Moongaze had only seen it on documentaries: what appeared to be a cloud of soot twisting in an evening sky was actually a huge flock of starlings. They moved as a single mass, each bird moving in time with the ones around it, as fish in the ocean. The birds who couldn’t keep up were prey for other birds or even mammals, should they falter and fall.
Right now, she felt like that starling who couldn’t keep up.
She persisted in joining the field crew for another expedition, despite her rejection letter and lack of experience. She’d been on trips before, but was often unsuccessful in her attempts to fit in. She wanted so badly to fit in, she was willing to sacrifice a whole month’s worth of decent pay…a whole month away from her mate…a whole month of sanity to prove to herself she was worthy of being accepted.
The rest of the team was huddled in the corner by the vehicles, which were loaded up with gear and supplies. They chatted amongst themselves, their movements as one, their goals aligned.
Murmurs and glances, shaking heads, deep sighs.
“Not her again! She’s slow and weak. She’ll just get in the way.”
“The only thing she was good at was sitting on her paws.”
“…or tripping over them.” Hushed giggles and smirks followed.
“She doesn’t get us…or what we’re about…just leave her behind, like we did before. She’s just going to weigh us down.”
“It was only her second time in the field, though.” The dissenter folded his arms, head down, listening to the team’s reasoning. “We shouldn’t be so hard on her. How can she learn if she can’t make mistakes?”
“She’s socially inept! We don’t need that!” another crew member argued, almost a little too loudly.
Silence followed the outburst.
Moongaze watched their heated discussion from a distance. She looked at the caravan, at the gravel beneath her feet. She looked at the horizon, the bright blue sky framed by wispy white clouds. Anything to keep her thoughts positive. Anything to keep her heart from sinking.
“She slowed down for me. She stayed with me when everyone else here decided to go ahead.”
“She was careful with excavating and prospecting. She helped me find a potential quarry site.”
“She was good with the cubs.”
“We won’t be bringing them with us, though.”
Silence again filled the air. The team shuffled their boots in the dirt, argued amongst themselves some more.
“She’s an educator, not a researcher. Leave her here. She’s not worth our time. We need serious work, not a trial run.”
The team moved toward her. She waited, ears perked, heart pounding.
“Our answer is no,” one of the team members bluntly spat. “Please go home. Stop wasting your time.”
The team turned away, heading toward the vehicles. The dissenter paused, letting the group go.
He approached Moongaze. She did her best to hide her tears and pain. He watched her hoist her things with great effort, heading back to her mate’s waiting car.
Moongaze sighed. She didn’t look back, but paused, setting her things down somewhat. “Whatever you have to say, I don’t need to hear it. You’ve made your choice.”
“Look, I think you have potential, okay? Maybe not with this team, but with another. You deserve to work with a better one.”
“Like I haven’t heard that before,” Moongaze shook her head.
“You deserve another chance. Come with me, join my team halfway round the world, where you’ll be respected for once.”
“Ptah, what for? To be ridiculed again?” Moongaze turned around to face the dissenter.
“We need more educators who are willing to be a part of fieldwork, to share their experiences and encourage interest in our work. Those are fools that rejected you. Please, reconsider?”
Moongaze paused. “Will I be compensated?”
“Monetarily, only partially. Funds and space are limited.”
“I will think about it.”
Moongaze picked up her gear, made her way back to her mate’s car. They drove off, away from the caravan and away from her idea of securing her dream career. Away from the screeching starlings that twisted in the wind, their harsh voices fading with each mile beneath the tire treads.