Of Birds and Girls Alike
What was that? It almost sounded like…
There it was again. This time louder!
I turned around to find a girl who was about to say something, but stopped midway and smiled at me. I found myself smiling back without realizing why. She was wearing a pair of grey slacks and a green t-shirt that said ‘Bird Vs Beast’ and had an intricate drawing of a what I assumed was a falcon and a dragon fighting each other, enveloping a solemn Yin-Yang that was probably saying ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ She also wore yellow plastic hoop earrings and a tiny nose ring on a tiny nose. I had never seen her before or knew who she was, but she looked cute.
“I’m sorry, but do I know you?”, I said squeakily, trying really hard not to sound shy at the same time as trying really hard to sound confident.
“No, I don’t think we’ve met. I just moved into the city.”
“But, how did you know my name?”
She looked puzzled. “What is your name?”
“Oh… Oh! I said Patridge! I saw you staring at that bird for so long with such a serious face that I only assumed you were wondering what kind of a bird that was.” She said pointing at a weird looking bird and laughing, showing off the dimples that had suddenly blemished her flat cheek. “We really ought to put up a sign somewhere”, she then said, looking around for a signpost she already knew wasn’t there.
I was clearly at a loss for words because I was talking to a pretty girl around the same age as me and I had just walked carelessly into an open trap where every passing second seemed determined to make me appear more awkward and embarrassed than the previous one. So I decided to change the subject.
“Do you work here?”
“Kind of. I actually own this little bird sanctuary. I’ve had it for 8 years now, ever since the guy who used to run this place earlier, decided to pack his bags one day and move to Kenya.”
“That’s interesting. Kenya, I mean. Wow! That’s really far away.” I said, trying unsuccessfully to keep the conversation from dying out. I had nothing to do for the next 12 hours and I realized that it was too long a time to kill, in solitary anticipation of the next day.
She remained silent for a while. “Can I ask you a question?”, she said and continued without waiting for a response, “What are you doing here at 2 pm, on a hot Thursday afternoon, wearing a tie, and shoes so well polished that I can actually see my face in them?”
I wasn’t surprised, I had already gotten strange looks from passersby as I walked across the park, past kids who were basking in the rebellious victory of skipping school and deciding to spontaneously make out on every standing/sitting/lying object in their path, past old women who had nothing else to do on a Thursday afternoon, past a happy sleeping security guard who looked like he’d eaten the best lunch of his life.
I looked out of place, but given the circumstances I don’t think I would have changed into something more casual for a walk in the park.
Given the circumstances, I wouldn’t even have been at the park on a hot Thursday afternoon.
She stood there with her black eyes staring listlessly at me for some sort a reaction and for some reason I did not want to lie to her. I felt calm in this strange place, among the company of birds and strange girls alike. And given my track record of random encounters with strangers, I knew with certainty that I would never again see her in my life.
“I quit my job today.”, I said sincerely after taking a deep breath and deciding to open up.
“At the bank?”, she asked coyly.
Unbelievable! The guess was spot-on! But the conversation was not going as I would’ve hoped. I was looking forward to having a serious conversation about where my life was headed and this girl was zoning in on ridicule, taking me back to my embarrassing school days.
I must have looked offended because she then said, “That’s cool!”
“Is it really?”
“No, I mean it’s cool that you’ve quit now! What happened though?”
I spoke slowly, drawing words from the back of my head, conjuring up the images that I had buried deep within, under layer upon layer of anger, that had made me a completely different and volatile person.
But all I could muster was a feeble,, “I was just tired of it all.”
I said it like I was wheezing.
Apparently I didn’t really want to talk about it, ever.
“I understand. So what next?”, she said and I felt like a great weight had just been lifted off my shoulder.
“Oh, I don’t know. I want to keep my options open. Maybe I could open up a little bird sanctuary? And for a change, actually charge some sort of an entry fee?”
I am flirting with her.
“Yes! There’s a fantastic career move for a guy who couldn’t identify a patridge!”, she said laughing.
Again with the ridicule, I thought. Strangely enough, I actually felt drawn towards her, every time she openly humiliated me. This wasn’t like high school at all.
“Yeah, I was kidding! I’m not really a big fan of birds. I just walked into this part of the park because it was the only place that had no people around.”, I said, immediately regretting not filtering my thoughts before speaking.
I realized that I had just told her that her little bird paradise sucked. But she stood there, with a perfect balance of nonchalance and irritation, and nodded her head, gesturing me to keep going.
“Well, to be honest, I don’t have a plan. Quitting the bank job was a first step of sorts. What lies ahead of me is a blank white sheet.”, I said, stopping before I could say something corny.
“But there’s got to be something you like doing, right?”
“Lots of things! But none of them are destined to make me any money.”
She smiled and said, “Screw that! I don’t make much, but I love what I’m doing. And that’s the most important thing in life. Twenty years down the line, when I look back at my life, I’ll realize that I have been happy throughout.”
“I’d like to believe you’re right, but I have to experience it to believe it, I guess.”
“Wow! Look at that view. The sun’s coming down and it looks beautiful. Everything is bathed in it’s glow, a burnt orange.”
It really did!
She stared at me long and hard for a while, and then took 3 steps forward until she was level with my face, and her gaze never left my face. It wasn’t sudden, but it was enough to make me uncomfortable at least. I finally gave in and asked her, smiling a bit, “What are you doing?”
“I’m looking at you, silly! You know, you aren’t as tall as you seem.”
“It’s usually the other way around”, I said in a slightly offended tone, although I didn’t really care because she was standing so close to me. I could smell the hint of whatever conditioner she’d used on her hair and it was heavenly, at least when the wind was blowing towards me.
“Well, in case you’re interested, I have an opening here, at the bird sanctuary.”
I laughed for a bit.
“Thanks, but no thanks. I think we have established that I’m not really a bird-person. I guess I’m more of a beast?”, I said subtly hinting at her t-shirt war montage and feeling stupid a second later because it was cheesy, and thankfully lost in the conversation.
She sighed. It was a long, deep sigh to clarify to me that it was completely fake. And then she spoke.
“What does a girl have to do to give a guy her number?”
“Oh!”, I exclaimed, stumbling for words, knowing fully well I couldn’t say anything to escape from this situation, unscathed. I didn’t care though, because in front of me was this really pretty girl, full of charm and wit. A combination that’s almost extinct in this commercial sell-out of a city. And she was into me!
The next few minutes were a blur and I remember walking away from her after, with a weird warm feeling in my heart. Or maybe it was the scrap of paper in my pocket with her digits. The morbidity of the day’s events had long been forgotten and I was only looking forward to getting to know her. Whatever her name was!
Wow! I didn’t even ask her for her name! I am really bad at this!, I thought to myself.
“PATRIDGE!”, she screamed from far behind, laughing uncontrollably.
This time, I just smiled to myself. I didn’t look back.