This short story was written as an exercise for my Creative Writing group with the topic: All good things come to those who wait. Unlike Jack in the story, I’ve never managed to photograph a kingfisher. But I do have a picture of a heron …
I saw Jack again today. He was in his usual place, which kind of surprised me – for some stupid reason I thought he would have moved on. And this time, when I waved, he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Which was a great advance on the usual slight nod of the head.
Let me tell you the story. I used to see Jack as I went to work down the road past the bend in the river. That’s where he always was. I go early, but he must get up at the crack of dawn. But not every day. Bad weather, he doesn’t turn up, and I can’t blame him. Well, there wouldn’t be much point really.
I knew he was called Jack, because other people talked about him. They thought he was … a bit peculiar. But I gradually came to respect him. It’s good to have a hobby, though it’s not one I particularly fancy. Too much hanging about; not enough control. You’ve only to turn briefly, or scratch your nose, and … you’ve missed it.
I wanted to say Hello to Jack, but the first time I tried, he anticipated my greeting and immediately put his finger up to the lips. An economy of communication. I did think about saying “Hi Jack” but then considered that it was too old a joke, and unworthy, so I just thought it instead. But it made me smile, and a smile is what matters, and Jack responded with a slight muscle movement around the mouth. So for a long time, that was how we interacted. You might say that we had a relationship, but you wouldn’t say it was deep.
Then one day, I bumped into him in town. He was dressed more conventionally – not the camouflage jacket he usually wore. He was observing the pigeons in the square through his viewfinder. He recognised me straight away. And for the first time we spoke. “How are you getting on?” “Oh, got a few good ones.” “Really?” “Oh yes, I’m thinking of entering one in the competition.” “Which one …?” “Oh, the Kingfisher, naturally.” “Well, good luck.” And with that we parted.
Now, people talked about seeing kingfishers along the river, but I’d never seen one. They mention the flash of blue – most times that’s all you see. But this simple piece of information changed my early morning walk, because now I kept my eyes peeled, looking sideways towards the river, in the hope – the distant hope – of seeing a kingfisher. The fact that Jack had seen one, indeed, had taken a photograph of one, encouraged me. It certainly made my otherwise boring trip to the station more interesting; I had a purpose – even though it was not of earth-shattering importance.
And I understand the fascination and the dedication that this could bring to someone like Jack. Although I’m not prepared to spend thousands on equipment – like he obviously does – nor willing to hang around in the damp early-morning air, with a chill mist rising from the river, and waiting – just watching and waiting – on the off-chance of some small bird has decided to go looking for breakfast. No. I’ll keep a look out for the flash of blue, but I’ll not deviate far from my usual ritual. I suppose that Jack’s the same – only his is a very different kind of ritual – what I would call an obsession. But whenever I see him, he always looks happy? Is that the right word? I know we’re all supposed to seeking happiness these days – but does standing by the river bank with a thousand pound lens pointing into the reeds make you happy? It’s the anticipation. Having something to look forward to.
So over the weeks, months we developed a respect for each other. I kept quiet in case I disturbed some avian chancer, and Jack twitched a muscle or two. A subtle acknowledgment – I was ok with that. And I went on hoping and wishing that one day… and would you believe it, it happened. Three seconds of dazzling blue brilliance. My spirits were lifted. I spent the rest of the day in some sort of trance. My colleagues in the office thought I was on something. I was, but I didn’t tell them what it was. Then, at lunch-time, while I was walking through the arcade I noticed a display in one of the windows. Exhibits from the Photographic Club. And right in the middle, there was a picture of a kingfisher – with a note saying that Jack had one first prize in the wild-life section.
And now Jack was back in his old spot on the river-bank. Why, I wonder. Perhaps that’s something I’ll never understand. But I’ll keep on trying.
© 2016 Peter Young