Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day when Benson was at the playground with his friend, Mick and his sister Bonnie Lou, a bird came and landed on his head.
Mick said, “Watch out, Benson, there’s a bird on your head.”
Benson said, “What kind of bird is it?”
Mick said, “A big one, with a long sharp beak. Get it off!”
Benson tried to look up and see the bird, but whenever he tipped his head up or around, the bird hung on to his head with its claws and he could only see the tip of its beak.
“It could be useful to have a bird on your head,” Benson said. “What if you got a tick? The bird could get it and eat it.”
“If it spread its wings out, it would be nice and shady,” Bonnie Lou said.
“That’s right,” said Benson. “I think I’ll train it.”
“That’s dumb,” said Mick. “What would you train it to do?”
“Stuff,” Benson said. “Maybe a guard bird, or a look-out bird.” He imagined a bird flying above him, then coming down to perch on his head and tell him that there was a snake up ahead, or a blackberry bush covered in blackberries.
“What do you know about training birds?” Mick said. “You don’t know anything about birds.”
“Well, I think you just be polite and ask it to do something, and if it does it, you give it a reward to say thank you,” Benson said.
“What sort of reward?” Bonnie Lou asked. If it was something good like chocolate, she wouldn’t mind being trained herself.
“Maybe I’ll give it some of my pear and parsley sandwich,” Benson said. He broke off a tiny piece of sandwich and held it up to the bird. The bird snapped it up.
“Are you going to train it to do tricks?” asked Mick. “Like juggling, and balancing a ball on its nose?”
“I think it’s pretty smart already,” Benson said. “It picked me, didn’t it? And I’m the one with the sandwich.” He gave the bird another tiny piece.
“Birds are dumb, anyway,” Mick said.
“They are not!” Benson said. “Watch this.” He asked the bird, “If I had two apples and Mick ate one and Bonnie Lou ate one, what would I have left?”
The bird said nothing.
“See?” Benson said. “I told you it was smart.”
“It just said nothing,” Mick said.
“That’s because it was the right answer,” Benson said. He asked the bird, “What if I had a big bowl of custard and I ate half and Mick ate half, what would be left?”
The bird said nothing. Benson said, “Correct!” He gave the bird another piece of sandwich. “You’re a pretty smart bird,” he said.
“He’s not smart!” Mick said. “He’s just not saying anything.”
“He’s waiting for a hard question,” Benson said. “Anyway, I bet he knows when something’s funny.” He said to the bird, “What do you call a wombat that steals things? Nick.”
Bonnie Lou said, “He’s smiling!”
“See? I knew he was smart,” Benson said. He asked the bird, “What do you call a wombat that’s good at fixing things? Andy.”
The bird gave a little chuckle. Bonnie Lou giggled, but Mick said, “That’s not even funny.”
“Yes, it is,” Benson said. “The bird thinks so. What bird is the best at digging holes? A miner,” he said. The bird chortled deep in its throat.
“I know one,” Bonnie Lou said. “What animal sounds like a bell?”
“A ding-o,” said Benson.
“A du-gong,” Bonnie Lou said.
They both laughed.
Mick said, “That’s just stupid.”
Bonnie Lou shouted, “It’s not stupid, you’re stupid!”
Mick shouted back, “You’re stupid, and that bird’s stupid!” Then he shouted at Benson, “And you’re the stupidest of all!”
He went to give Benson a push, but the bird on Benson’s head snapped its long sharp beak suddenly. Mick jumped back and fell over on his bottom.
The bird opened its mouth and laughed and laughed and laughed.