71. Urbicolous Creatures
We were returning home and I paused to get a takeaway coffee from Starbucks. There is a Starbucks just across the Hayes from where we live. Starbucks is practically the only place in Cardiff where I can get what I think of as a genuine coffee. There is an abundance of coffeehouses, bistros and cafes, also restaurants that serve coffee with desserts after your meal, but what they call coffee are really Americanos. I like Americanos well enough, but I prefer real coffee, filtered coffee, commonplace in the USA.
With coffee in hand, my cherished companion Ms Keogh and I crossed the Hayes to the David Morgan Apartments. Before we got to the blue wrought iron gate that seals the arcade after seven o’clock, I noticed a pigeon being attacked by a seagull. The poor pigeon wasn’t being allowed to get up. The bullying seagull swooped in like a strafing Messerschmitt Bf 109 to give the pigeon a vicious peck, then gracefully arced around for another attack.
As the seagull was about to attack again, I shouted “Hey!” The seagull swerved. I rushed over to the pigeon to stand near it, guarding it until it could get up. I immediately realized my mistake. The pigeon could not get up. It had been badly injured. The seagull, joined by a colleague, circled at a distance resenting my interference. By the way it failed to stand or spread its wings, I figured the pigeon was never recovering and I had interfered in the natural order of things. This pigeon was dragging its legs behind as it used its wings to crawl. To my consternation, the pigeon looked up to me, then turned and dragged itself to security between my feet, where it rested leaning against my shoe. It was too late to give the victim up to its predators, the pigeon had assigned me its protection. What was I to do? I don’t know how to repair damaged pigeons. I don’t think there is a pigeon rescue society; it’s not as if they are beloved by the community. I wanted to return the pigeon to its fate, but, damn it, it was counting on me.
The pigeons we see in Cardiff, as in London and Rome and New York, are feral pigeons, so-called because they were formerly domesticated. They were bred from rock doves, cliff and rocky mountain dwellers, and alleged to be good eating – think squab. Domestication might have started 10,000 years ago with the advent of the first city, man-made cliffs and steep buildings. Pigeons and people have been urban dwellers ever since and are equally at ease with the tumultuous life of the city, the pigeons confidently interweaving with pedestrian traffic, skillfully slipping beyond the reach of toddlers trying to catch them.
Ms Keogh took my place standing guard over the pigeon as I went to the flat to get something in which to carry the injured bird. I didn’t think it would feel comfortable being carried in my hands for any length of time. I came back with a cardboard lid to a Clark’s shoebox, perfect for the task. I gently lifted the pigeon, who offered no objection, and placed it on the lid. As we took the bird away, I discussed with Ms Keogh what to do for our patient. Water? Food? I just wanted to keep the pigeon comfortable and free of fear while it died, because I was expecting it to die.
The question was how long? To my relief, death came quickly. After we passed through the blue gate that seals Barry Lane, our pigeon became restless, began to shift on the box lid. Then it began to flicker and gasp. My free hand reached over to keep it from tumbling off the lid and I was astonished by the power in the wing of a mere pigeon. Then it stopped, its beak ceased gaping and our patient tucked his head against the side of the lid. It died before we got into the elevator. I was relieved of any further responsibility.
For a few brief minutes, the corpse laid in state on our windowsill. Ms Keogh took some photographs. Then I returned it to its destiny as a meal for seagulls, leaving the carcass in the marble and concrete planter that held a tree. These planters are all over the Hayes. They are designed to stop trucks driven by terrorists.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.