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Bread and Midnight
Ferdinand always came at midnight, and Leah always wondered why. He was almost nocturnal, wanting the night all to himself. And she didn't mind. She was always there.
While crickets roared, Leah moved her tea bag up and down in her favorite blue mug and waited. The Florida air that stuck to her was as strong and thick as ever, and she prayed for a breeze that never came. She wiped her moist forehead with her bare hand, and then wiped her hand on her shorts.
The first sip of her green tea burned. Her butt was beginning to go numb in her uncomfortable lawn chair. Leah sighed. Sadness and annoyance battled inside of her and both won. The waiting was never pleasant, especially in summer, but if she didn't wait she knew she might miss him. And tonight, she knew she couldn't miss him. She had cried too much today to miss seeing him.
So she closed her eyes and listened for wings.
And finally, she heard them, along with a triumphant honk, honk, honk. There in the grass six feet before her stood Ferdinand, his feathers fluorescent in the moonlight.
Leah and her ibis friend had first met in the winter, when the weather was perfect for sitting outside. She had come out after a bout of insomnia, and Ferdinand had balanced on his single leg and looked at her, his reddish pink face curious and alert. Although birds had never piqued her interest, pity stirred inside her and she fed him a hearty late night snack of stale hot dog buns.
The next night he returned, staring at her through the living room window until she went out to speak with him. “I see you've come back,” she whispered. “Guilting me again, are you?” He stood in pleading silence until she caved and came back with three slices of bread.
After a few days, a sense of camaraderie had formed between them so that Leah couldn't help but go out every night and feed him. Sometimes, he'd bring friends, two or three, but mostly, he'd come alone. She named him and began to talk to him, and somehow it always felt like he was listening.
Tonight, he hopped over to her and looked at her with expectancy. “How are you?” She asked him.
He looked at her some more.
“I've decided to start giving you wheat bread,” Leah said. “We can't have you getting fat.”
He tilted his head a little bit, but still stared. Smiling to herself, she threw him the first crumb, which he picked up with the tip of his long, curved beak and then pulled his head back so that the morsel dropped into his mouth. He ate almost every bite in this manner.
“I'd never get used to eating with a beak like that.” The silence after her words was smooth like ice. As she tore each piece of bread, she wondered about birds and if they ever had any worries. “Tell me, do you have a family? A mate?”
He looked up from eating as if startled by the question but gave no answer. “Hmm, well, that's okay. I don't either.”
Ferdinand ate and ate, and the thing Leah wanted to say burned just like her tea. It was silly, it really was, speaking to a bird about serious issues. Speaking to a bird in general was odd, she felt, and yet, as the hopeless sadness bubbled in her gut, she heard herself saying, “Ferdinand...what about parents? Do you know your mom or your dad? No? Well, do you remember them?” Because she had stopped feeding him, he looked up at her again. “No?” Leah said again, softer this time. Sobs began to choke her, and Ferdinand stood in silence, looking lost. “I...my mom has a brain tumor. Do you know what a—of course you—I mean you're a bird, you don't--” Her sentences stopped ending and then stopped altogether.
“I'm sorry,” she sobbed to him, tearing another piece of bread. In her blurry vision she tossed it too close to her, and yet he hopped to get it. He had never been this near to her. Her tears subsided in curiosity for a brief moment. She tossed a piece closer, and he collected it. Leah put a piece in her hand and lowered it to his level, and very timidly, Ferdinand hobbled to get it. Slowly, his beak stretched to pick up the crumb right from her hand. She did so again and again, and Ferdinand ate from her hand until there was no more bread. Leah saw the detail of his eyes and the complexity of his bright white feathers. He was a beautiful creature, full of life and peace, peace that he'd felt like sharing with her in his own way.
Seeing she had nothing more to feed him, Ferdinand prepared to depart, but not before honking what Leah hoped to be thank you and farewell. Softly, he flew away, and Leah went back inside with a small smile.