Naomi charged out of the vehicle and was halfway down the sidewalk, striding intently towards that blue car that had nearly run her down the day before, before she even realized what she was doing. A tiny, dwindling part of her mind urged, Think this through! but the warning was whisked away by a gust of wind off the inlet below that blew her hair into her eyes and smelled of saltwater.
An even tinier, fainter part of her whispered, My, you sure dismissed that little bit of common sense quickly, didn’t you? What’s come over you? She blinked and the thought was gone.
She was close enough now to see through the glare on the blue car’s windshield, and she was both gratified and a little panicked to see that there was someone inside, sitting in the driver’s seat, chin lowered to their chest, as if asleep. The person’s hair was messy and black. Him, she knew, not having to see his face, not the “him” she was really after, but she’d gladly take the opportunity to exact some vengeance on this “him” for now: at the moment she had plenty of room in her heart for multiple grudges.
Naomi was ten feet away from the car when she realized she had no idea what she was about to do. Kick the guy’s windshield in? Yank his door open, pull him out onto the sidewalk, and stomp on him until he begged forgiveness? She wasn’t sure she had the strength in her to do either of those things, but then again, she had plenty of backup. They were probably right behind her, so she could do just about anything she…
The man in the car raised his head, and the expression in his eyes stopped Naomi cold.
He’d been crying. He was still crying, in fact. His cheeks glistened with tears, and his dark Latin skin glowed red around his eyes where he’d just been digging his palms into the sockets in despondency. His shoulders heaved as he looked into Naomi’s face, and he seemed to deflate, lowering his head once more until his forehead bonked against the steering wheel.
Some of the righteous fury that had been filling Naomi’s sails subsided, but she’d built up too much momentum to stop now. Summoning up a new surge of fury, she marched around the front of the car to the driver’s door and flung it open.
“You nearly killed me yesterday!” she began, “and you meant to, didn’t you? I saw the look on your face! And then you had to go after my whole family, instead? Yeah, I know about you and your birds; I know you talk to them or whatever, tell them what to do. You’re a special; big deal! I’m a special, too, and you’re about to find out exactly what I can—” She stopped, not just because the man hadn’t even bothered to raise his eyes to look at her, hadn’t even acknowledged a single word, but because she’d seen a flutter of movement in his lap, and heard a soft rustle, like feathers brushing against one another. Shifting her head to peer past the man’s arms, she saw black feathers, and then heard a soft, wheezing squawk. The rustling stopped.
The man sobbed and lifted one arm, revealing a half-charred crow, many of its feathers missing or melted, its beak hanging open, tongue black and cracked. Gently, almost reverently, the man closed the crow’s beak and laid it on the passenger seat.
Naomi heard footsteps rushing up behind her, but ignored them for the moment, and whoever had come to join her seemed content to let the confrontation play out a little longer without interfering.
Taken aback by the man’s display of emotion, and emboldened by the presence behind her, Naomi burst out, “What the heck is wrong with you? You nearly murder me, and look excited to do it, but you’re all torn up about some crow? It’s just a bird!”
“Just a bird?” said the man, finally turning his attention to Naomi. His large, round eyes, framed by the unkempt black hair, peered out of his narrow face, beneath which his Adam’s apple bobbed in a scrawny neck. “Just a bird?” he repeated. “My birds.” And now he looked away, over the water, and seemed to be talking to himself. “They were all my birds… Gone.” His head shook slowly back and forth.
Sensing that she was losing his attention, Naomi growled, “You’re about to lose a lot more than some feathered friends, mister.”
The man practically lunged out of his seat, suddenly ablaze with anger, startling Naomi back a couple of steps. “They weren’t just my friends!” he shouted. “They were my birds! He made me! He made me hurt them!”
Francis pushed past Naomi and grabbed the man by the shoulders. “Relax, Miguel. Relax! We’re here to help.”
“Huh!?” Naomi wasn’t sure she could believe what she was hearing. “I’m not here to ‘help’ him with anything! He’s—”
“Shut up, kid,” snapped Francis. “Miguel’s been through a lot this morning.”
“You think he’s been through a lot? In the last 18 hours or so, I—”
“Maybe you’ve suffered a little,” interrupted Francis, “but Miguel… Today this man has died a thousand deaths.”