On the first day of spring, Earnestine and Faustino moved into my window box. It is a dingy plastic box that was propped outside the bathroom window by a previous tenant.
I had considered getting rid of it when I moved in, but didn't want to carry it down four flights of stairs.
Besides, I finally had an apartment of my own without a single roommate to offer an opinion or complaint about anything. After a series of bad experiences with inconsiderate roommates who left dried macaroni and cheese in the cooking pots and constantly played the organ in the living room, I kept the window box in the window simply because I could.
Through the gray winter, it stayed there, a lonesome rectangle of dirt, waiting, I supposed, for flowers.
But on the first warm day of the year, I found something else planted there. Entering the bathroom to brush my teeth, I noticed two light-brown birds outside the window sizing me up with shining black eyes.
Over the next few days they came and went, and although I noted their occasional presence with interest, I did not think much about them. That is, not until they moved in and became the roommates I didn't know I wanted.
I arrived home from work to see one of the birds sitting on the soil of the window box. It kept perfectly still. Then I noticed the edges of twigs curling out from underneath its feathers - a little round disk of twigs, like a saucer for a bird-shaped cup. A nest.
I was transfixed. How exciting to anticipate seeing the drama of new life unfold right from my bathroom. In a series of Web searches, I learned that my visitors were mourning doves, which are monogamous and mate for life. The two birds take turns sitting on the egg; the male taking the day shift, the female on duty at night.
I liked the idea of birds so devoted to each other and so cooperative in family concerns. In a flight of fancy, it seemed to me that she should have a jaunty hat and he a little vest, and their window box should have a couple armchairs and a tiny coffeemaker.
I thought about them all the next day at work, imagining how hard it must be forthe male bird to sit all day on the egg, not budging for a moment, while the female exhausted herself searching for their food. Such brave, hard-working souls, living the American dream.
I thought of naming them after my parents. But I was feeling whimsical. So I took my cues from some spam e-mails that appeared in my inbox as I got ready to leave work one day. They were touting cheap software and discount prescription drugs. One e-mail was from someone named Earnestine, and another was from a guy named Faustino.
It was getting dark outside when I arrived home, so I figured it must be Earnestine manning (or "birding") the nest. I watched her closely from my inside perch, fascinated by her quiet patience.
But then I moved too suddenly, and, just as quickly, Earnestine was gone, spooked into flight. A small egg sat alone in the window box, glowing white in the dimming evening. I peered at it forlornly. I felt guilty of causing its terrible abandonment.
She'll come back, I told myself uncertainly, but all evening the window box was home to only one tiny being, encased in a hard shell, growing chilly in the night air. My apartment seemed empty and lonely, a dull and woebegone place without the faithful, steady company of Earnestine and Faustino.
It saddened me that they would leave their egg so easily. I wondered if I should take it in and try to keep it warm myself. But a website informed me that baby doves eat a substance called "pigeon milk" that the parents' produce and regurgitate to them. I do not know how to be a mother to a dove. Best to let the parents decide, I thought, and regretfully went to bed.
In the morning, I was relieved to find Faustino installed on the egg, stoic and long-suffering, a brave bird prepared to face the giant who had thrown his wife into a tizzy.
I avoided using the bathroom altogether, brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink and showering at the gym after my workout. In the evening, when it was unavoidable, I entered the bathroom slowly and stealthily, like a ninja sneaking around in the night.
And now, I wait, resigned to moving in slow motion and never turning on the bathroom light. These unlikely houseguests have taken over that particular corner of my domain. It looks as though I have roommates after all, the type who complain if I move too quickly or get too close.
But I couldn't be happier. They might not pay any rent, but at least they don't watch television at midnight. They don't drink all the milk and fail to replace it. They don't even speak.
They just sit there, silently reminding me of the real reason I didn't throw out that window box: Peeping out from beneath their feathers are not one but two tiny balls of fuzz the size of my thumb. My newest roommates, I'm happy to say, aren't scared of me at all.