Paul was exhausted. For the last three days he’d been getting prank phone calls in the middle of the night. Just as he was about to drift off, his mobile phone would ring. He’d pick it up only to hear silence. He’d turn the phone off and then the whole pattern would start again. It’s almost as if the people calling could see that he was seconds from sleep.
“Just turn your phone off at night,” his mum said over lunch on the fourth day.
But it wasn’t that easy. Ever since Sandra left him and moved to the other side of the world, he was determined to always be available in case she changed her mind. The thought of her trying to call him in the middle of the night, his time, and his phone being off made Paul feel sick.
He’d fly to New Zealand tomorrow if he could. But she wouldn’t allow it. So he stayed at home in the dark, isolating countryside.
“You need to see people,” his mum said. “Or at least get a hobby.”
Paul was fed up with people. They’d always let him down. A hobby wasn’t a bad idea though. He used to love feeding the birds. He loved how they couldn’t judge him. He loved how if he’d ever made a mistake or forgotten to put food out, they couldn’t get on his case. They’d simply fly away and come back when he was ready to look after them.
Paul looked out of his kitchen window to see his dozen or so birdhouses looking a bit bleak. It must’ve been months since he’d last fed the birds. During the break-up he’d barely left the house.
“Good idea, mum,” he said. “Perhaps next week I’ll get back into feeding the birds.”
“I meant a real hobby,” she said.
“I’m trying, mum” he said.
“Yeah, yeah. Hope you manage to serve them something better than this stale rubbish.”
Once Paul’s mum had finished criticising his sandwich making skills (despite eating every crumb) she made her excuses and went home.
Paul was knackered. So knackered he thought he would most certainly sleep all the way through the night, prank phone calls or not.
Shit, what if Sandra rings and I’m conked out? Paul panicked. He made himself coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Too much coffee. He was determined not to sleep tonight. He wanted to wait up in case the phone rang.
When bed time rolled around, Paul was quite literally bouncing off the walls. He couldn’t sit still.
At 1am he decided to clean the kitchen. As he began to clean the floor, his phone rang in his pocket. Paul chucked the mop on the floor and answered after only one buzz.
“Hello?” Silence. “Hello?!” The phone died. Paul kicked the mop bucket across the room.
At 2am he decided to iron all of his shirts. As he was packing the ironing board away, Paul’s phone rang.
“Hello?” Silence. “HELLO?!” The phone died. Paul smashed up the ironing board with his fists.
At 3am he decided to feed the birds. He strapped a torch to his head, cleared out all 12 birdhouses, filling them all with fresh bread and seeds. As he headed back to the house, Paul’s phone rang,
“HELLO?” Silence. “HELLO?!” The phone died. Paul tore down an old fence panel.
At 4am he decided to reorganise the bookshelf in his bedroom. As he put the final book beginning with Z on the bottom shelf, his phone rang.
“WHO IS THIS?” Silence. “ANSWER ME!” The phone died. Paul burst into tears and threw a hardbacked book through his bedroom window. He ran to the broken glass and yelled through the hole into the direction of the huge oak tree that overlooked his room.
He screamed every four letter word he could muster, as if the leaves were mocking him. Paul sobbed as his blurry eyes fixed on an image he couldn’t quite believe. Sat on the closest branch to his window were four birds, circled around what appeared to be a mobile phone.
You? Thought Paul.
One of the four birds pecked the screen.
Paul’s phone rang.
He glared at the birds as the phone on the branch glowed. One of the birds chuckled.
Paul answered his phone.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT FROM ME SPARROWS?!” yelled Paul. “I JUST FED YOU! I THOUGHT YOU’D UNDERSTAND!”
“Paul?” came a voice from the phone.
Paul looked at the branch. The birds had gone.
“Paul? Are you there? Did… did you just call me a sparrow?”
Paul looked at the name on the screen of his phone and passed out, exhausted.
© Carl Burkitt 2018