A Fateful Meeting

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During the past few weeks, Dr Klein had been allowed, as part of his recovery programme, to take short trips out on his own to re-engage with the outside world. He had made several trips to the local shops and cafes, all with great success.

Dr Klein's real obsession was ornithology. He'd had written his PhD on the peculiar migratory habits of the Cuckoo, being the first ornithologist to prove that they spent most of their time living in the Congo while visiting the United Kingdom for just a few short weeks every year, to breed.

For his next planned excursion, he had put in a special request to spend the afternoon walking along the River Lea for birdwatching. For days he had been talking to Hobbs, one of the nurse orderlies with whom he had a particularly close relationship, about his beloved birds and their habits. That morning Klein had been told that following recommendations from his medical team, the panel had approved his request.

"Well, Dr Klein, are you all set?" enquired Hobbs. "You've got your phone? Now you know if you need anything, or if you become anxious or worried, you just call me and we'll be right along."

"Now, now Hobbs, don't you worry. I have my binoculars, my notebook and I'm sure I'll see plenty of my little feathered friends, don't you worry. I had heard that there'd been sightings of Whimbrels, Numenius Phaeopus," said Dr Klein somewhat pompously. "If they're there, I'll find them, don't you worry. No, don't you worry at all."

Hobbs escorted Dr Klein to the side door and then out to a small locked gate that led out to Stannis Road. Dr Klein boarded the District Line tube at Whitechapel and rode the four stops to Bromley by Bow where he alighted and then walked east to the path along the River Lea. Once on the path he headed north away from the Thames toward more open land. Within a short time, he had walked passed the Lea Valley Park and out to the Three Mills Wall River where he came, by chance, across Banerjee.

Banerjee had enjoyed a agreeable walk and somewhat fatigued had sat down by the calm water and was watching a heron when he became aware of a shadow. Looking up he saw an elderly gentleman, slightly pasty, plump, with round spectacles a severe expression and dressed in a somewhat bizarre mismatched checked trousers and striped blazer. Over the years in his shop, Banerjee had seen all sorts come and go so was unfazed by the man now standing before him. The man looked across at the heron and said to no one in particular, "Ardea Cinerea."

Banerjee frowned, raising his eyes and said, "I'm sorry, old chap. What did you say?"

"Ardea Cinerea, The Grey Heron, over on the other bank, you're looking at it. All things have a Latin classification, you see. The Grey over there is quite common to waterways all over these parts and beyond. I'm after something much less common, care to join me?"

Mr Banerjee rather liked this eccentric man, and thought a walk with him might be something of an education and, once back in the shop, something he could discuss with Markey.

"Yes, why not, I'd like that. I'm Amar Banerjee," He said, extending his hand.

Before taking it, Dr klein eyed Banerjee's hand with suspicion. At last, he grabbed the proferred hand, shaking it firmly and saying, "I'mm Dr Klein. Come on, this way."

As they walked, Dr Klein lectured Mr Banerjee at some length on the habits and habitats of various birds they saw.

They entered a quiet and broader section of the waterway. Dr Klein stopped and jerked the binoculars up to his eyes.

"Yes, yes, oh, yes quite, quite marvellous. You see over there Mr Banerjee: Numenius Phaeopus the not very common Whimbrel – and look there's another. So it is true, they are here, what a stroke of luck. You see they are much more common in estuaries and by the coast, but not so much here. Well, well, well, we are most honoured. Look at that lovely downward curved beak and the stunning speckled plumage. Oh, Mr Banerjee do you not wonder at the perfection of it." And he began making notes in his booklet.

Banerjee had never really thought of birds in quite such a way and try as he might he couldn't see much more than a rather comical bird with brown, dull feathers, a strange outsize beak and stringy legs. Nevertheless, he did feel some of the thrill that Dr Klein exuded, and he felt happy to meet someone so taken with the simple things in life.

The two men walked and talked, at least Dr Klein talked while Banerjee listened, which he did not mind; he'd always been a good listener. It was clear that Dr Klein rarely had such an attentive audience and his extensive knowledge on the subject of waterfowl seemingly knew no bounds.

They had been lost in time and space, and as they rounded a corner of the river, they came to a bridge where just beyond stood the grand Olympic Stadium.

"Good heavens," declared Banerjee, "we've come quite far, I think. It has been so nice meeting you and I have found your talk most enlightening. I must head back now." He offered his hand, saying, "goodbye, Dr Klein, I hope we shall meet again."

Without thinking, Dr Klein shook hands, mumbled a goodbye before Banerjee turned and walked away.

For a moment, Dr Klein regarded Banerjee before calling out "yes Mr Banerjee; I'm sure we'll see one another very soon..." he trailed off, adding to himself, "very soon." As he watched Banerjee walk away he felt a great and powerful  sadness grip his very soul. He clenched his fists but could not hold back the tears. he tried to calm himself but the fear and sadness turned to rage, his mind swimming. 

An hour later, feeling much calmer, he made his way back to the centre, and rang the bell at the gate. An orderly let him in and escorted him back inside. Once in his room he took off his coat, huffed and puffed a few times, muttered, "quite a day, quite a day," then began making himself a cup of tea. At that moment, Hobbs came in.

"You're back Dr Klein. Did you have a good walk?"

"Oh, yes, most excellent. Would you care for a cup, Lapsang today?" Without waiting for an answer, he set another cup adding another spoon of tea to the pot. "They were there, you know – Numenius Phaeopus. You should have seen them, Hobbs; they were magnificent, " he chuckled to himself.

Hobbs sat down, asking, "did you see anyone else on your walk?"

Dr Klein stopped what he was doing, looked up, smiled, before saying, "no, not to mention."

Hobbs nodded and taking a biscuit from the plate, added, "so  it was quiet, was it?" He took a bite, asking, "Have you got the binoculars? I can take them back to the stores, for next time, you know?"

"Oh, yes, the binoculars, I'm sorry, Hobbs, I stumbled, and they fell into the river. So terribly sorry."

Hobbs waved his hand, saying, "oh, well never mind, accidents do happen, don't they? As long as you are all right, that's what is important, isn't it?"

"Yes, yes. Your tea." He said handing over a small fine, bone-china cup, the smoky aroma of the tea wafted up to Hobbs. Dr Klein beamed.

"Thank you Dr Klein. So, all in all a good day, and you're feeling all right?"

"Yes, yes, really Hobbs, a most splendid day, and I've never felt better, never better. Another Custard Cream?"

***

Early the following morning, a low mist cloaking the river, a jogger, following her usual route, made her way down the towpath. She almost ran by the body lying just off the path, but a barefoot sticking out of the undergrowth caught her eye. She removed her earphones; sharp metallic music broke the morning stillness and taking a closer look, she gasped, then said, 'bloody hell' and then something worse. Unable to look away, she took her phone from the pouch on her arm, dialling 999.

Across the river, a pair of Whimbrels gave a low whistle followed by a trill and took off on the short flight to enjoy the rich pickings at the Thames estuary.

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