells me that the next time the kite will fly will be on the day of the dead in Venezuela.

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