The long since forgotten bread bag swung in the warm breeze and he was looking at his partner like he had asked very politely for his shoes so he could barbecue them, sprinkle them with salt, and enjoy them for dinner with the family on Sunday. His mouth was open and he did not seem to be aware of that yet, in fact it seemed to be benefiting him, portraying and therefore releasing the smallest scrap of the astonishment written in his every bone. Laughing incredulously seemed the right response here, the logical next step, but it did not hold much appeal, his levels of disbelief being much too high for a small interlude of laughter to make enough of a dent. Instead he stared straight ahead, into his partner’s eyes almost accusingly, as if this was something he was at all responsible for. And in a sense he was, if he had not mentioned it, he could have lived on in blissful ignorance for the rest of his days.
“What do you mean ducks are birds? No they are not you plum, they are ducks. Ducks go in the water, birds go on the land. Just because they both have wings does not mean that they are the same things.”
His partner was very quickly becoming the very definition of bemused, running through every bird watching book he had ever glimpsed on his grandparent’s coffee table, every primary school science lesson he ever had, and wondering if he was the one in the wrong here. He certainly would never claim to be an expert on birds of any kind, perhaps he had gone through life wrongly assuming these very bird-looking things were in fact birds. Admitting to his scruples though, was not an option. He could not have this birdy conversation getting any more confusing than it already was. First thing when he got back, he would do some subtle research and if he was wrong he could pretend it was all some large ruse to baffle his partner. If he was not wrong though, his partner was never going to hear the end of this, that was for sure. To believe ducks were not birds indeed.
Later that day, and once the contents of the eventually recalled bread bag had been supplied to the surrounding possibly-not-birds, the two men returned to work, looking to all intents and appearances like two men who were dwelling on something much more important than birds. Making matching unsatisfactory excuses, they parted ways, one to ‘find us a cup of tea’ and one to ‘appreciate the facilities’. A few seconds later, hidden around the next corners they came across, birds and ducks and just about everything to do with them was researched to the best of their abilities without making them feel too stupid. It would not do to unwittingly search a rather widely known fact and for someone to find that in their search history later on.
“So what did you think a swan was then, or a goose? They’re not ducks mate, they’re birds, you can’t say you would have ever called them ducks and not thought there might be something wrong there.”
They had retreated back to their so-called office, juggling paperwork with very important discussions on the specifics of his latest example of stupidity. Although it still felt like the world had tilted slightly on his axis, he was willing to humour his partner’s teasing, partly because he was still not convinced he was not right. Birds did not live on the water in the world he thought he had always known, they lived in trees. He was concerned nothing would ever convince him differently. Apart from possibly his partner never giving up on reminding him of his lack of primary school knowledge. He did not see how it could be his fault that nobody had ever thought it prudent to inform him what a bird was.
“You’re telling me that a swan and a friendly blue-tit have anything at all in common, you’re telling me you look at those and think they’re the same thing?”
These kinds of instances when he was faced with something everyone else already seemed to know did not happen very often, but when they did it shook him down to the core. How was one to know what else they did not know. There was no way of knowing what other apparently essential knowledge was missing from his education until he discovered it, and most likely made an idiot of himself whilst doing so. He did not think of it usually, but being reminded of the risk by such an embarrassing example made him aware of the things he was saying, things he would say without giving them a second thought. He had never questioned that birds and ducks were different things, like cats and dogs were similar but not the same, and he dreaded to think of the other things he had never questioned, simply assumed, and which he would mention one day just to receive the kind of bemused looks he was privy to earlier.
“I’m telling you a bird is, and I quote, ‘a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate animal distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings, a beak, and typically by being able to fly’ and I can’t understand how you cannot see that this refers to ducks too, in fact real ducks and everything else which you have been referring to as a duck this whole time, like a bloody swan.”
He was not going to let up on this, this was going to be it for him now. Every instance they were in the car for two long, he was going to entertain himself pointing out every pigeon they saw and calling it a duck. He could see it happening now. Every mention of a science lesson and he would be reminded that he must surely have never attended one. Every Christmas a card would drop through his door with a snowy robin on the front with a helpful little note on the inside reminding him that a robin was a bird, and then what exactly a bird was and what a duck was not. Come the imaginary wedding day and the speeches were bound to come with some kind of detailed anatomical PowerPoint explaining how a duck really was a bird.