120. Little Things
I was enjoying a homemade dinner with friends at one of their flats. It was the third Christmas dinner party I had been invited to and it is not yet Christmas. We were discussing Kevin’s upcoming trip. He was leaving later that night, catching a bus at the Cardiff Coach Station, very near Cardiff’s international test cricket ground, Sophia Gardens. Kevin said his bus to Heathrow was at 3:30am.
As is typical for me, I was still awake at 3:00am. Since I live in City Centre, Sophia Gardens is less than a twenty minute stroll. I dressed warmly and sauntered over to the station to see Kevin off. In addition to being cold, the night was damp and misty. The streetlights and Christmas decorations had halos. After crossing the river Taff, I turned into the wooded Sophia Gardens with its oratorio of nightingales.
The station was a hazy bubble of light where, at first, there were only two waiting passengers. The taxis arrived at long intervals and none of them were delivering Kevin. I began to worry for him. I texted him, hoping he hadn’t overslept, but received no reply. The bus did not show at 3:30, all the while more taxis were yet delivering travelers. Using my phone to access the internet, I checked the coach schedule and learned the bus to Heathrow was at 3:50.
As I lingered at the station, I listened intently to the nightingales. From YouTube, I played a recording of a nightingale, pointing my phone back to the bushes and trees, engaging in the singing competition. I studied the variety of strangers milling around, wondering as to their stories. Was I as mysterious to them? And still Kevin was not arriving. Then he sent a text.
Kevin had reached Cardiff Coach Station sooner than planned. There was an earlier bus there and, since they had seats available, they acknowledged his ticket and allowed him aboard. The joke was on me and I laughed. Seeing him off was just a little thing and, even in its failure, I had enjoyed myself. The station had been staged as an Edward Hopper painting. I caught, unplanned, the nightingale chorus. It is little things that can make my day. I returned to the flat, read from a book while soaking in the tub, wrote some letters and went to bed. It was Kevin who would make my day again when I woke.
What follows is a sweet story that doesn’t belong to me. Kevin, for whom English is a second language, here in Wales is teaching children with special needs. He flew back that morning to Tenerife to be with his family for Christmas. His family did not know he was coming, at least not his parents.
Kevin has an identical twin brother, Eric. Eric and their sister Náyade did know he was coming and so the three plotted. Eric and Náyade went to lunch at a local café with their parents. Eric excused himself at some point to avail himself of the restroom. As pre-arranged, Kevin was waiting for him inside the restroom. They exchanged clothes and the ubiquitous mask worn in this time of the pandemic. It was Kevin who returned to table disguised as his brother.
The parents did not realize they were talking to their other son until it was decided to remove their masks in preparation to eat and drink. It was the father who first recognized him. Kevin has two moles on his left cheek that Eric does not and his father was sitting across from him. His mother was seated to his right. It took her longer to realize what was going on.
What followed is what you would expect. His mother rose from her chair to embrace her son. It was a long embrace as the father waited his turn. Tears of happiness were apparent. I know this because I saw it. Náyade filmed it with her phone and Kevin uploaded the video for his friends.
Having slept late, I had started my day, still in bed in the afternoon, by watching that video several times. After I had dressed, I went out briefly to forage for my dinner and post the letters I had written the night before. Distance and tall buildings disappeared into fog that Sunday afternoon while Kevin joyfully basked under a bright sun and in family warmth in Tenerife. Little things, like the video of Kevin surprising his parents, put into place my joyful mood for the rest of the day.
Addendum: According to my brother-in-law, Malcolm, far wiser than me in British ornithology, as poetic as it might have been to identify the singing birds in my essay as nightingales, these are, unfortunately, on the decline. The birds I heard were almost certainly robins. Indeed, it is very likely that Vera Lynn was actually singing about a robin in Berkeley Square. Robins are drawn to areas where there are street lights.