Benny wakes to a message from his partner. It reads “…we might not have a future together…” He reads it over several times. It is in a context of a wider conversation. One spanning from the night before. Stretching for days and weeks. He thinks to reply but puts the phone down instead. His mornings, of late, are for clarity of thought. His mornings are for detaching himself off the chains of the online world. But…
Benny attempts to get up but sits right back down. He tries to lay his head on his pillow but springs up. He reaches for his phone then pulls his hand away. The same hand scratches at his head. Then his eyes search for something. Anything.
He looks through his window. The sun making its way up. It’s bright rays sweeping away the taint of night. The rustle of the wind over the rose bush out in the garden. The petals dance. A butterfly flutters. He looks away. He finds himself staring at nothing. He doesn’t know how long elapses but suddenly his room begins to close in on him. The walls pressing. The ceiling collapsing. He can see the bulb in the light. The sun’s heat baking him alive. The bed a trap. His breathing is short and shallow. His hand grips at the mattress.
He thinks breathe. Breathe! Breathe!
He gets up. His head’s in a rush but he still manages to put on some shorts. A shirt. Trainers. All in one swoosh. Then he paces out.
The air is clean and the sky is blue outside. There are clouds. White wisps rolling into great puffy masses. The contrast has Benny continue to tilt his head upward. He has never been out this early. The neighborhood is half asleep it seems. Small bits of noise, every once in a while, punctuate the waking street. Then a breeze. Benny can almost hear where it is coming from. Where it is going. The wind is just for him. Blowing over. His skin kissed. The hairs on it rise. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his shorts.
“…we might not have a future together…”
Benny realizes, as his legs carry him on the uneven pavement blocks, that in some way the message means ‘… he has no future …’ That he has come to revolve his world around the promise of a future with his partner. That his vision of his future is ‘us.’ And every decision he makes is in line with that. And if they don’t have a future, he doesn’t. He sighs and wipes away a tear threatening to break from the dam of his heart.
He continues to walk.
A bird calls from above. Then another responds. It is a high frequency whistle and the response a quick-fire double knock. He searches for these two birds. His eyes scour the blissful blue of the sky. The wind rising. The clouds rolling. Then the call again. Then the double knock.
From a tree, it seems. His head tilts further back. Before he can find them there is a loud squawk. Three crows push upward. Their black wings thick with feathers, catching the wind. The white on their breasts flexed. Benny watches as they circle around and find their way onto a dustbin. Their black beaks almost purple. They pick at the garbage through the plastic bags. It tears and some unidentifiable food spills on the floor. Waakye? Brown rice and stew? More squawks are heard. Benny has to redirect himself away from the crows amassing at this early morning feast. And it’s only on the second thought, ‘why is the garbage out,’ that he realizes it is Monday. His nose immediately picks the scents from other garbage bins outside their respective homes.
The start of a new week. A new day. A new hope. A new reason to be sad at the world. Or another one. Because no Monday is new. It comes out of the weekend like a bastard child. Unwanted and too soon. Benny stops himself from going further down this melodrama. There will be many things on his mind today. Things to do with work. To do with friends. To the unquestionable flow of life. But pervading everything will be this text message. This bullet. Piercing. Tearing. He almost trips on himself. But instead raises his head to the sky again. To a tree. The top of one. He sees something red flash in the thick of the branches. In between the bush of leaves. Yellow beak. Red-breasted. Black coat and sharp short tail-feather. He thinks ‘Robin.’ But doesn’t know if that makes sense in Accra. But he sees it now tilt its own little head back and produce that sound. WHEET! And then from somewhere else, knock-knock!
A singular question bursts from his mind and shoots into the sky.
‘Do the birds know it’s Monday?’
As the neighborhood awakes, the birds seem to rise in unison. Benny is almost back at his place though. He takes one last look up. It is so simply blue. Then the whistle! Knock-knock!
The curtains do little to spoil the rise of the sun. The gilded rays ease through the rustling silk of the curtain and bring a soft texture to the sharp edges of Benny’s room. Benny has just put down his phone. Again, he has spent a good amount of the night conversing with his partner about where exactly they are. Trying to locate each other. Trying to put together the pieces. To find the strings that tethered them.
Last night, he asked for truth from his partner and received it. But it isn’t something he easily digests. He presses his feet on the cold tiles and stares out the window. Breathing in. Breathing out. The curtain is obscuring the view. But he can see the leaves of a nearby tree flutter wildly. Then two birds burst from within the tree and swoop out of sight. He didn’t get a good look at them but thought he saw a streak of red. ‘Robin?’ He lifts himself off the bed. He grabs his notebook and pen. Shorts, shoes, and he is ready to go.
What he thought was going to be a brilliant sky, like the previous week, is murky. The clouds are splattered all over the sky in some uneven fashion. Blotches of grey clouds blend into a dirty white. Benny thinks the sky is undecided. Walking, Benny opens his notebook to the question written.
‘Do the birds know it is Monday?’
It has been underlined three times with a bold felt pen.
Benny hears many squawks. He turns to look behind him and sees a score of crows on the roof of a neighbor’s house. Their talons clack and click on the brick-colored roofing tiles. They shimmy and step into and around each other. The white of their breasts prominent on their chests. Their beaks, purple-black. One lifts off, and the others follow in a series of squawks. Flapping their powerful wings in some disorganized unison.
They settle on a patch of lawn. The grass is withered and yellow but Benny can see a black tube run through it. Shooting out the black tube, in Vs, is water. The crows shimmy and claw their way around it. Pecking at the water with their beaks in one instance then lifting their heads up. Benny moves slowly. They all turn their heads toward him. He stands still. Pen and notebook in hand. He thinks that if he moves they will flee. But he must move. Before he can take another step, a man comes into view, waving his hands to sack the birds. The crows flap away in a hurry. They land not too far from the water source. Turning their heads toward the man who Benny recognizes as the gardener.
Benny decides to continue walking.
Just as last week, garbage bins are out. Green boxy things sitting idly on the roadside. The smell of trash permeates in a way that is not too obtrusive. As he notes down the smell, a houseboy from another of his neighbor’s house rolls a bin out onto the curb. His face carries sleep on it. His movements languid and slow. A tree, not too far from this scene, is heavy with sound. Whistles and oddly tunes pitched and of high frequency carry over to Benny. The leaves are vibrating. The man leaves the bin and walks back into the house. As soon as he leaves, little birds shoot then streak toward the bin from the tree. These are dull brown colored birds. ‘Pigeon’ Benny thinks. Their eyes black and beady. They do not excite in the same way the red-breasted bird does. But they go about their business efficiently enough. Pecking at the bin here and there to see if any loot is available. Benny gets as close as he can to them. But just then remembers something from the night before.
“We are not as in love as before. We are not as close or open with each other…”
He stops himself in his tracks. It is another bullet from the night before. Trading shots with his partner.
He agreed with their assertion. But now he thinks how it came to be like this. Why aren’t they as close or open? Is it because love fades? Or is it because they have let it fade? That he hasn’t done enough on his part to keep things interesting? That he hasn’t put in all the effort it required to keep their relationship going? Is he in some way lacking? Benny asks these questions but has no answer to them. The dull-looking birds have flown away. This time it wasn’t a gardener but the turning and roving of a car driving out of a parking lot. Benny knows this neighbor and he makes a wave at him. The person doesn’t wave back. The tires crunch over the gravel before slowing at the potholes. The crows, squawking disapprovingly, jump further away to avoid the car. Benny watches as it drives on and in some distant place hears the beeping and bumping of traffic. Accra is awake.
He looks down at his notebook. The question he has sought to tackle. The riddle in his head. ‘Do the birds know it's Monday?’ suggests many things. That the world of the birds has clashed with the world of humans, to a point at which the birds have come to share routines and social constructions. Some sort of co-dependence. He has written down ‘sound’, ‘smell’, and ‘sight’ underneath his question. With these indicators is it possible that birds have come to know, or understand that, water and food will be made ready if there is, he writes:
- Garbage smell
- Sound of screeching tires
- Water sprinklers and moist
- Gardeners and houseboys walking about
The social constructions of humans have become the source of livelihood for birds. City birds. But, and this is where Benny is not convinced, they are birds! Can they be so, so, so… he doesn’t know the word, but he lands on ‘intelligent?’ He remembers the yellow beady eyes of the red-breasted bird. With its whistle and double knock that so affected Benny the other week. He hasn’t seen it today. Maybe he won’t. But he can’t reason that that bird, as beautiful as it looks, knows it's Monday. And therefore, sings, and whistles so excitedly.
He can only know for sure by taking a walk on a non-Monday day. So Benny closes his notebook and strolls around the block a couple of times before heading back home.
It is Tuesday morning. The sky is an endless pearl of blue and white. Bits of cloud spread out in no discernible pattern streak across the sky. As if a bigger cloud has been torn and splayed. The darkness of the night has all but receded. Benny’s eyes draw themselves back to the ground as he almost trips on himself. There is a difference between today and yesterday, he admits. The sounds and liveliness of the birds are missing. So are some of the human elements that go with it. There are no bins and slightly obtrusive smells. No gardeners. No sprinklers with the faint brush of water moistening his face. No gang of crows stalking about. Benny shuffles along. His hands shoved deep into his pockets. As if the answers to the questions pulling at his heart and mind are in there.
‘Which is it?’ He asks himself.
The thump is from his heart. But the thoughts are in his head. Together they have made a union. He brings his gaze further down to his feet. Bits of gravel are on the sidewalk. He kicks at one and it flies down the sidewalk and almost hits something. Before Benny can get a good look at it, it’s flown off in a blur of red. Robin?
He forgot to check whether Robin’s were in Accra. He forgot a great many things yesterday. Things he doesn’t want to remember that he forgot. Because if he asks himself the simple questions, the answers will reveal to him something that he has been trying to avoid. Something he rather wish didn’t happen. His hands dig deeper into his pockets. His gaze even more narrow.
And is it up to him to completely close himself off to that? That inevitability. If he were to do that, would that make it not real? To just convince himself, no. To the birds. To the end of the relationship.
It’s a nonsensical thought. One that doesn’t deserve further provocation. But Benny can’t differentiate what does and doesn’t make sense. So he continues to burrow into the ground. Dig himself into a nice cozy place of his unreality.
Just then, he hears a whistle. Then the double knock. Oh, this bird and its call and answer. If only it were so simple. If only he could do the same and know that something, someone, was always there on the other side. Waiting to give back what he gave. Reciprocate.
In the nest of their love, his and his partner’s love, they made a home for themselves. But a home is not to be built and simply lived in. It needs maintenance. Twigs to be replaced. Structures to be improved on. If not, it suffers at the harsh currents of change. And those currents come in bursts and spurts throughout. Rain. Wind. Blistering heat. Relentless in their feast on the static. The still. There are many things to blame another for in the toils of making a nest. But in the end, it is a home made by two. ‘Why did they give up on maintaining their home?’ he asks.
Again, his hands dig deeper into his pockets. He can’t hold on to anything sure and true. Do the birds know it’s Monday? Do they? Does he? Does he know anything? Benny scolds himself. He can’t take it. He can’t. This vagueness. The clarity. The sky is beaming, but his mind is foggy. ‘Damn it all,’ he thinks. He wants to shout it. Damn the birds and their high-pitched whistling! Damn the constructs that say today is Tuesday, or Monday! Damn all that comes with love! What is it meant for? What is the point of all this? The nest. The home.
And with that, Benny pulls his hands out of his pockets and covers his eyes from the now beating rays of the sun. Before long his lungs are pounding with coughs. Again and again. Hot tears cascade down his cheek. It won’t stop it seems. He wipes at them but thinks ‘what the use?’ He cries. For the nest he now admits he was living in by himself. He cries for the uneven sidewalk. The trees. The birds. It’s all pity.
He holds his stomach and bends forward. As if there is something tearing at his insides. He wants to stop but continues anyway. There is no connection between his mind and body. They are separate. As he and his love is. The future holds nothing. There is only the ground.
As his eyes empty out, the windows through which pours out his soul, his spirit begins to lighten. It doesn’t take long for the coughing to turn into laughter. That tearing in his stomach is giving way to some burgeoning feeling. It’s all making sense now Benny realizes. It’s all connected. Because though he knows his love is naught, the birds don’t care. Neither the sky. The wind. What use would it be to go about in pity of oneself when no one else pities you? What use does it do to cry over a destroyed nest. Go and make a new one. Go and make your own one. The Earth keeps spinning on its axis.
The world continues to revolve regardless of it's Monday or not.
And without ever knowing whether it was a robin or not, he sees the red-breasted bird and its mate. They are perched on a tree top. They dance delicately about from branch to branch. But just as they get closer, they jump away and soar into the sky. In the endless blue, their silhouettes disappear. Merge.
Tomorrow could be anyday.