The cold, evening air brushed across Julie’s face as her shadow lurked behind her. She had begun her routine walk home as usual, but something felt off tonight. She couldn’t help but shiver as she walked along the empty city sidewalks, as she grew more and more paranoid that someone, or something, was walking with her.
Her cellphone rang, a cheery tune from ages ago, and she picked it up, grateful for the momentary distraction from her fears. “George. It’s great to hear from you,” Julie said. “Yes, the interview. I’ll be there tomorrow. Thanks.” She hung up the phone with an air of discomfort, since she knew this was a reach job that she would never get, tucking it into the back pocket of her faded Levi’s jeans— she’d recently given into the trend of workwear and denim.
She glanced up at the buildings around her. She wondered if fewer lights were on tonight, and if no one would hear her scream if she was being followed. Of course, it was all speculation, she reminded herself.
A small crack came from her left, and Julie started in shock. She squinted at the dark pavement, holding up her phone’s weak flashlight as a guide, but couldn’t see anything. She tried again, but gave up, tucking her phone in her back pocket once again.
This time, the crack came from her right. She tried again to see what had made the noise. Below her outstretched arm sat a small robin, a rare sight in mid-winter in the city. Julie bent down, closer to the bird.
“Hello,” she said, and immediately chastised herself for speaking to a bird. She took a closer glance at it. It seemed to be young, with a vibrant red breast that stood out against the bleak, melted snow that was already discolored with dog piss and cigarette butts. “Are you lost?”
The bird cocked its head, evidently unable to understand Julie. She bit her lip. The bird tried to hobble away, but fell over within two steps of where it began. Julie sighed, and opened her bag in search of some sort of container in which she could transport the bird. At last, she found an old Pringles can, perhaps months old. She shook out the remaining crumbs and placed it on the ground.
The bird did not move. Julie moved further from it, in hopes that the bird would feel more comfortable at a distance. Slowly, the bird began to limp towards the can. The street lamps flickered, and Julie hurriedly scooped it up and began to walk briskly towards the 6 train.
She was sitting on the train with the robin cradled in her lap when a small boy, perhaps about 7 years old, entered with his nanny in tow. His eyes lit up when he saw the robin and Julie smiled at his delight. “Can I sit here?” the boy whispered.
Julie nodded, and he climbed onto the neighboring seat. “What’s his name?” Julie shrugged. She hadn’t thought to give the robin a name. The boy grinned. “I like him. Can I call him George?”
“George.” Julie repeated. A sickening feeling washed over her as she remembered her interview, and she worried she wouldn’t get the robin to a vet in time. The boy smiled reassuringly, as if he could sense her concern. “My mom’s a vet,” he said. “Can I take George home to her?”
Julie nearly cried in relief. “Go ahead.” The boy nodded, and Julie passed the Pringles container gingerly into his small palms. The boy left the train two stops later, waving goodbye.
“Thank you,” he said. “My papa George is gone, and now I have him again.” He stepped onto the platform and beamed. His nanny whispered a hurried thankyousomuch this means a lot to him as she followed him out of the train. Julie couldn’t resist smiling back at him.
The next morning, Julie rose early, and walked all the way to Fifth Avenue for her interview, confident that George was her stroke of luck.