Puzzle Project III: Cultivating a Love for Birds

November 7

Mrs. K came back for her country. She spent more than 20 years in England, studying English Literature at Oxford, but she came back, back to a city of imperfection. I never really asked her why, but I bet it was because she missed it.

The curriculum was less than challenging but she was brilliant, smart, and knowledgeable, and very encouraging. She would stand in the drafty room with its wooden chairs, colorless walls and write sparsely in eloquent cursive. Her writing matched her mellow voice perfectly, and she would talk about the greatest novels in the world, the flawed characters in stories and ask us to think and capture our thoughts in words. No wonder I liked her. I like most of my English Lit. teachers, and not to brag and all, but they all loved me.

Mrs. K was tall, thin, and birdlike, and of course she wore glasses. What self-respecting English professor doesn’t wear glasses? If she had ever met J.K. Rowling, she would have made it into the Harry Potter series. Definitely a good witch, probably one of those seemingly frail characters who show great strength and courage unexpectedly. I can see her clearly with a flowing deep red cape, a slim wand.

Mrs. K loved reading, and writing, and she loved gardening. She and her husband lived in a small house with a small garden where she would grow tomatoes and basil, because her husband loved cooking and those were his favorite ingredients. They did not have any children. She spent her evenings grading mediocre assignments, commenting on character sketches, and preparing her lesson plans. She would drink chamomile tea and read at least thirty pages of a good novel before sleeping. On the weekends, she and her husband would listen to Irish rock music and eat Italian food. What a cultured lady!

I imagine the beautiful green fields, the magnificent architecture, the domes, the stained glass and the colors of trees she left behind. I remember my college, the white square buildings and the black shoes we all had to wear. I remember the huge wasteland I would pass on my way to college, strewn with wrappers and those plastic bags. Where do all those plastic, polythene bags come from?

Mrs. K and I liked to talk, I would tell her my word of the day. I was going through a phase in which I would peruse the Oxford English dictionary, open a page randomly and learn a new word. We both loved mountains and trees and Crime and Punishment. I guess our biggest disagreement was over the topic of birds.

“I don’t like birds,” I had said in class one day. The expression of shock on her face was so genuine and distressful it was amusing.
“How can you not like birds?” Mrs. K wasn’t one to have extra exclamation points in her conversation but if she was, there would have been at least two extra ones in that sentence.
“I don’t know. They’re kind of creepy with their beady eyes and sharp beaks, and their ugly feet. Especially pigeons. I cannot stand the sound they make!”
Mrs. K tried to dissuade me gently but I guess I felt strongly on the subject. We agreed to disagree, but she urged me to try and see the other side.

Eight years later, I was sitting in my balcony missing home when I looked up and saw the silhouettes of birds, sharp and black against the blue sky. They were flying high, small and, I have to admit, beautiful. Free but purposeful, and powerful.

I thought of Mrs. K, who had come back to her country and I was thankful. 


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