The electric bird

February 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

The squeak can be heard at quite some distance – from as far as the park gate, at least. It cuts through the still autumn afternoon like a riled bird, getting louder and more insistent as the old man trundles into view. The bicycle on which he’s pedalling is a foldaway shopper, popular in the eighties. Big hinge in the middle. Small white tyres. Large cardboard box strapped to the luggage carrier over the rear wheel.

He is seemingly oblivious to the noise the bicycle makes. He has things to be getting on with. He leans the bike on its stand and begins to undo the complex web of bungee cords that hold the box in place.

A casual observer might look at this man, his flat cap and old blue car coat. They might note his slightly hunched posture, that corduroy trouser leg tucked into a grey sock. They might look at all that, and at the cardboard box, and they might come to the conclusion that here was a pigeon fancier, in the park today to release his birds. Or maybe not pigeons. Perhaps a hawk, some hooded fury out to swoop and lunge as he clicks and whistles, so that it races towards his outstretched gauntleted hand and the promise of easy meat.

Surely nobody would fly a hawk here. Not on a Sunday afternoon, not with people out strolling. Not with children around.

But wait.

He’s undone the last of the straps, looping them neatly back on themselves, and he’s folding back the flaps in order to lift something out. It is large, and it is delicate. Suppress a thought of pterodactyls as he reveals a gleaming skeleton – a helicopter. He places it on the grass whilst he rummages in the box for the controller.

Hear the thud of the rotors become a whine as the helicopter rises into the sky. Watch it gather speed, levitating against dazzling blue, and swooping towards those tallest trees still laden with red-yellow leaves. See people stop to stare, tracing the noise to this shimmering object, then to the old man below, with his face towards the afternoon sun and the darting machine. He is immobile, transfixed by the flutterings and thrusts of his homemade mechanical bird.

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