He had joined the group as a way to meet people. Not because astronomy was a particularly lonely hobby, in fact at night when everyone was asleep and he was awake under the night sky, he felt the complete reverse, but because he knew he needed to become more social and ultimately this was the one activity he felt comfortable in. Comfortable was important to him, feeling secure and calm was what made him happy. Not that he was not interesting or adventurous, he just liked things, well, secure, and calm.
As it was the astronomy group were a nice bunch. Of course they were there to look at the stars but they weren’t too fussy, and on cloudy nights they would sit around with their flasks of coffee, discussing ‘The Apprentice’. In fact, those were some of the best nights. He liked the group, but as time went on he came to realise that he’d fallen back into his usual way of being. Known people in known places, which is all well and good. The problem is that when the people are the same all the time, and one of them isn’t an attractive middle-aged woman with an interest in astronomy and mountain biking, it doesn’t open up much opportunity for romance. And that was really the problem with him and he didn’t want to admit it. He didn’t have a problem meeting new people, he had a problem meeting women. Or if he did meet women, who were of the aforementioned ilk, then he didn’t know what to do with them. Well, no, he knew what ‘to do’ (or at least I think he does, the narrator knows not to ask such personal questions of a generally introverted protagonist) but the hurdle of actually asking them out seemed so insurmountable that he didn’t get ‘to do’ that, that often… If you know what I’m saying.
Friends of his had noticed his despondency and had begun suggesting ways in which he could ease up about ‘the whole woman thing’. What he needed to do, they thought, was just start dating lots of women. That way he would get used to the generic man and woman romantic situation, he would relax, and inevitably when he did meet one of those women of ‘the aforementioned ilk’ he would have no problem asking them out. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Whether or not he had the courage to go on one of those dating websites and use the women as some kind of practice sport, he had spent far to long by himself. And after so long by himself he had become sapped of all romantic energy. He just wanted her, his one, to show up and find him already, and put him out of his misery.
He had spent a good four months in this hopeless romantic misery. He had tried to distract himself by entering into even more social engagements than usual. His friends had thought that this was his way of making an effort to meet more women, they were delighted, and they had stopped interfering with his love life. Until they had. Recently they’d tried pushing him into blind dates, or into situations with women he didn’t particularly like. The last few days he’d decided to stay indoors and watch everything Netflix had to offer. Doing this had made him feel secure and calm again.
He had been looking forward to the astronomy group more than usual. There were going to be some shooting stars, it was going to be a clear night, and someone was bringing some homemade wine. So when he strode on to the common that night he felt pretty good. He felt secure and calm, but at the same time, adventurous and excited. But then the night fell flat, and so did he.
The clouds were cruelly staying put, there had been a bout of flu so some regulars hadn’t turned up, and some local school teacher had brought a bunch of kids along. Kids who soon got bored and started making that kind of loud, extraneous noise only teenagers can bear. He sat in his deck chair and stared glumly at the sky. For a moment there was a brief respite as he remembered the flask of hot chocolate and the many boxes of Jaffa cakes in his bag. He put up his telescope, put on some extra layers, then allowed himself to be grumpy and eat far too many Jaffa cakes for a grown man late on a Friday night. Unless, of course, he was suitably drunk. And there wasn’t a kebab to be had.
He had not moved from his spot for half an hour. The Jaffa cakes were starting to form some kind of uncomfortable solid compound in his stomach, so he decided to take a walk around. He passed between his friends, checking to see if anyone had seen anything. They hadn’t. The clouds were thinning, but visibility was still low. It was as he was making his way back to his deck chair that he glanced up for a moment and saw a golden coloured star in the western sky. A proper gold. Maybe the star had been there all along and he hadn’t ever really looked at it? But maybe it hadn’t always been that colour? Maybe it was something special? He worked out its place in the sky and began thumbing through plans and guides to work out what it might be. He lost himself in his flurry of excitement and it took him a while to hear the commotion behind him. After a moment he came to and turned to take a look at what he supposed would be a shooting star. What he saw, in fact, was a falcon.
The falcon stood in the centre of their semi-circle, quite unperturbed by their presence. As the falcon made to walk around he noticed leather straps attached to the bird’s feet, the kind you see on trained ones. This was a good sign he thought, it most likely meant that the falcon knew not to attack him. But then again did falcons ever attack humans? Now that he thought of it he wasn’t sure. It was probably best to stay back anyway. He was secretly hoping someone else knew what to do. But, as everyone whipped out their cameras and the teenagers took out their phones, it became clear that the falcon was looking at him, and only him. He instinctively threw the falcon a Jaffa cake, which it took politely before bouncing back a few feet to something in the tall grass, to the rear of the group. As the falcon danced over the grass it occurred to him that the bird had clearly caught something and was pulling it apart. He began to imagine the gruesome sight that awaited him, and then a curious thought struck his brain. If a falcon had just caught its prey, would it have taken the Jaffa cake? It was an interesting question, and one he didn’t know enough about falcons to answer. It was at this point that the falcon bounced back out of the grass. It became clear that it was agitated, and as he looked closer he noticed a thick piece of insulated wire wound around the bird’s foot. He wasn’t exactly sure but he believed at this point that the falcon was looking to him for help. He weighed up the odds of the bird attacking him then moved forward into the long grass, into the dark, beyond the lights of the group. He didn’t know what he had been expecting but he hadn’t expected this. And this, was a badly broken legal lamp.
He recognised the kind of lamp, the kind with a low green glass shade. They always appeared on television programs and Argos, at least, called them legal lamps. But that probably wasn’t the most interesting thing in this particular moment. The most interesting thing, he supposed, was that it was attached to a falcon. Now that was a real head-scratcher. As he stood there the falcon began to nip, impatiently, at his feet. It occurred to him that if he freed the bird it might take off. Which could mean that it would find its way back to its owner. On the other hand, it could become more lost. He had to pick up the bird first. As he turned to look down at the falcon he became aware of the silence. Everyone was staring at him, filming him, taking his picture. He was a little put out that he had been left on his own with this. But then, he did at least look like he knew what he was doing. He leant down to the ground with his arm out, like he saw people do on tv, and the falcon obliged by stepping on it. Falcons, he realised, were surprisingly heavy. He encouraged the bird on to his other hand and held him in place by his straps while he unhooked the wire with his free hand. Then, they just sort of looked at each for a bit.
The small crowd was trying to cheer in a very quiet way, so as not to upset the bird. He walked back to them, feeling quite proud of himself. As they drew in to get a good look at the bird and congratulate him, he realised he was smiling, a proper face-aching smile. But in a moment he became aware that he had just volunteered himself as the guardian of this bird, and what was he going to do with it? Luckily he didn’t have to answer that question himself. Some of the group knew of a local wild bird sanctuary. He must have escaped they said. Quite why he had been carrying the lamp confused everyone. Turned out that everyone had seen the falcon, with the lamp, and he had been the only one who had vague notions of finding a pet cat in the grass. In which case, they said, he was probably all the braver for going in to investigate.
They began to make a plan. The falcon seemed quite happy in his care, he would sit in the back of someone’s car and they would drive him to the sanctuary. But then, the rain began. He worried for his telescope, the bird, everyone began running in circles not quite knowing what to do with themselves. Then, he saw it, a little light bobbing in the dark. A bicycle lamp, growing closer. The rain was getting heavier, but curiosity kept him rooted to the spot. He began to make out the outline of a bike, then a figure, then a woman. She was his age, a little shorter than him, her blonde hair was damp with rain, and her brow was furrowed. She slowed down the bike and as she rose to dismount she saw the bird, then she saw him, and then she smiled. She threw her bike to the ground and walked towards him. “Kit!” she said to the now excited bird. She turned to him and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Seren” she said, “and I am so pleased to have found you!”.
Keywords: Lamp, falcon, star. Provided by Rhianedd Smith.