I am hopelessly late with this story for Search Engine Stories. I would like to apologise to my fellow writers. I am a SLACKER!!!!!
The prompt this week was – I Had A Little Robin.
It was tough to come up with something……
Seth rose in the half-dark. His face was gentle in the muted light, he had not yet been forced to deal with the strains of the day. I told him he was out of place here in this block of flats full of people down on their luck where everyone is on rent assistance or benefits.
‘I am down on my luck too, Bonnie,’ he said. ‘I am here fair and square.’
There is only one way to describe the building we live in – grey. Grey concrete, grey windowsills, grey doors. The walls in the stairwell are painted a light shade of grey and the carpet in the foyer is grey with flecks of you guessed it – a darker shade of grey.
Seth likes that we live in a building with a foyer. He says it is a step in the right direction, a step away from where none of us want to end up – the gutter. The foyer gives us a sense of grandeur that is lacking in other aspects of our lives.
It is also a meeting place of sorts. Some days when the westerly winds beat against the windows on the upper storeys and the glare and the heat gets so bad you feel it is possible for a person to go mad from despair, we meet in the foyer with jugs of iced lemon cordial and bowls of potato chips.
We chew the fat. Talk of our hopes and dreams. Of how one day we’re all going to get out of here and live the lives we were meant to.
It was Mary Beth’s idea to start the garden. In the vacant lot next door. For over ten years it has been the home to towering weeds, assorted bugs and lots of rats. The rats don’t come out until it is night but everyone in the building hears them screeching and squabbling. It gets so you can’t sleep. It gets so that the night is as grey as the day.
I don’t know how Mary Beth did it but she got a grant from the Council to plant trees and flowers on the lot as well as free rubbish skips to take all the debris away. It took us a month to clear the land but everyone from the building pitched in.
It was the best time I have ever had. I laughed and laughed at DJ flicking lit cigarettes at the rats. At Jean falling backwards as she tried to pull out a weed as tall as a grown man. At Don and his famous sausage sandwiches that dripped tomato sauce over everyone’s hands.
We were like one big happy family. It was the first time in my life I didn’t feel lonely or sad. It was the first time in my life I looked forward to the day.
When we’d planted the final lot of trees, bushes and flowers we had a big party. Don made more sausage sandwiches and provided a keg of his home brew that made everyone feel all warm inside. Lila made spanakopita – delicious cheese and spinach pastries and taught us how to toast one another in Greek. Celia made chocolate cake so light it was as if you were eating chocolate-flavoured air. Hanh made a noodle dish so spicy Seth said all evening :’Those noodles had a real kick’ and then he would kick his leg out with pointed toes as perfect as a dancer. Soon we were all saying it and kicking our legs. Hanh just smiled and nodded his head in that friendly way he has.
I was at a bit of a loss when the preparations for the garden were over. Suddenly it was all ready and I didn’t quite know what to do with it. Neither did anyone else. We walked by, craning our necks to see every little detail, watering it and pulling weeds fastidiously, but we didn’t use the garden.
It was little Danny Roberts who broke the ice. He lobbed his ball over the fence and it rolled and rolled onto the wide expanse of turf we’d laid. Within minutes he was in the garden, kicking the ball on the grass, stopping every now and then to roll on the lush green, soft as carpet. An hour later the garden was full of children with balls and hoops, people walking small dogs, and elderly couples admiring the flowers.
A week later the birds came – honeyeaters, wrens, lorikeets, robins, attracted by the grevilleas and citrus trees. Watching them frolic in the garden it was as if someone had emptied pots of coloured paint from the very top storey of our grey building which had then caught in the wind, falling to the ground in a merry dance.
One day I lost my job. The factory I worked in went bust overnight. Economic downturn they said, but it was hard to believe when we saw the boss man drive off in his new Mercedes with the top down, his highlighted hair glinting in the sunshine.
Seth was good about the loss of my income but I could see the panic in his eyes. One morning I called 20 different places looking for work but nothing was available. I didn’t even get one interview despite my years of experience. I can’t sell myself, you see. I get all nervous and begin to stutter. It doesn’t create a good impression.
So I made a cup of tea and sat in the chair by the window, listening to the happy sounds of the children playing in the garden. But it didn’t cheer me. I was in a state about money and lack of prospects. I gazed out the window, giving in to tears, feeling like a waif lost in the city with no money.
And then I saw him. The robin. Regarding me with a quizzical eye. He was a beauty with his red breast and his cheeky chirp that sounded like a glissando of bells. I found some breadcrumbs in the pantry and he gobbled them before flying off.
The next day he was back for more and the day after that. It became such a regular occurrence that when people said to me: ‘I have a dog,’ or ‘I have a cat,’ I would say : ‘I have a robin.’
I was out of work for four months. Four long months of using teabags twice and eating five day old bread. I was adrift, frayed. I felt like it was becoming impossible to mend myself. Despite the garden, the days began to grow grey again.
The only glimmer of hope was the robin. Showing off on the windowsill. Throwing spare crumbs to his fellow birds in the garden. He had a whistle I felt was just for me. It made me feel I was as special to him as he was to me when I heard it. That little robin kept me going on the days when I could barely get out of bed, on the days when I felt like spitting as I caught sight of myself in the mirror.
One day I found a job. A good job. A job I had never dreamed I could get. I started at 8AM. I left crumbs on the windowsill for my robin but they remained uneaten for days, for weeks. I called for him. I waited, but he never came back.
I knew I should have been sad, but I wasn’t. I knew in my heart my little robin had gone to offer hope to another. That he was sitting on the windowsill of someone who felt they had nothing more to say about their life. I will never forget those days when I had a little robin. He cast a bolt of colour through the grey day, like a prayer heard and answered.