Friday, December 4, 2009

The Lentil People

The interpreter walked into the park from the main road. He had abandoned his elderly car at a repair shop. If you were to ask him why, he would answer, “To have my bank account drained.”
Next to the nature house was a large, platform bird-feeder. It was three feet square, up on a four-by-four post, and had a cedar shingle roof supported by four thick dowels. Every day it was supposed to be swept out and refilled by the interpreter on nature house duty, who today was Amanda.
A woman and three small children were near the feeder, but looking at the ground.
The interpreter paused.
Oh joy. Norway rats, an adult and two young, squatting with scaly tails overlapping, nibbling fallen food clutched in tiny paws.
“Hello,” the interpreter said to the humans.
The woman turned. She pointed and said, “That’s frankly, totally, gross. You don’t expect to come to a public place for children and have to see this.”
He said, “Rats are everywhere, unfortunately.”
“I didn’t bring my children here to see rats.”
The interpreter’s hands were in his pockets. He said, “If you go into the nature house, the woman in there will be happy to refund your admission.”
“Oh, we didn’t pay anything,” said the woman. “Admission is by donation. It’s optional.”
“Hmm,” said the interpreter.
He watched the complicated process of strapping children into a minivan, and then chased the rats back to their burrows beneath the boardwalk. Underfoot, dried lentils crunched.
This was the second time the bird-feeder looked to have been bombed from a helicopter with a vast quantity of lentils. Occasionally visitors would add birdseed to the platform feeder, but the lentil people, whoever they were, were having a hard time hitting the mark. They also seemed unaware that songbirds do not care for lentils.
Rats, on the other hand, were not picky.
The interpreter went to the maintenance shed to fetch a brush, broom, and long-handled dustpan. After sweeping up and disposing of the lentils, he entered the nature house, walking past the donation box. It contained only five dollars seed-money. Amanda was rushing around behind the front counter in some sort of distress.
“What’s wrong?” the interpreter asked.
She looked up. Hair was hanging in her eyes. “My phone is missing!”
“Oh,” he said.
“Hell!” she replied.
“Maybe you left it in your car.”
“It’s not in my car!”
“Okay,” he said.
“I had to bring in so much stuff. I have all these props. I thought it was in my pocket, but then I think I may have put it inside one of the prop boxes when I was unloading my trunk, but I can’t find it!”
"Have you tried phoning it?"
She glared.   "Duh."
“Well, then maybe you left it in the front part of your car. You know, where you sit when you drive it.”
“As if,” she said, and she huffed in an exasperated way. “I never get out of my seat without my phone in my hand. It is literally a part of me.” She threw her hands high.
“Except for this time,” he said.
She said, “Look, I know how you are about new technology, and I don’t want to be insulting, but you would probably have an easier time understanding my situation if you were a bit younger.”
The ensuing uncomfortable moment ended when the interpreter asked, “Well, have you actually looked in the front of your car?”
She bent over and dug in a bag and said, “Oh God, here, knock yourself out.” She threw him the key. It sailed over his shoulder and landed near the door. It was a black plastic cube on a ring, not a key.
Amanda’s car was directly in front of the nature house. It was much newer than his. He didn’t have to open the door to find the phone. It gleamed unobstructed, a crack-head beacon. He pushed a button and the trunk popped.
When he re-entered the nature house, he could hear her opening and closing drawers in the staff lunchroom. He placed the phone and car key beside her keyboard, went into the work room and turned on his computer. After a while she appeared at his shoulder.
She asked, “Okay, so where was it? Under the seat?”
“No.  On the dashboard.”
She sighed.  “So okay, go ahead, say something sarcastic. I guess I deserve it.”
“I don’t want to.   I hate losing my phone too.”

The work schedule cycled around and a few weeks later the interpreter and Amanda were again on duty together.
At noon she took over the front counter.  He felt like going for a walk, and went to the window to check the weather. That‘s when he discovered the lentil people, a man and a woman.
They were probably from India. The man had a full black beard. He wore a formal suit and tie and a pale blue turban. The woman wore yellow, billowy pants, a matching top that hung to her knees, and a white, backwards sash. Her hair was tied in ponytail that went all the way down her back.
They took turns. One, facing the bird feeder, held open a white plastic bag filled with lentils. The other, facing away from the feeder, reached into the bag, and with both hands scooped the lentils and threw them overhead blindly. The little beans showered down on the roof of the platform feeder and on anything else within meters in every direction.
“Well that at least explains how it happens,” said the interpreter.
“What?” asked Amanda. She came from behind the counter to look.
It was now the woman’s turn to throw. She was more manic, less accurate than the man.
“You should go out there and tell them to stop doing that,” said Amanda. “They’re making a mess.”
The interpreter said, “No, it’s okay. It serves a spiritual need, apparently.”
A spray of lentils went way off-course, skittering along the boardwalk.
“Since when are you religious?” Amanda asked.
“I’m not the least bit religious,” the interpreter said.
They watched the woman throw the last of the lentils, closer to the feeder this time. All done, the woman and man smiled at each other. The man scrunched up the plastic bag and stuffed it into a garbage can, the kind with the flap that will grab your hand if you’re slow.
Amanda said to the interpreter, “You know, for the life of me, I can’t tell if you’re a genuinely nice guy, or just someone afraid of confrontation.”
The interpreter thought about this. He wasn’t sure either.
The couple walked to their vehicle. The interpreter noted that it was newer than his car, but not as new as Amanda’s.
Amanda returned to the front counter, and the interpreter went to fetch the brush, broom, and long-handled dustpan.


Eskarina said...

That was beautiful.

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Nice. Very nice.

randomtruth said...

Definitely just anti-confrontational. ;)

swamp4me said...

Give me the Lentil People over the mom who doesn't think her children should see rats any day of the week.

Me, I'm leaning more toward the Interpreter being a genuinely nice guy (underneath it all) who just happens to prefer avoiding confrontation if possible...