Everyone knew what it meant when Old Lady Evans didn’t turn up in the square on market day. Without her poking through the piles of veg, peering from behind her dark glasses to find the least blighted ones, a small but important part of the ritual was missing. We kids knew as well as anyone else that sheï¿½d finally snuffed it.
Even if it weren’t for her absence, weï¿½d have known that something was up, ’cause later that night we all got reminded by our ‘rents that we weren’t to go near the old Evans house. Stupid, really. I always wondered if becoming a ‘rent makes you completely forget how kids think – ’cause soon as weï¿½d been reminded not to go near the place, that was exactly what we all wanted to do.
It didn’t help that we’d been near the place before – against the rules, but that’s being a kid, isn’t it? But those times before, we’d just peered in the windows, ’cause as old and withered as Old Lady Evans was, we was still pretty scared of her, and a bit in awe too. Last of the local aristos, she was, and we knew she had all sorts of stuff from the old days in that house. Some we’d seen, some we’d just heard of. Like the bird.
The bird was the worst kept secret in the village. The oldest folks, the ones a similar age to Old Lady Evans herself, used to talk about it quite often when they thought young ears weren’t listening. The Evanses used to have loads of them, so the story went, all kept outside the back of the house in a big cage that the old folks called a special name I can’t remember. No one knew where they’d gone to, but one the Old Lady was the last of the Evanses, the birds were taken inside, and the story said they’d all died off but one, just like the wild birds had done years ago. I always figured she’d eaten them, you know. Obvious she didn’t like having to eat carrots and spuds like the rest of us.
So by unspoken agreement, all us kids found ourselves in the Evans’s back garden at about midnight. Some of the girls were scared to go in the house, but Benth had heard his old man talking about doing the burying business with Old lady Evans, so we knew they’d probably got her out of there by now. Proof was when we found the back door unlocked – the Old Lady always locked it, we’d tried before.
So in we crept, and it was just the sort of place we’d imagined – full of old stuff, older than our ‘rents, and probably their ‘rents too. Furniture made real fine, decorated and pretty, not like the rough simple stuff in our houses; metal boxes and machines that did we didn’t know what; little ornaments and objects, all covered in dust and cobbers. But we weren’t stopped by none of it, ’cause we’d come to see the bird.
We found it in the corner of the front room, stood still on a perch in a round cage made of some metal that still shone bright under the dust. We gathered round in silence, staring at it. Its black beady eyes stared back, unblinking. The old folks had talked about them being always moving, cheeping and chirping, making little jumps or flapping their wings – but it wasn’t doing any of that, just stood there silent. Felt like we stared at it for an hour.
It was Benth who opened up the cage, despite the hissing terror of the girls. Even with a way out of its little prison, it didn’t move. So Benth went to touch it – and it fell from the perch onto the bottom of the cage, and laid just as still as it had stood as the girls fled the room. I was one of the ones who stayed long enough to see Benth pick the tiny thing up, look closely at it and laugh, calling the Old Lady all the bad names we weren’t supposed to say about the aristos, but that we did anyway. He held it out in his hands to show us, and when I looked real close I could see what looked like tiny tears of rust in the corner of its eye.