by Anna Vangala Jones
Her shoes aren’t ones she chose to walk in, but they’re the shoes she’s been given. They’re brown and scuffed and the laces have that frayed, gray, been in too many puddles look to them. Shabby. His glasses are bigger than his head and he’s better at trivia than whoever it was that made up the questions.
Mira and Ravi are sixteen years old when they first meet. He lives in a top floor apartment on a loud street in Queens. It’s a frosty day and the tree outside his bedroom window is bare. The branches are more like angry arms with jagged, pointy fingertips, but the sky there is forever periwinkle blue. Mira happens to be passing by and stops to look up.
European starlings are perched atop the tree’s twigs. They are a boring brown with some white spots instead of their summer plumage of iridescent black with purples and greens, but Mira doesn’t mind. She hears their singing and whistling cut through the sky with pleasure. She lifts the binoculars she constantly keeps on her person for just such an occasion.
Ravi yanks his window up and leans all the way out of it to shout, “Are those actual binoculars, you sick perv?”
Mira flips him the finger. “Get over yourself.”
His face flutters and blooms into a smile. He motions for her to come join him.
For a time, they aren’t alone anymore. After his bookshelf that holds both Vonnegut and Amelia Bedelia, their togetherness is what she likes best about him. Ravi likes the wonder that only he can see beaming out of her quiet eyes when she reads passages of her Chemistry textbook aloud to him. When they hold hands, skin against skin, they’re brown and beautiful and nothing can hurt them. The globe outside their birdcage doesn’t exist, not until it’s time to pry themselves apart.
They were in love up there for a little while before they weren’t.
Whenever she finds herself below that window again, she tells herself it’s to watch the birds. There are always two of them and their necks are intertwined until the music they’re making becomes one song.
When he sees her down there, he tips his imaginary hat to her. Then he looks out to the branches, level with his world shaped eyes, and they watch the birds together.
Anna Vangala Jones’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Fem and Fiction Southeast. She earned honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s 2017 Fiction Open and was a semi-finalist in Ruminate’s 2017 William Van Dyke Short Story Prize. She is at work on a short story collection and her first novel. She lives in California with her husband and two children. Visit her online at annavangalajones.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter @anniejo_17.