The Owl on My Shoulder
“The owl on my shoulder is my father,” I tell people at work on Monday morning. “He has taken this form to escape his adversaries.” I get incredulous stares and eyerolls from the doubters. They stay away from me all day as if I have a contagious disease. A few colleagues are intrigued by the bird. They come to me, hungry for answers. Was my father a wizard? Did he stand under the moon and chant a spell to pull this off? Were his adversaries wizards too? Did they have magical powers?
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m not allowed to give away any secrets.”
The owl snoozes peacefully on my shoulder while I get on with my typing. At lunch hour, I take him to the cafeteria with me. He watches the people crowding around the counter with some interest. They are too involved in placing their orders to notice him. I pick up a chicken salad and a glass of coke. “You can have half my sandwich,” I tell the bird. He nods as if he understands. Eva joins us at our table. She is drinking a cup of black coffee because she is not in the mood for food. She never is. I think she lives on air. And gallons and gallons of coffee.
She has news: Simon, our boss, has a new plan to keep track of us. Armbands that transmit signals to Simon’s computer have been designed. All employees will have to wear these to work from next week on. The armband is meant to record every move we make. If I take a coffee break, Simon will know I am at the cafeteria. If I step away from my desk with a cigarette in hand, Simon will count the minutes I spend in the smoking area.
“Fuck him and his fucking armband,” I say.
The owl sighs from my shoulder. He is tired of this day just like me. We should pack up and leave now, the two of us. If only I didn’t have bills to pay. If only the rent wasn’t due at the end of the month.
“Simon’s back from Tokyo tomorrow,” Eva says, draining her cup. How does she stand being his secretary? Working so closely with him must feel like drowning in a slimy bog.
“He’s excited about the Tokyo trip. He thinks AI’s the bomb,” Eva lowers her voice to a whisper.
“Is he planning on replacing us with robots?” I shout out. I want everyone in the room to know what is coming. If a typhoon was about to hit us, I had to send out a warning signal loud and clear. Eva goes completely quiet. The owl stares at her from my left shoulder. She stares right back at him, her face a blank. “Sorry,” she says, dabbing at her blood red lips with a tissue. “I’m not allowed to give away any secrets.”
Vineetha Mokkil is the author of the collection, “A Happy Place and other stories” (HarperCollins, 2014). Her fiction has appeared in the Santa Fe Writers’ Project Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and the Missing Slate.
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