She didn’t know when he had first locked her in his sights. They attended the same school and although they passed each other on a daily basis, they rarely exchanged words. Outside of school he had taken to appearing without warning and it made her feel uneasy. He was two years older than her and their friendship groups didn’t interact. His brother was in her year but their paths rarely crossed. Besides, the entire school knew that she had an all-consuming crush on another.
On a sunny afternoon in June, he waited outside the school gates for her. He was holding a bunch of red roses and as soon as she appeared he started to call out her name and wave her over as if they had a pre-arranged date. Some of the kids walking ahead of her turned to look and started to point and laugh. She felt her face burn with the creeping stain of embarrassment. The feeling of shame was quickly followed by anger. She walked on quickly with her head down, not wanting to acknowledge him. He chose not to take the hint and fell in step beside her.
“These are for you.”
“I don’t want them. Why are you doing this to me?”
“Doing what? Take them, they’re yours.”
She swatted the flowers away and they dropped to the floor. She continued to walk, hoping that he wouldn’t follow her. His anger filled the space between them, falling against her back like a swarm of hornets. The heat in her face testament to the fire of their sting. Her anger flared up and like a bullwhip cracked in the air above them.
“Just fuck off and leave me alone, you fucking weirdo!”
Fighting back tears of frustration she marched on. Every cell screamed at her to run but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction-it was bad enough that she felt guilt at having lost her temper.
On a sweltering day in August she was sitting on a low stone wall with one of her closest friends. They were sharing a perspiring can of pop and taking turns to fan each other with the latest issue of ‘Jackie’. His shadow had fallen across them before they realised that he was approaching. She looked at her friend and rolled her eyes. She had not seen him since the fifth year leavers ceremony -the incident with the roses had long since been forgotten by her peers.
He was carrying a shoebox with holes peppering the lid,’I’ve got a bird with a broken wing in here. Gonna take it to get fixed.’ Unhindered by their silence, he talked at length about volunteering at a bird sanctuary. He stood over them, blocking the sun and talking at them as if they had talked everyday for the past five years.
On a warm morning in September she checked her school bag for the third and final time before heading out to meet her friend. They always ‘walked in’ together and as a result she left the house much earlier than required for the ten-minute walk down the hill. On the door step sat the shoebox with the peppered holes. She looked up and down the street – he was nowhere to be seen. Staring down at the box she was undecided about what to do-not knowing what was inside scared her. The box started to chirrup and move. Slowly kneeling, she put her hands out and flipped the lid off with her finger tips. She stood up and took a step to the side-ready to run back in the house if need be.
A small bird hopped out of the box and began to stretch and flap its wings. Flittering to the middle of the lawn, it pecked the earth a couple of times and then flew to the garden wall where it perched for a few seconds before taking flight. Shielding her eyes from the eager sun, she chose not to think too hard about the intended message or the fact that he obviously now knew where she lived. With her bag securely over her shoulder, she reached for her ‘Walkman’ and pressed play.