About For the Birds
The Birdwatcher: A Short Story
Geoff, a man of many years, sat down at a park bench for his lunch, smiling and happy, as was his routine. The sky had grayed over with clouds, but he didn’t mind. With no sun in his eyes, he could watch the birds free from sharp light. He ate his sandwich and looked out over a quiet little mossy pond and the trees that surrounded it.
All was right. It was twenty minutes until he had to be back at work. The birds sang lively and a fish jumped out of the ceiling of the pond to catch some lunch of his own. Geoff read a note left by his wife she’d stuffed into his lunch sack. Well-wishes and I love you and have a good day husband.
Ten minutes to go and a man of fewer years sat at the other end of the bench. The young man said hello and Geoff returned the greeting. “There’s lots of life out here,” the new arrival said, leaning forward as if to make a proper survey.
“There is indeed,” Geoff replied with a smile.
“Seems a bit ridiculous.”
“These poor animals, forced into this one area. Urban blight, man’s encroachment. The marching sprawl. It’s really criminal, if you think about it. We take what we want and it’s scraps for anything that gets in the way.”
Geoff didn’t respond, but did as the younger man asked and thought about it. At last, he decided to speak. “It seems like a happy place.”
“Happy? Are you kidding?”
“I’m not,” Geoff said, “and I’ve been coming here for many years, day after day. It’s nice. People can take breaks and get some fresh air. Kids can play and laugh. All kinds of birds come and build nests here. The trees are packed with them. I’m a bit of a bird lover, myself—that’s mostly why I come.”
“Is that right?”
“Sure. Been my spot for twenty-five years. My wife tells me I should retire soon. She’s something. Take a look at this note. Pretty silly huh. After all these years.” He held out the paper with a nod and a grin, but the young man slapped it away.
“That’s the problem with people like you. You go to an office and have families and sleepwalk through life, completely unaware of what’s going on in the world. Enjoy your bench and your stupid birds. Idiot.”
As the young man stomped off through the grass, a little group of ducks had to make way. He was fuming, talking to himself with sharp-sounding words. Geoff could hear him until he finally disappeared behind some trees on the opposite side of the pond.
For the first time he could remember, lunch had become a thing of worry. Geoff suddenly felt sorry for the birds and the trees, the fish and the ducks. He felt bad about what all the people had done. This young man was full of passionate ideas, and that had to mean something. Geoff had never gotten riled on his bench before. It was quiet and peaceful, and that always seemed enough. The rest of life could be hard, true, but it always seemed okay to take it easy for a little while each day to breathe alongside all the other creations.
Five minutes to go and the man of many years was upset. He felt selfish and cruel, that the job he’d done for so long and the wife he’d loved for decades, it was all a sham. About as true and good as the horrible little park and all the creatures forced to use it. Then something worse dawned on him. He was one of those horrible creatures, corralled there there like everyone else. He wasn’t exempt from man’s encroachment. The young man was right.
A minute to go and Geoff found himself sweating onto the bench through his pants. There was no more wind blowing the leaves, no smell of grass. His head fell as low as his spirits.
As he was about to get up from the bench for the last time, a young cuckoo landed near his feet and started poking around with his yellow beak. The bird was small and barely able to fly, but there he was, unafraid, trying to make his way as a growing bird.
Finally, Geoff started to breathe normal again. He picked up his wife’s note and stood up gently, not wanting to disturb the cuckoo. For a few minutes the man of many years had lost his joy, but it was back again. The subject was closed and needed no further visitation.
The next day Geoff took his normal seat. He looked for the little cuckoo, but instead was treated to a group of passenger pigeons and even one shimmering cardinal. As he ate his sandwich another young man sat down and said, “You can learn a lot from birds.”
“I’ve always thought so,” Geoff said, smiling and happy, as was his routine.