Birds Are So Arbitrary

Sitting in the conservatory, staring out of one of the glass panes. Apparently not looking at my laptop.

There’s a bird out there. Not sure what sort. Brown and red and a bright yellow beak. Lys would know what it is, but she’s not here at the moment.

Pecking about among the clumps of sun-bleached grass for something. Food, I guess? Not sure what he’s after.

I glance around the garden to make sure of the cat, and when I don’t see him I calm down a little. He’s probably still inside on the sofa. That’s good… I don’t think I can bear trying to save another tiny animal from his jaws.

I tap a couple of keys idly. Finger on the track-pad, opening the preview window on another email, or trying to – the email software work forces us to use is shocking.

While I wait for an email I don’t want to read to give me a task I don’t want to deal with, I look out at the bird again. Do birds even have genders, the way we do? That… feels like something I should know, but it’s never occurred to me. I should look it up in a minute, once I’ve done a little work.

I could ask Lys, but I need to work out whether or not it’s as stupid a question as I think it is, and whether or not I can face the ribbing I might get from her.

I’d like to pretend that I used to know stuff like this, before the breakdown, but the truth is I’ve never been good at remembering stuff about anything as arbitrary as birds.

Birds are so arbitrary. And so smug.

I check the clock on my phone. I’ve got time before my phone-call, so I move through the house to the kitchen, and make myself a coffee, and refill my glass of water.

When I get back, my phone is buzzing on the table, accidentally left on silent. I answer it in a rush, and immediately I’m in a phone meeting. My boss on the other end, with his boss, and from the beginning I’m being asked to draw conclusions from spreadsheets on the laptop.

It’s rough. I get the sense, as I often do from meetings with these people, that despite the data being pretty unambiguous, and the role I’m performing as collator of that data being objective by definition, there are right and wrong answers to the questions they’re asking.

I’ve never been good at this sort of thing. It’s part of why I have to work from home these days. We’re in the data business, and I love data. I love how honest pure data is. It shouldn’t be possible for someone who is good at my particular job to bend that data to an agenda.

But I can never shake the feeling, and it’s often borne out by evidence, that finding answers in the data that aren’t what my masters want to hear is not desirable. That it could go badly for me.

That bloody bird is still out there, hopping from one leg to another, like it ain’t a damn thing.

When it’s my turn to listen to the people on the phone, instead of poring through my data trying to kludge together a silver-lining for them, I watch the bird. For some reason it makes me anxious.

I catch a tone in my boss’s words every time we speak… a hostile edge that he’s no good at hiding, despite all that training they send middle managers on. Despite me sticking to my targets. Despite occupational health insisting that I had to work at home for my own good, and the good of the whole team.

It isn’t that he believes I’m faking my condition. He just doesn’t care about it one way or the other. He wants me back in the office or rid of me, and no amount of training can train men like him to be any more than bluntly mendacious about stuff like this. Middle managers are seldom the politic animals their institutions would prefer that they be.

The call finishes with a general feeling that they resent me, and a list of actionables for the upcoming days. When I put the phone down, I sigh a sigh so big that I almost put my back out.

That bird is still out there, on the other side of the glass, bouncing freely.

Working from home was supposed to make the demons go away. It was supposed to help the feeling of claustrophobia and alienation I felt around my colleagues dissipate.

But the pressure remains. The employer is the same. The poison still persists, only now instead of being able to take refuge in this house, with my wife and cat and garden, I’ve unwittingly brought my shackles home, and the poison seeps into the walls and glass around me, locking me in.

I hate that bird. I hope the cat kills it.

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Nicolas Papaconstantinou
Nicolas Papaconstantinou is an enthusiastic amateur creative type, and the chap behind Elephant Words. Be nice to him. He growed up kinda wrong.

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