The Emerald Ring

The Emerald Ring

by Kynan Patram

THE GIRL IS very pretty, indeed, thought the old man.

He watched her from across the park as he leaned against a light post, casually observing her feed the birds. Several times he made an attempt to amble over to her, but then hesitated and finally turned around to walk back, hanging his head and rubbing his face. Then he’d prop himself back up against the post again.

But suddenly the girl looked at him steadily from across the lawn separating them. He forced a smile, and she smiled back with a beaming grin.

He took this as his cue, and slowly made his way over to the bench where she was sitting.

“Hello,” he said in a musical tone as he approached.

“Oh, hello there, mister,” said the girl. “Do you want to help me feed the birds?”

The old man scratched his head, looking at her curiously. “Why, you know what? I think I would like that very much.”

“Please sit down, mister,” said the girl, as she patted the bench beside her with a fragile hand.

He took his time sitting down, as his knees creaked whenever he bent them. But finally his bottom lowered to the wooden planks strewn across the top of the bench, and he settled into a relaxed posture.

“Here — have some birdseed, mister!” cried the girl, and without waiting for a response she took the man’s hand in hers and poured some seeds into it from her bag.

“Why, thank-you, little miss. That’s very sweet of you.”

“Don’t you just love the birds, mister?” the girl exclaimed in a thrill voice. “I feed them every chance I get. Did you know that? I love it when they gather around and squawk, their feathers all over the place. Don’t you love that too?”

The old man glanced down at her and smiled politely. “Why, I believe I do.”

The girl shook her bag and an even greater multitude of birds dove down from the trees than were already chirping around at their feet. Some landed on the ground before the bench while others perched themselves on it.

“See!” the girl squealed with laughter.

“They like you,” said the old man. “You know how I can tell?”

“’Cause they come when I shake the bag?” asked the girl.

“No. Because you have a good heart.”

The girl pulled her lips into her mouth and thought this over for a moment. “What’s a good heart, mister?”

“It means someone who treats other creatures with kindness and respect.”

“Oh,” said the girl. “My mommy’s not like that at all.”

“She isn’t?” said the man, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh no! She doesn’t like to feed the birds. She says it reminds her of my daddy. Did you know that?”

The old man sniffled and quickly wiped at his eyes, glancing at the girl to see if she had noticed. But she was preoccupied tossing birdseed at the flock of birds hopping and pecking about at her feet.

“You try it, mister” she said. “Feed the birds. Like this ...” Then she scattered some more seeds in front of her on the ground. The birds charged for them.

The old man did the same, and the girl hopped up and down on the bench, clapping wildly with joy.

“You’re good at that, mister!” she said in ecstasy.

“You know why I’m good at it?”

The girl shook her head, wide eyed.

“Because I learned by watching you.”

A large smile spread over the girl’s face. “Really?”

The old man nodded. “Oh, sure. You should have seen how I fed the birds before I just watched you do it.”

“How?”

“Like this ...” said the old man, and he threw some birdseed behind him, over his shoulder.

The girl laughed hysterically. “That’s not how you feed the birds, mister.”

“I know that. Now. Thanks to you!” He reached out and tapped the tip of the girl’s nose.

The girl giggled. “Hey, that tickles!” And she wiped at her nose. Then she sat silently for a moment, watching the birds flutter about. “Hey, mister! Do you want to know a secret?” she asked at last.

The old man smiled, and nodded.

“But you have to promise not to tell, okay?”

“Cross my heart,” said the old man, as he pulled his hand across his chest.

“My mommy said my daddy is off saving the world. That’s why I can’t see him right now. Because otherwise other girls couldn’t be with their daddies either. But she said one day I’ll get to see him. Did you know that? She even said he’d show me his emerald ring that he always wears on his finger. Mommy says it’s my birthstone. And that’s why he wears it.”

The old man teared up heavily and quickly turned his head away to hide his face.

“What’s wrong, mister?” asked the girl, resting a small hand on his thigh.

The old man wiped his nose and eyes, and turned to her again. “Where’s your mother, dear? You shouldn’t be sitting here all by yourself.”

“But I’m not! I’m sitting with you, silly!” shrieked the girl. “But Mommy also says I’m a big girl now, and I can feed the birds all by myself while she gets the laundry.”

“Did she?”

The girl nodded enthusiastically. “Look, mister! There she is now!” She pointed to the edge of the park, where a woman was treading across the grass with a large bag under her arm. “I think you’ll really like her!”

The old man suddenly leapt to his feet, and grabbed at his back in pain as he straightened up. He quickly pulled something off his finger and placed it in the girl’s hand, then immediately hobbled off across the lawn in the opposite direction.

An emerald ring sat in the girl’s palm.

 

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