“Let the first trip of the Birds and Bicycles Club begin!” announced Randolph Harrison Thursby to his companions. They all clapped lightly yet with enthusiasm as one of them took a photograph to capture the moment. Rand bowed and waved a hand as the small group of seven mounted their rides and stood, waiting for him to climb aboard his 1955 Regency De Luxe Tourist, his pride and joy.
“Binoculars at the ready?” asked Ruby Merriweather, his best friend since they were children, equaling over twenty years of friendship. Many of her boyfriends over the years were a bit jealous of their relationship; so jealous, in fact that she had yet to marry.
The other members of the group nodded or grumbled accordingly, eager to move on.
Rand jumped to the pedals and gave a slight push forward, the strap of his binoculars across his chest, the binoculars bumping into his back lightly as he pedaled.
Ruby placed a packed lunch and her binoculars into the small basket on the front of her B.S.A. Keep Fit bicycle, a gift from Rand when it was brand new only two years ago, the same as his bicycle.
She pedaled hard to catch up to Rand as they left the others behind by a few meters.
“So what did you make in the packed lunch?” Rand asked, nodding towards her basket, taking a break from scanning the nearby trees along the path searching for birds.
“Fish and chips,” she replied with a laugh.
He looked at her with one eyebrow raised. “Now I know that’s not true.”
“And how would you know that?”
“Because you know I don’t like fish. That’s how I know.”
“Oh Randolph, you know me too well.”
The others fell behind a bit as one of them, an elderly gentleman named William Williamson pointed towards a grove of trees and stopped his bicycle. In the distance the group let their bikes drop as they all peered through binoculars, except for William who used his Brownie 127 to capture an image of the fowl.
Rand and Ruby failed to notice as they were ahead of the group. When Ruby turned and realized they were alone, she broached a subject long on her mind but had to build up her courage to ask.
“Rand,” she shook a little as she asked. “Why is it, do you think, that neither of us ever married?”
“Well, you’re too choosy, let’s face it. I set you up with that fellow Edward, he was perfect! But you found flaws.”
She sighed. “And what about you?”
He continued scanning the sky and pedaling. “Dunno. Haven’t found the right bird, I guess.”
“It doesn’t seem that you try very hard.”
“Maybe not,” he said as he braked. “Look!” After gently placing his bike on its side he twisted his body so that the binoculars swung around from his back to his front and caught them in one smooth motion, holding them to his eyes. His finger moved the focus dial as he aimed at the top of a nearby tree. “I think…I think it’s a rare one!”
Ruby propped her bicycle on the kickstand and pulled out her viewers. Aiming in the same general direction as Rand she moved them around a bit and finally spotted the bird. She gasped.
“It’s a Black Redstart! So rare!”
“I knew it! Just remember, I spotted it first. Everyone!” he called to the others before realising they were all gone. “Where did they go?”
“They fell behind ages ago. Williamson spotted something and they stopped.”
“Drat! They’re going to miss this Redstart. They don’t hang around long. Have you ever seen one?”
“I don’t even know anyone who has, to be honest,” she replied.
They both watched the creature in silence. It hopped from one branch to a lower one and froze as it spotted them. They both felt as if it were looking directly at them as they savored the moment.
“Wow, Phoenicurus ochruros. What a magnificent creature.”
He smiled and looked at Ruby. “Absolutely beautiful.”
She looked at him and smiled and he failed to notice her cheeks become the tiniest bit red.
“What do you say we head up that path and try that lunch you’ve made us?”
They both turned to look at the bird, its little orange belly still facing them as it watched them a moment longer, cocked its head and took off, flying out of sight.
* * *
The bicycles in the story:
Special thanks to Tracy of this blog for mailing me the photograph all the way from London, England that inspired the story.