clockwork," Nigel whispered. He did not want to scare the duck at feeding time.
The same man from yesterday had joined him again on the opposite side of the
pond. He was rattling a tub of duck food at the water. The tub was transparent
plastic and held brown pellets, nestling together like the ducks when they were
cold. Nigel glanced down at his own tub. The label showed the same duck, its
head glowing a luminescent green.
Nigel inspected him,
debating whether to say Hello this time. The man had a red pockmark on his chin
where he had cut himself shaving. Nigel patted his own cheeks, feeling a nick.
They were wearing the same green waxed jackets, with equally bulging pockets.
Their trousers bore the same brown streaks from the mud on the path to the
Saying Hello could
wait until they met again tomorrow, Nigel decided. The man would think that
they were mirrors to each other, feeding a duck because they had nothing to do
or anyone else to speak with. They would feel rejected and ashamed at the same
time. It was better to say as little as possible and pretend they were
invisible to each other. Being oblivious could become a habit.
The man opened his
tub with a snap. Nigel diverted his gaze to his own tub. He held it in front of
his chest like a talisman and walked around the pond in the opposite direction
from the man to be sure that embarrassment would be avoided. Twenty paces
later, he considered himself alone.
Are you going
to ignore us forever? a girls voice asked behind him.
Nigel turned around.
A girl in a floral dress waved at him. A boy held her hand and was glancing at
the man on the opposite side of the lake. Freckles covered his face.
I was about to
feed my duck before you disturbed me, Nigel said and blinked.
is the story of my life, the girl replied.
The duck gets
scared by company, Nigel replied.
never change. They dont even know each other, the boy said to
With a squeeze of
their hands, the couple retreated behind a tree bordering the pond. Nigel shook
his tub at the couple by way of dismissal and trudged down the path. He glanced
at the other side of the pond. The other man was watching him, his eyes wide
open and tracking every step.
A solitary duck
paddled across the pond, two streams of bubbles in its wake forming a V. Its
head matched the green of Nigels boots and its beak was the yellow of the
September afternoon sun above them. But its feathers were the grey of an
overcast sky and were spoiled by a patch of white, baby feathers on its side
fluttering in the backdraft.
been in a fight again. Daddy will take care of you, Nigel called out and
rattled his tub at the duck.
The bubbles altered
course towards him. Nigel held out a brown pellet like a homing beacon.
Fish and maize
to make you feel better, he said to the duck.
The duck quacked and
slowed down to the riverbank. Its beak pecked at the pellets in Nigels
Elizabeth, Nigel winced. A fleck of blood glistened on his thumb. He
sucked on the skin, then reached into the tub for more pellets.
The duck bobbed its
head as it ate each pellet in turn.
were together, we have the best of times. We dont need anybody else
when youve got your treats to entertain you, Nigel said.
With a quack, the
duck turned around and paddled from Nigel to the opposite bank.
Nigel tried not to
frown as the V widened away from him and. The other man was squatting on the
bank, holding out a palmful of pellets that were equally brown and
Thomas is such
a good little boy. Getting into scrapes shows that you can handle the
playground bullies, the man boomed at the duck.
Elizabeth is a
girl, Nigel mouthed across the water, scared of breaking their visits of
mutual oblivion to the pond.
The duck pecked at
the mans pellets.
With his free hand,
the man stroked the ducks head. What a cutey for his daddy,
the man said, each word thundering across the water. He yelped as the duck
pecked at his middle finger. Someones not getting their dinner
tomorrow, he grimaced.
getting disturbed by people shouting at the top of the voice, Nigel
whispered. He slipped his hand into his jacket pocket and took out a
The V narrowed
across the pond towards him.
like the maize either. Tuna with a touch of mayonnaise as you liked it. I
shouldnt have forgotten, Nigel said to the duck. He peeled the
sandwich into two halves and removed the tuna from the middle. The water
sparkled as he scattered the tuna into the pond.
The duck bobbed its
beak at the tuna flecks. A tear formed in Nigels eye as he watched. He
wiped his face, aware that he was showing more of himself to the man than he
had intended to.
Thomas likes proper food so he can show the boys from the girls, the
other man boomed. He removed a brown paper bag from his jacket pocket and fed
thin white slivers into the water. Organic chicken, cooked according to
your favourite recipe topped by a dash of oregano.
The duck snapped its
yellow beak at the chicken strips, holding them in like a vice-like grip.
Thomas, appreciating everything his daddy gives him, because his daddy loves
him so much, the man said.
The beak loosened
its grip on the chicken, dropping the strips uneaten into the water with a
splash. Then the ducks head spun in a whir of green as the V of bubbles
reversed and it paddled towards Nigel.
know that chicken makes you grow hairs on your chin, Nigel said to the
duck. Princesses prefer an after-dinner snack to help them sleep
better. He ripped the bread from the tuna sandwich into chunks and cast
them on the water.
A flock of seagulls
swooped onto the pond in a cacophony of shrieks and bodies narrowed like
arrows. One of the seagulls snipped at the ducks white baby feathers and
pecked at the bread.
Twisting its neck,
the duck nursed the patch of white feathers on its side. Then it stretched its
wings and flew away, its webbed feet flashing in the sky like orange-tinted
The two men stood
watching each other on the opposite sides of the pond, their tubs hanging by
their sides. Nigel blinked, wondering if the other man would speak to him and
what he would say back.
A pair of knickers
flew over his head. It collapsed in a sea of blue and white lace trimmings on
the pond. Shrieking, a seagull tapped at the lace.
We wanted to
get your attention, the girl said from behind the tree.
were wondering if you had any condoms. We dont want to repeat the
mistakes you made when you were careless, the boy said.
off, Nigel and the man replied at once.
well escalate to my boyfriends socks. Hes worn them for a
week, if either of you give a damn, the girl said.
Lets catch the bus home. Ill
get my socks ready for tomorrow, the boy replied.
Top deck while
Im knickerless, the girl said.
They left the pond,
the girl leaning on the boys shoulder.
The two men were
alone. Nigel blinked, equally reluctant to go home and scared of speaking.
Ducks are so
demanding, the man boomed.
picky, Nigel whispered. Maintaining oblivion would have been safer, but
he hesitated still.
hear you, the man replied.
himself. He felt like he was skidding on ice that could break at any
the man said.
Inconsiderate, Nigel squeaked.
The seagulls waited
in the pond, half-way between the two men. Nigel rustled his pocket and they
darted towards him. But his hand stayed in his pocket and they returned to the
middle. His head was giddy. He had jumped from skidding on ice to being
indigestion from your bread, the man boomed.
undercooked chicken made Elizabeth woozy, Nigel replied.
Boys are worse
on your perspective, Nigel said.
Ill try turkey. The man paused. Less fat.
will make my tuna irresistible. The ice was holding, just.
The two men scanned
the sky, waiting for the flash of a yellow beak to appear.
isnt giving up, the man said.
Elizabeth, Nigel replied.
Ducks are like
their fathers, the man boomed.
At the entrance to
the pond, they heard a bus stopping and its doors hissing open.
always tomorrow, Nigel smiled.