But why are all the birds still? He asked, his soft little hand slipping between his grandfather’s calloused fingers.
His grandfather looked down on him from his great height. He was so, so tall that Lucas could just see his thick beard sticking out from above his round belly. The M on the dark brown belt buckle reflected the sunlight in his eyes and he looked back towards the path they were walking on.
The birds are still because his grandfather started, then changed his mind and tried another approach. A long time ago Lucas felt his hands tighten and then relax again. Then tighten. He wriggled out of his grandfather’s grasp and skipped a few steps ahead, to a puddle of dark brown water. He dipped his shoe in it, and a small beetle moved away from the movement. Intrigued, he crouched down and stuck his hand in the water, trying to catch the little creature.
Behind him, his grandfather sighed.
How many times, Lucas. How many times do we have to tell you not to touch without your glovex?
A pout appeared like magic on Lucas’ face. Sorry he mumbled, and reached into his pocket to get a pair of tattered glovexes. Surprisingly deftly he put them on, first his left hand and then his right. He was used to it – being such an active boy, he had been forced to wear them for years.
Halfheartedly his hand reached back in the puddle to look for the beetle, but it was long gone in the layers of slush below. Sighing, he got up and started walking again.
And then suddenly there was another one! No wait, not one but two, sitting on a perch about a meter from the ground. Look Grandad! There are another two birds! He stood directly behind them and looked in awe. One of the birds watched him silently while the other shuffled slightly. Or did it? Lucas couldn’t be sure, was it the wind or was it the bird moving?
Grandad? He glanced over his shoulder. His grandfather’s huge figure loomed protectively just behind him, and both his hands were in his pockets.
It’s a new thing, kiddo.
These birds. That’s why you’ve never seen them before. There haven’t been any birds here for – why, let me think… from before you were born.
But I’ve seen them! Lucas was staring at his Grandfather, his young eyes and young mind unbelieving. I’ve seen them!
What you’ve seen are videos, and documentaries, and photos. But all of those are old. Way old. I suppose there are some birds left, but not here. Somewhere on a mountain in China, maybe. Who knows. When I was small, there were still a few here, some starlings, a robin that made the news for several years. He just wouldn’t die out, like the others. I remember I saw a chicken once – a lady older than me had her stashed in a disconnected walk-in freezer
he had started rambling. He did that often, and Lucas had already skipped off to the main gate of the park. The overhead train was passing right in front, rumbling and grinding, black smoke seeping from its belly. He arrived just in time to help Lucas push the heavy, double-glass door that kept the plants in the park safe from the outside.
Lucas stepped out, into the city. His hands were tugging at his mask, propped on his head, whose elastics were tangled up in his hair. His grandfather helped him and made sure his oxygen was flowing before putting on his own.
Grandad! called Lucas, from the gift shop stand. His voice was muffled by the mask, but his eyes were glittering as he pointed to a little glass vase. Grandad please! So his Grandfather reached in his pouch and peeked inside.
What would you like? He said to the masked woman sitting on the sidewalk behind the stand.
What do you have? She replied, smiling faintly at Lucas who was jumping up and down in excitement.
mmmmmh mumbled his grandfather I have four almonds, a wooden pencil and a mandarin….
I’ll take two almonds then, said the woman.
They exchanged goods and walked away, Lucas hugging the glass vase with a bird and a flower inside. How long will it live? He asked as they waited for the next train, soot falling from the sky and onto their thick walking boots.
Forever said his Grandfather. Or at least…until you break it. And he smiled, all the way above Lucas’ head. And Lucas knew that he was smiling, because he could see his beard and the mask moving slightly up, up towards the ever blackened sky.