Tomchik reaches for his bag, which sits between us on the bench.
“I like it here,” he says. He produces a thermos flask from within the bag’s khaki canvas depths, and proffers it.
I refuse. I am meant to refuse, he is hoping I will refuse, “Me, too.” I acknowledge, as he pours himself a shiny metal cup of tea. “You’ve gone environmental, then?”
“This metal thing?” He glances at the thermos, shrugs his shoulders; “Is alright, I guess.”
“Is it biodegradable?”
Tomchik turns his grey eyes on me in that analytical manner of his. “I don’t know,” He replies. “I am.”
The wind sweeps down upon our backs, riffling through the heather and chattering my teeth on its way to more important business in the valley below. “Sooner rather than later if you stay here,” I tell him. “Or am I the only one who’s freezing to death?”
“Sometimes it is worth a little bit coldness to enjoy,” He waves expansively over the view before us. “You see whole village from here. Is worth it, no?”
I have to admit our situation is ideal. We are sitting beside a path which cuts along the side of Carter Fell above the churchyard. We have an unobstructed view of the squat grey roofs clustered three hundred feet below, of the winding snake of water that needs a few rushing miles yet to become the River Wenly, and the narrow road that follows it. I can identify my home among the roofs, and I can see Tomchik’s too. We are neighbours, he and I. In a small village, everyone is a neighbour.
“How long have you lived here, Tomchik?”
“Why you ask me? I am immigrant, yes?” He takes a paper package from his bag and unwraps it thoughtfully, exposing sandwiches. “Cheeses and pickles; you like?” Again he makes a token offer and I respond with a token refusal. “Many years.” He nods, selecting a sandwich and dunking a corner of it in his tea. “You think I shouldn’t be here, yes?”
The question surprises me. I have known him for all of those years. “No, of course I don’t think that. Are you sensitive about it? If we have to look at it like that, you’re one very good reason I approve of immigration!”
“Ah.” Tomchik munches solemnly. There is silence.
I say: “I can’t imagine the village without you.”
Tomchik points. “You see the Harry Tulliver’s house?”
“Plainly.” The cottage where Harry and Jane Tulliver eke out their fairly meagre existence is easy to identify. “It’s sad to see the weeds, though. Harry used to be such a gardener! He doesn’t seem to do much now; I guess he is getting too old.”
“No, no. Not too old,” Tomchik corrects me. “You are right to say sad. I am right to say tired. Harry is tired man, That is why he is sad.”
Sometimes Tomchik’s crooked logic leaves me behind. “Alright then; why tired?”
He allows himself a tolerant sigh, “Tired two ways. The bay tree is still prospering, you agree?”
I agree. The tree in Harry’s garden is his pride and joy.
“One way tired. The goldfinches, they used to nest in this fine bay tree – now is gone. Two way tired. Tell me another way you recognise house of Mr and Mrs Tulliver?”
I do not understand him at first. Of course I recognise the house! What is Tomchik driving at? I decide to stoke things up with a little amusement. “Well, their roof is a slightly different colour. White polka dots!”
“Bird droppings, yes?”
“So! Two ways! Sparrows! Sparrows squabbling, mess all over windows, all over back path. Sparrow fledglings in a row on the fence, squeaking to be fed. Sparrows nesting – six nests in the bay tree already.”
“So, why the feeders?” I wave a hand to indicate the three feeders filled with seed that are distributed about Harry’s blessed plot. “They wouldn’t come if the spoils weren’t so readily available.”
“Exactly! Mrs Jane, she tells Harry, put them out! So Harry puts them out, and sparrows come. Starlings, they come, seagulls, they come. They eat everything – seed, Harry’s peas, raspberries, strawberries, everything he plant, they eat. Every time those feeders empty, his wife she puts out more seed. Those goldfinches, they leave, the bluetits, the chaffinches, the wagtails…” Tomchik shakes his head, “all birds Mrs Jane like, are gone. She thinks she can feed them all, but she just get more sparrows. Just sparrows.”
“Harry should tell her. Harry should put his foot down!”
“This I say to him. I say to him, Harry, you must take back your garden. He say no, if he tell her she say without her food all sparrows will starve. She is responsible, she say. More and more money she spend on food for the birds. Tullivers, they are not rich. Harry’s vegetables he grew were food for them. Now…” Tomchik shrugs fatalistically, “No vegetables! Nothing!”
“I don’t understand Jane…” I begin.
“No-one!” Tomchik cuts in, “No-one understand Jane!”
“Have you asked her about it?”
“I do. I ask her. You know what she think? She think without her these birds, they are dead birds. She likes the pretty birds.”
Tomchik grasps my arm to gain my full attention. He stares at me. “You like the pretty Tomchik? Chirp, chirp!”
© Frederick Anderson 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.