The Hummingbird Man

Prompt: Sanctuary


Cash had heard that migratory birds sometimes stopped on Brasseux Lake on their way south; unusual birds for the region, like pelicans. He had never seen a pelican outside a zoo, and was fascinated by their prehistoric appearance, so getting a good shot of a pelican was his quest for this day. Failing that, he knew where the hummingbird sanctuary was, and could probably get a good freeze frame of hummingbird wings, if the camera was working properly,

He didn’t know if it was or not. It was an old Nikon SLR that his sister had given him for his 20th birthday, and with which he’d taken a photograph of his dog jumping up from a green lake to catch a tennis ball. Quite a dynamic action shot, and every droplet and strand of hair was in sharp, perfect focus. It was however, as much as everyone admired Cash for its capture, composition, and clarity, a complete accident.

He hoped for a similar accident today, to prove to his sister that he wasn’t completely useless. He would enter it in the Wildlife Federation contest and win something, and Envy might then get off his back.

She was probably expending all the pent-up nagging that she hadn’t used towards Marcus, and all the pent-up anger, too, pushed down so deep that it was now explosive. Cash didn’t appreciate being the recipient, or having her bad-mouth him to his wife (one of her closest friends), or pass judgement on his misadventures. He would demonstrate to her that he was serious, creative, and artistic, even if he wasn’t. At all. None of the above.

There were no pelicans to be seen, and Cash grew impatient. He wandered over to the hummingbird garden, where trumpet vines and lilies clustered around colourful but abandoned plastic feeders hung from low branches of the Russian olive trees. Beyond the trees, near a rocky shore, he saw an older man and kid, and wondered if they had frightened all the hummingbirds away. But no— Cash approached them, then stopped. The hummingbirds were feeding from a plastic red and yellow flower cluster that the old man held out in his hand.

They swarmed around him. They ignored the boy, who stood very still, and took their turns at the feeder, then fluttered away, and perhaps fluttered back.

Cash raised his camera and took twenty or so exposures in quick succession, then crouched down so the two men and the hummingbirds were framed by the flickering silver spear-like leaves of the olive tree. And more shots, when he crept a little closer. A close up of the man’s face. A close up of the boy, who looked to be about sixteen, and who stood as motionless as a wax statue.

Cash then took a step forward, and was noticed, and the hummingbirds flitted away.

“Incredible,” said Cash amiably, as he joined them on the rocky beach. “Sorry I scared them away, but I got some good shots.” He held up the old Nikon.

The old man and boy were startled, but the old guy held out his hand. “I’m Bernard, and this is my grandson, Andrew.”

“Cash.” He took the offered hand and found the old man had a firm and steady grip. The boy stood unsmiling and motionless, still.

“You took pictures?” asked the man.

“Yes! Incredible. I never saw anything like this. How did you do it? I should get a winner or two out of this roll.”

“Unfortunately, I would rather you didn’t use the pictures of me and my grandson.”

“I’ll pay you,” said Cash. A wrong move, because the old man frowned. “Sorry. I mean I won’t use them without your permission.”

“Good,” said Bernard. He took a card out of his jacket pocket. On it was printed his name, address and telephone number. Scrawled across the bottom in ballpoint pen was an email address. “Call me, ok, Cash?”

“Will do,” said Cash, puzzled, and he watched them hike back up to the road where they got into a yellow taxi cab. It skidded on the gravel a little, before reaching the highway and disappearing into the distance.

Cash debated whether or not to wait for the pelicans. But he couldn’t erase the image from his mind, as if it was already a photograph, developed and printed, of an old man surrounded by hummingbirds. He wanted to see the pictures he took. He wanted to see the old man’s face again. And the boy’s face too: so still, so focused, so enraptured. Incredible.