I take my dog for a long walk everyday and everyday is a different experience. Today I noticed a lot of Jays flying about. I love Jays. I am always delighted to see such a magnificent blue flash appearing overhead. But there is another reason that I am always pleased to see a Jay.
About ten years ago I was working in a dental studio. The man who ran the studio fancied himself as a bit of a ladies' man but I wasn't interested in him at all. It was the old man who did the technical work who held me in thrall. His name was Heinz and he was in his early seventies. He was short and round, his cropped hair was grey and he had made his own teeth. He was Polish. We became great friends. We made a very unlikely couple. Me, tall and slim and quite a bit younger than him. I suppose people presumed him to be my dad but he came to mean much more to me than a surrogate parent. He was so kind even though he had lived through terrible times. He described being poverty stricken while growing up in Poland, he told of his escape from his homeland and his tough life in Britain. But he never felt sorry for himself, just grateful for the life he had made. Always the under-dog, he seemed to accept that his dentistry skills would be taken advantage of by people less skilled in technique but more polished in talk than himself.
We went out for lots of meals. He would dress up for our evenings and always wore his hat. He had impeccable manners. He would stand up in the restaurant until he had seen me settled and then would make a grand gesture of seating himself, placing hat and gloves neatly on the table next to him. The waiter would not be permitted to remove them to the cloakroom. It was these little gestures that I found so charming.
We would chat and laugh for hours, I can't even remember what we talked about but simply feel a rosy glow at the memories.
I did remember one occasion however when he told me about his 'hunting hat' that he had had for years. He used to have a Jay's feather poked in the rim but had lost it.
The day after this particular evening I was out in the park with my dog, (this was Alfie, my previous dog) and lo and behold a Jay's feather fell to the ground. I should have been astonished but I wasn't. It was one of those magical, mysterious things that happen sometimes. Best not to reason why.
I will never forget the look on Heinz' face later that day when I handed him the feather. Years seemed to fall away and his eyes filled with tears.(So did mine). A magical link between us was cemented with that feather.
On Valentine's Day that year , 2007, my phone rang and it was Heinz. He wished me Happy Valentine's Day and thanked me for being such a lovely lady and good friend. He said he never expected he would find such happiness so late in his life and that our friendship had made him a very happy old man.
Out of the blue Heinz received a phone call from an old ex-colleague asking him to go and work for him in Sierra Leone. Most old men ( and Heinz was an old man, not sprightly and fit) would not have given this idea a second thought, but not Heinz.
Off he went with his feather in his cap.
I received a letter from him, inside were a few photos of him in Sierra Leone. Smiling at me with his lovely kind eyes. He looked pretty pleased with himself. He returned to the UK to sell his house and tie up some loose ends.
Then came the phone call. Heinz told me he was gravely ill. He also told me he didn't want to see me. He wanted me to remember him in happy times, looking well.
Death came and took him swiftly away.
I loved that man. The memories of our funny friendship will stay with me forever.
The Jay is a lovely reminder of our time together.