This little story was written for a competition1. It was inspired by a real person, a neighbour of ours who loved pigeons, and who spent time and money feeding them. He was a loner and “strange” and became more and more strange with the passing of time. He did no one any harm and was polite to us whenever we met.
His life story is unknown and he died unnoticed and was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave. I recounted his end – as far as I knew it myself – in a series of blog posts. I have gathered them together on a page entitled Death of a pigeon-fancier.
To the memory of this unknown pigeon-fancier I dedicate this story.
The old man entered the park. There was only Mrs Johnson from the council flats hurrying through with her shopping but otherwise it was quiet as he knew it would be.
He sat down on his usual bench, placing the carrier bags within easy reach, wedging them against his legs so they wouldn’t fall over. A pigeon fluttered down and waddled purposefully towards him. Then another arrived. And another. And another. And in a sudden rush like a gust of wind the air was full of pigeons, the sky was dark with them. Down they came from the trees, from the lawns and from the pathways where they had waited.
Where they waited for the old man in the dirty raincoat, spattered with pigeon droppings, the old man with the supermarket bags full of stale bread carefully broken into small pieces just the right size for a pigeon to grab and swallow in a melee of jostling squabbling pigeons.
"Shouldn’t be allowed," muttered Mrs Johnson on her way out of the park. "Them’s pests. Making a mess pooing on everything. Oughta be ashamed of ‘imself." She stopped at the gate and looked back. "Oughta be ashamed of yerself," she croaked and then turned and went on her way.
The old man smiled at his pigeons. Yes, his pigeons. He fed them and they knew him. Every day he came to the park with his bags of crusts and his pigeons knew him. They pressed around him, even fluttering onto the bench beside him, even onto his knees and his shoulders, leaving streaky traces on his dirty raincoat.
The pigeons loved him. He was sure of it. He knew it from the bold stare in their sparkly pigeons’ eyes, from the way they waddled around him and the way they said rrrroooo rrrroooo to him. And he loved the pigeons. His eyes grew moist as he thought this and tossed out handfuls of bread. The pigeons jostled and pecked and chased one another. “Plenty more, boys and girls, plenty more,” the old man crooned.
The bread was finished and the bags lay deflated beside him. The old man leaned back on the bench. Suddenly he felt unwell. A sharp sigh escaped him. A pain went through his chest as if he had been shot with an arrow. He was suffocating and clawed at his throat. He rose convulsively from the bench and hung suspended for an instant like a marionette on its hook. And then… And then…
He was in the air. He was flying. The park lay below him, jewel-like in its miniature perfection. He swooped and soared. All around him pigeons were flying too. Rrrroooo rrrroooo they said. And he smiled for the joy of it.
Mrs Johnson looked back into the park at the ambulance men and the crumpled figure in the dirty raincoat. They covered him with a sheet and lifted him into the ambulance. “Silly old bugger,” she muttered. “Only the pigeons’ll miss him.”
1The story was entered in the 500-word Moon Topples Great Big Awesome (Short) Fiction Contest generously organized by The Moon Topples and was fortunate enough to win first place in the Writer’s Choice Awards category.