My train home wasn’t due for another half hour and I strolled up the platform, looking for something to snack on. There wasn’t anything particularly appetising left at that time of the afternoon at the small town station, and I was suddenly tempted by a bag of cheese and onion crisps. Crisps in general are my guilty pleasure, although I prefer plain ones, and I probably hadn’t had cheese and onion ones since my student days. College food was so genuinely revolting that, more frequently than I care to remember, all it would take was one mouthful to consign the contents of the entire tray to the rubbish before heading to the tuck shop, buying four packets of crisps, and then dining on them in my room.
And so, in memory of my undergraduate former self, I pulled the packet open and the pungent smell of chemical cheese and lab onion hit my nostrils, bringing back a wave of happy memories. I munched and looked up at the East Anglian sky, especially endless and near in Cambridgeshire. Something stirred on the platform canopy above me. Two rooks were looking down at me. Or perhaps at my crisps.
I glanced around, looking for any signs forbidding the feeding of vagrant birds – you never know these days – then wondered if any of the other passengers waiting for the train would raise any objections. Were I younger, I would not have hesitated for a second. Now that I am middle-aged, I have become a little more wary of displaying my eccentricity in public. After all, a young eccentric woman is seen as endearingly quirky. A middle aged one – sadly – often as mad.
I stared at the birds, hoping that somehow, by a telepathic process, they would understand that if they flew down, they would get some crisps. Then I hesitated. Did I really want to give these innocent, unsuspecting creatures, unhealthy processed food? Oh, go on. I quickly glanced around to check that nobody was watching and threw down one crisp. The rooks spread their wings and swooped down with as much speed as silent grace. One of them, the larger one, landed a few centimetres away from the crisp, while his more timid companion kept her distance despite my attempts to lure her closer.
The large rook walked tentatively towards the crisp then stopped to study me. I was drawn into the beady blackness of his expression that seemed to plunge deeper and deeper into my soul. As though the rook was seeing a part of me no other human could. A feeling of bonding, of acceptance swept over me. Then he strutted to the crisp, held it under his talon, and began pecking at it with precision. I couldn’t help but admire his table manners. Such a beautiful rook, with a long, sand-grey beak and glossy black plumage with glints of purple. I wished I could watch him for ever. Once he’d finished his snack, I slowly walked away. He followed me, looking up at me, expecting rather than asking. I dropped another crisp and enjoyed observing him as he secured it once again with his talon and proceeded to take small, delicate pecks at it. Every so often, he would look up at me. Not a furtive, indifferent peek. There was no red robin aloofness about this character. It was a quick but penetrating, intelligent glance. A connection that ran deep and was acknowledged by us both. I know you, it said silently. And at that moment, I didn’t care what the humans at the station thought of me.
A few minutes later, I boarded my train feeling a lightness in my heart I seldom experience. A sense of freedom, of unlimited possibilities and peace. Of pure happiness. It had been just a moment on a station platform, sharing a bag of cheese and onion crisps with a rook. And yet it felt like such a special moment.
Like making a new friend. The kind you feel you’ve known for ever.