Birds of a Feather


Nick pulled in front of the Deli a little after 8PM. It was earlier than dusk but with the late Mariners game versus the Blue Jays, Nick wanted to skip the fray of traffic before it got into a frenzy. He figured he’d clean up some of the last remaining paperwork about the office rental and call his career as a real estate agent done. After shutting off the engine and removing his helmet, he heard some other sort of frenzy, angry birds squawking unusually loud. It was coming from behind the building.

He went around back towards where the office stairs were and saw what the ruckus was. A collection of crows had taken up residence at the dumpster and were whooping and squawking loudly. The dumpster had seemed to have seen better days, it looked dented and the ground underneath looked like it had recently been roto-tilled. He shrugged, figuring the birds were just fighting over territory, although, they didn’t seem to be attacking or addressing each other.

In fact, they seemed to be in some sort of solidarity and as he watched the separate crows all started vocalizing at the same exact time, creating some sort of crow chorus. Weird. There was a crash, like a bottle shattering back around front and, worried that someone had backed into his bike, he ran around the front.

It was the girl from the Deli and her grandmother. The grandmother had been carrying a grocery bag and it had split open, a jar crashing on the pavement. Both the girl and her grandmother were carrying too many bags apiece to do anything but set their burdens down to try and assess the damage.

Nick flipped his messenger bag behind him and trotted over to help. Within a few minutes, he and the girl had hefted all the bags inside the Deli, letting the grandmother head grumbling towards the back towards the small office, her hand to her head, without even acknowledging Nick’s help at all.

As Nick dumped the bags on the counter, the girl turned to him, suddenly shy. “Thank you for your help. It was most kind.”

“No problem,” he trailed off, at a loss.

“Irina.” She tucked her hair behind her ear, suddenly bashful.

“Nice to meet you. Again. I’m Nick.”

She averted her eyes, starting to remove items from the grocery bag. “I know,” she said quietly.

Nick had a hard time believing this was the same girl that had given him such a hard time just a few weeks before. Even more surprising was how her grandmother, aka the Iron Curtain, had transformed. He could just see through the hallway into the back room where she had put her leg up on a stool, took an embroidered handkerchief out of her sleeve, and put the cloth to her eyes.

“Is your Grandmother ok?”

Irina followed Nick’s gaze and then walked to doorway, pulling a curtain into place. She approached him slowly, arms wrapping around herself. “Grandmother is very upset. My sister Oksana has been missing for several days.” Irina sniffed and rubbed at her nose with her sweatshirt sleeve.

A sick feeling moved through Nick’s stomach. He swallowed. “Your sister? Oksana? Was she blonde, tall, short skirts?”

The hopeful face that jerked up to look at him looked familiar and confirmed his suspicions. “You’ve seen her? Where? When?”

Nick felt his mouth go dry. How do you tell a teenage kid that you suspected her older sister had joined the ranks of the undead? However small those ranks might be? Or not? Nick wasn’t sure what to say so he opted for the truth. “Sorry. It was a week ago, over at Jerry’s.”

“Oh,” her face fell. “She used to go out all the time but she’d always come home. Sometimes, she’d wake me and tell me who she met, who’d flirted with her, crazy stories. She is always struggling to fit in here in America, to not feel so much the outsider. Drives Grandmother crazy, that she is giving up her heritage to be someone she’s not.”

Nick nodded. He’d heard that argument before. “It’s not easy being first gen.”

Irina met his gaze and understood him. “But it all got worse when she saw him. After that, she seemed almost possessed to break with us.”

“Him?”

Irina pulled at the cuff of her sweatshirt. “Shishka. Our landlord. You know him.”

Nick remembered that when the Landlord had gotten mentioned before, the girl and her grandmother had become afraid. He regretted the deception.

“Look, I don’t really know the guy at all. I was just trying to show the office.”

Irina kept pulling at her sleeve. Nick worried that she’d clam up now that HE had been mentioned. She had started to gnaw on her lip so Nick took a peek into the grocery bag. “I don’t see any beets for the borscht.”

“Chjort! Grandmother told me I’d forget.”

Nick smiled, “Look, why don’t I ride down to the market and pick some up?”

Irina looked undecided. “No, that is too much. I can go.”

“Come on, it’s a ten minute trip on my bike. Besides, don’t want you wandering around alone out in the dark.” He could see she was teetering on agreement. “I’ll come back and we can have some pierogi.”

She turned thankful eyes up to him. “But I don’t really know how to cook.”

He was already heading for the door. “Don’t you worry. I know my way around a kitchen.”

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One Response to “Birds of a Feather”

  1. jozdavis Says:

    finally getting the russians straight…. 🙂

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