Well she was alone, so she didn’t care about his judging her for buying buttered popcorn from the vendor. She didn’t even think about what he’d say. She was on vacation, and she was going to buy herself some popcorn while he went to the museum. This was her time. She was alive and from a free country and she had time to herself and so what if she spent her time “wasting her time,” she thought, and who was he and what business was it of his anyway, what she did with her free time. He wanted to go to that naval museum and look at military boats or whatever it was in there; look at warship cannons and torpedos and all, which fine, they each decided to do what each wanted to do on their own today after that awful breakfast together, so whatever she did was just as important and meaningful as what he did, even if she decided she didn’t want to do anything. Yeah, even if she decided not to do anything. And right, till death do us part and all that but until then, you know, it was healthy to be apart, death or not, for a while, even for an afternoon, and so when she was apart from him if she wanted to buy and eat really expensive tourist-priced popcorn while in Sydney waiting for him to finish with his naval museum she would, dammit, and there wasn’t any reason to second guess herself or imagine what he’d think afterward when “all she did” was “sit there and eat expensive popcorn with fake butter” or whatever he’d probably think.
So she gave the popcorn vendor a twenty and he gave her back three two-dollar coins and scooped yellow popcorn into a square tub the size of a baby’s torso and asked if she wanted butter and she said yes please, thank you, smiling, and he pressed a button and a stream of dark, unbubbled yellow lasered down onto the tub of popcorn that he swirled in little circles beneath. She smiled and said Thank you and he said No worries! and she thought about her accent which wasn’t like the popcorn vendor’s because she wasn’t from Australia. She took a napkin and went to a bench and sitting down looked out at the harbor that was alive with sailing yachts and big industrial tugboats or whatever they were and over by the museum she hadn’t wanted to go into earlier there were old wooden ships that were probably a part of the museum, she thought. He’s probably learning about old boats like that in the museum and when he comes out he’ll tell me all about what he learned about those boats and say how much I missed not going into the museum. She ate popcorn and looked at all the people walking by who were all on vacation like her but not on vacation alone. Women pushed strollers carrying babies, and little kids held onto helium balloons and asked their parents questions while pointing at things they hadn’t ever seen before. Birds walked among the crowd looking for food, unafraid of the people above them.
She thought about how she had all this popcorn and how much a bird would like popcorn, and how good she’d feel giving some popcorn to one of the birds. A bird picked up a candy wrapper or something in its beak and then dropped it, and she thought it must be hungry, that decides it. She threw a piece of popcorn on the dock and hoped the bird would see it, and if not that bird, maybe another bird would see it. It saw it. The bird saw it and ate it and she thought how cute it was; just so cute how the bird didn’t know where the popcorn came from and frantically looked around for its source. She said hey buddy and threw some more popcorn, a few pieces. The bird saw her before she threw it and made eye contact and ate the popcorn from the ground in a few quick pecks and then made eye contact with her again and she said good huh? and the bird screamed at her and approached her with authority and screamed again and she said hoo boy and tossed another piece of popcorn onto the ground, just one kernel this time, and she said that’s enough now you’ll spoil your appetite and the bird looked at her and screamed at her again in bird.
She realized the bird was used to getting what it wants from tourists like her and regretted feeding the bird and thought about signs that said things like don’t feed the animals in zoos and how much sense those signs made. She said again that’s enough now but the bird pecked around her feet and she pressed her knees together and put one flip-flopped foot on top of the other and said geez and tossed a few pieces of popcorn down onto the ground but kind of away from her so the bird woudn’t be so close to her feet while it ate it, which worked. She thought the bird was pretty aggressive, thought that even though it wasn’t a seagull like back home it was she guessed a kind of Autralian seagull, like same size and a sea-bird too, which meant it must eat fish, not popcorn. She thought if everyone died in an apocalypse that this bird would know what to do for food assuming fish or sand crabs or whatever it could eat weren’t wiped out along with humanity and the bird screamed at her again and stepped up to her never breaking eye contact and it screamed at her again and touched the soft skin of the top of her foot with its beak and looked at her in the eye and screamed at her again in bird.
She threw a fistfull of popcorn as far away from herself as she could and the bird set in to eating it as fast as it could, which was blindingly fast, and she thought about how popcorn was something no bird would ever know if it wasn’t for people, and specifically people like her, who fed birds popcorn. A child toddled toward the bird and the bird turned and dropped a piece of popcorn from its mouth and screamed at the child and the child cried and ran away from the bird which would be the child’s first memory and the bird went back to eating the popcorn, and other birds flapped down from the sky and tried to eat the popcorn, and these birds all screamed at each other and paced around still flapping their wings, and they fought over the last bits of popcorn and she said uh oh, she really said uh oh, like that, and just when one of the birds snapped up the last piece of popcorn more birds swooped down from the sky even though there was no more popcorn to be found. But they all knew the popcorn came from her. They approached her without fear, screaming at her, all of them screaming at her, and she put her knees to her chest, burying the popcorn, protecting it as she would the soft, exposed face of a bjorned baby, and she reached into the buttery carton and flung a handful out into the air as a person would slap away a spiderweb they’d walked through and the birds, dozens of birds, screamed and flapped and jumped and devoured the popcorn before most of it had a chance to reach the ground, and several birds flapped up onto the bench next to her and behind her and now she screamed, she was screaming now, and the birds pecked at her bare arms and her ankles and screamed and she screamed and she heard people laughing and she reached into the carton and threw out another fistful of popcorn and another and another but each time the birds en masse flapped up and ate it before she could even throw it nearly and she was dead centered in a cacophony of screams including her own and she thought about him and how he was inside the museum away from all the birds of the world and how he wouldn’t feel a bit sorry for her and how she was all alone except for these birds screaming at her and these people laughing at her and the birds flapped and landed on her and dug their birdfeet into her clothing and skin and she shivered them off but fast as one was shooed off another took its place and she heard even more laughing than screaming now and she threw the popcorn into the air, the whole carton, just away from her, get it away from her, get it away, but so many birds blocked its trajectory and it exploded in a flapping, screaming cloud of feathers and popcorn and she curled up into a fetal position there on the bench while these weird foreign Southern Hemisphere seabirds walked and pecked all over her and screamed at each other forgetting her completely and they fought over the last of all the popcorn on and around her and the bench until they flew away, most of them, she still there curled up in horror, listening to tourists laughing and iPhones and DSLR cameras making their sounds at her, but she didn’t see any of the tourists, she covered her face with her hands, just covered her face with her hands.