His feet interrupt the snaking line of green bags. Bare beneath his cropped blue trousers, that blue tee. They are clawed over the doorstep, toes splayed, and he is standing – unusually for him – head twisting right and then left, examining the area. Grey smoke plumes from his beak where a Lambert & Butler hangs eternal, the front door pulled tight behind him. His bald head reflects the early-June sun; a gleaming beacon. Birdie.
Even then I thought I knew him.
Seeing him like that sometimes twice, three times, four, each day.
Seeing him where the day-late bin bags lined up, sacks of green bottles ready to fall. On this very street, observing the long stretch past Cemetery Park and pavement-deckchair-man with his cider and his power ballads blasting – his pale chest blistering with the first blink of summer. Here. In a maze of diamonds, gemstones and fuck-the-system stars.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t know him at all.
Usually when I passed, Birdie would be crouched, rocking on his haunches – forwards, backwards, forwards, back. He sometimes had a smile to flash, sometimes didn’t, not-quite-sat upon the threshold. Neither in nor out.
Birdie and I found our days mapped out by our time here. On this street where the community police officers hunted in neon packs as big dogs and small men walked by. Where builders swaggered past too, labourers for the down-the-road site, the one strewn with ‘Don’t play here children’ signs. Opposite, in the small recreation ground, older kids played at being adult and often failed.
On uneven days Birdie circled his motorcycle like a peacock danced around a hard-to-get disco ball, enamoured with the shine, his cloth buffing the silver flames, and then replacing the heavy lock. I realised I’d never seen him take the bike out. I wasn’t even sure it worked. On a bench in the Rec I sat for a while and I watched too, I sat for a while and then I went home.
I’d started wondering… I think we’d all started wondering, what was keeping Birdie from going in. What was behind that peeling door? We all had reasons not to go home, who didn’t, but to hover like that? It had started to unnerve people. It had started to unnerve me.
Not that I had secrets.
I had secrets.
When the sun turned itself up high and Birdie took his clothes off, I thought, the way the layers peeled so quickly, that one day, like a bored parrot in a local pub, he could give the whole community and their secrets away.
When he vanished the street unstitched itself, the newly-resurfaced pavements suddenly pocked with acne-like ditches, strewn with windswept litter, and the residents seemed to tumble, tumble, fall.
I noticed that his motorcycle had gone too. The tarmac beneath neatly clean and dark from a lack of exposure.
I thought, then, that he must have heard and seen a lot.