In the afternoon sun, just after two o’clock, a small blue and white bird flew through the park just off Jefferson Street. It flew over the people walking their pets, and the children playing on the playground. It even flew precariously close to a stray cat hunting for a mouse. It loved the way the wind felt flowing under its wings, and the way the warm air off the paved path would lift it higher, letting it glide with minimal effort off the path around the large oak trees and back again to get more warm air.
The bird spotted the hotdog cart that frequented the park with relative ease, as it always set up very close to the pond with the ducks. The bird landed in a nearby tree and whistled its melodic song into the air with glee. Below, the bird could see the old man that tended the cart, sitting in his blue chair. The man’s black and white hair was as disheveled as ever, and he wore the same diamond pattern sweater and brown corduroy pants he always wore.
“Hello there, bluebird,” the old man said, looking up at it. “One moment, please.”
The bird watched the vendor retrieve an orange from the storage cupboard underneath, cut it open, and set it an acceptable distance from the cart. The bird sang its song as it glided down to the grass and hopped a few times in place, excited for its favorite meal.
“At some point, I’ll have to start charging you,” the old man said, winking at the bird as he dropped back down into his chair. “Oranges are getting more expensive every day, it seems.”
The bird pecked a few times at the fruit. Biting into the soft flesh of it and enjoying the sweet and tangy flavor. It stopped when the man bent to pick up a newspaper and tilted its head curiously. It had never seen the man look at a paper before.
“Are you curious what’s going on in the news too?” the man asked, seeing the bird staring at him. “Not much, honestly. It seems to be mostly bad news these days. No heroes anymore. No random acts of kindness. I mostly get the paper for the puzzles and comics now. The news can be quite depressing.”
“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice said from the other side of the cart. “I’d like to buy a hotdog.”
“One second,” the man said, dropping his paper as he groaned, getting up from the chair. “I’ll be right with you.”
The little bird hopped around the side of the cart to see a thin woman with a long, floral dress on. She wore simple shoes and a broad hat with a flower and a bow. The bird hopped a little closer, wondering if the flowers smelled as pretty as they looked.
“Shoo!” the woman said, noticing the bird. “I’m not giving you any of my bread.”
“He doesn’t eat bread,” the old man said.
“What?” the woman asked, handing the man some money.
“He don’t eat bread. I tried the first time I saw him. He wanted nothing to do with it. He prefers fruit, citrus mostly, but he’ll eat seed as well,” the man said.
“All birds eat bread,” the woman replied, lifting her nose toward the man, “don’t be ridiculous.”
“Tell you what,” the man said, a smile spreading on his face, “you give the bird some bread, and if he eats it, I’ll refund you the two-fifty for your hotdog.”
“Bread is bad for birds,” the woman replied, holding her food as though the bird would snatch it from her grasp at any moment.
“I know that, you know that, and he knows that,” the man said, nodding his head in the bird’s direction. “He’s not a normal bird.”
“Fine. If you’re so sure about it, make it ten dollars you’ll give me if he eats the bread,” the woman said. When she turned her head, a brown curl with a line of grey in it fell from under her hat. The bird looked from the man to the woman as she broke off a small piece of bread and tossed it into the grass nearby.
The bird watched the bread land and bounce once before coming to a stop, but looked back up at the woman, tilting its head once more. Confused as to why she would try to feed it bread when the man had so clearly told her that it didn’t eat it. The bird shook its head and hopped back over to the orange.
“That’s a trained bird, isn’t it,” the bird heard the woman ask.
“No, Ma’am,” the man replied as the bird bit into the bitter rind of the orange and began to drag it. “I’ve been coming here for years. That bird just showed up two months ago, out of the blue-mind the pun, and began hanging around every day around lunchtime. I feel like it comes here just because I’m here.”
The bird pulled hard on the orange to get it over a stick in the grass, and it fell over as the orange rolled toward the woman’s feet. The bird jumped back to its feet and chased the orange until it got too close to the woman. The bird stopped, looked up at the woman, then backed away, keeping its eyes on her.
“How strange,” the woman said, bending down for the orange. “Do you think it can understand us?”
The bird flapped its wings to get the woman’s attention. It wanted the sweet orange back. It knew until she tossed it, it wouldn’t get it from her.
“I think its smarter than most birds,” the man replied, looking at the bird.
“Here you go,” the woman said, smiling as she rolled the fruit back into the grass.
The bird moved forward once more and pecked away at the sweet sacks of juice again until it had its full. The woman and the man stood there, silently watching the bird eat. The bird sang a few notes of thanks to the old man before it flew away, heading east out of the park and back to where it had come from on the other side of the city.
It landed on a window sill and pecked the glass a few times until it slid open.
“About time, Paul. Where have you been?” Clarence asked as he hobbled across the room.
“I went to the park again,” the bird replied.
“I told you, you’re going to get in trouble out there,” Clarence said. “What if a hawk sees you? or a cat?”
“I’ll be fine, Old Friend. You worry too much. I’ve survived hundreds of years. It would be a shame if I died from something as silly as a cat,” the bird said, floating down to the floor where it began to change shape.
The bird’s torso began to swell as it opened its wings wide, and its legs lifted it up and grew thicker. The feathers all fell away, scattering to the floor as its beak shrank back down and became soft and pink lips. The black eyes remained, as the nose grew out of its face. In less than a minute, the little blue bird had changed entirely into that of a naked man no older than twenty.
“Put some clothes on, Paul. For Christ’s sake!” Clarence said, covering his eyes.
“If I liked clothes, I would wear them, Clarence,” Paul replied, grabbing a towel from the heating rail and wrapping it around his waist. “Are you ready to play some chess?”
“Why do you stay here, Paul?” Clarence asked. “After all this time. You didn’t have to stay.”
“We made a deal out in the forest, remember?” Paul said. “You wanted a friend, and I wanted to experience the city. You made good on your deal and took me everywhere I ever dreamed of seeing. So, as part of our agreement, I will stick around until after you pass. Then I will return to the other fey in the forest with tales of life among the humans.”
“Is that why you stick around?” Clarence asked, pulling the chessboard from under the coffee table. “I thought you stayed around to annoy me and walk around naked too much.”
“Believe it or not, you old coot, I actually kind of like spending time with you,” Paul said, smiling as he set up the pieces. “So, until the end, it is.”