The loud noise startled me awake. I rubbed my bleary eyes and yawned widely. Wait a minute? Why was I awake again? I was dreaming, and then there was a noise. What was the noise?
I pricked my ears, listening to every sound. I heard nothing but the faint rumble of a car engine and the rustle of the crumbling leaves in the wind. Maybe it was nothing. I rested my head on my lumpy pillow again and tried to escape back into the swirling world of dreams.
But no, there it was again! I couldn’t have dreamed that, right? I wasn’t even asleep. But what was it?
Could it be…? No. Of course, it wasn’t. Owls were the type of things only seen on TV and in the countryside. Never on the outskirts of the city, among the noise and the people. And never at 5:23 on a Tuesday morning. It was probably a loud pigeon or a magpie that woke up to soon. I slumped back on my pillow.
Whooooo! Whoooo! WHOOOOOOOOO!
The last call was insistent enough to drag me from my bed. I blearily shoved off my tangled sheets and slumped over to the window. I pressed my forehead against the cold glass and looked to the right and left. Nothing.
It had to be an owl. It just had to be. I crossed my fingers and fumbled my way out of my bedroom and down the stairs, careful not to wake my parent or baby sister. I tip-toed my way down the hall to the door and – CREAK!!!!!
The squeaky floorboard! How had I been so stupid as to forget? I froze in place and waited for five long seconds. Then ten. Then twenty. Nothing.
I strode quickly past the kitchen to the front door. I looked to my right and left. Nothing. Then I quietly opened the door and slipped outside, not even bothering to put shoes on.
I walked on the cold sidewalk, my feet slapping loudly, and I looked around. Where was it? Was it in that tree? No. That one? Nope. I turned around in a circle and saw nothing. Confused and irritable, I turned to go back inside. And then it took off.
It was nothing but a flutter of silent wings and a pale face of cold beauty. It soared above my head and landed gracefully in the aging elm that was bent and had produced no leaves for two years now. But, with this owl’s presence, the crooked tree seemed to brighten, as if it was a god that had graced its branches and not a mere bird.
I had to remind myself to breathe as I stood stock still, surveying this beautiful animal. I was suddenly self-conscious of my pajamas, which were fire-engine red and exposed about four inches of my calf and only fir down to my elbows. My hair resembled a rat’s nest and I looked like a general clumsy fool. Nothing like this creature of splendor.
Its head cocked and it studied me. Its eyes were pitch black and its face pale white. Its body was the color of cream and cinnamon and speckled with tiny brown dots. It was odd to be looked down upon by a creature no more than a foot and a half tall.
But was I really being looked down upon? Its eyes were pitch black yes, but not cold and hard. They were gentle and whimsical. It was obvious this owl didn’t care who I was, or what my hair or pajamas looked like. It just cared about finding its next meal and surviving through the night. It looked me in the eye and a beautiful moment transpired.
I could be crazy but I felt like I was looking into the eye of an equal, someone of respect who would, in turn, respect me. But it was only for a moment. And then the moment passed.
Too soon a flap of wings and a final loud hoot and the owl disappeared into the night.
I wanted to call out to it but my voice was stuck in my throat. Instead, I turned around and slipped back into my house. I crept through the hall and up the stairs and back into my bed. I glanced at my clock. Fewer than five minutes had passed since I’d last looked. But I knew I’d had a beautiful moment which I’d remember forever.
My unexpected visitor.