"Like kindred spirits, the birds and I, we sheltered together from the rain."
It was a particularly busy day in town, the kind of day when you are suddenly aware that something is awry with the world.
I felt detached from that world as I watched people scurrying about, clutching carrier bags bursting with stuff they had bought but didn't need. Such is the power of advertising and consumerism.
While the chaos of life rushed by me, through the haze of people I spotted an elderly man sitting on a bench under a tree on the main street that passes through the town centre. I'd seen him before, he was often there.
He was holding a bag, but his bag wasn't full of shopping on this cold October day, it was filled with bits of brown bread and other treats for the birds, mostly pigeons but also a few sparrows, that were flocking around him on the pavement at the base of the tree and perching on the arm of the bench on which the old man sat.
The world weary man smiled at the birds as they eagerly scrambled for the crumbs that he was throwing for them.
I went and sat down on the bench and the old man nodded to me. I watched a bird land and another one fly away with a piece of bread. The old man offered me a few crusts to throw for the pigeons. I took some. The birds, deciding that I could be trusted, began to take the food from me, some of them bold enough to snatch it from my fingers. It made me smile.
“Do you sit here and feed them every day?” I asked the man. He nodded. “Yes, the birds need me but...”, he hesitated, “you know I need them more...”.
“I'm curious”, I said, “as to why you would think that”. His answer startled me. “Souls of the dead”, he replied without looking up; he spoke quietly as if he were telling me a secret, “birds are the winged spirits of those who have passed on, that's what I believe and that's why I come to feed them, it's like seeing old friends again, every day. It's like they never went away.”
I didn't quite know what to say. I carried on throwing food to the birds. Then one of them, a brown and white pigeon, landed on the bench and walked across to the old man. “This one,” he said, “this one I don't know, but she seems to know me. I can't remember who she is. Perhaps I don't even know her, but that's okay, it's always good to meet new friends, isn't it?”
“Yes,” I answered, “it really is”.
We chatted a little more, he told me a few things about his life. He was lonely.
I had to go but I decided that I would buy some food for the birds and return the next day to feed them and to see my new friend, the old man. I didn't know his name but I would ask him many things when I saw him again.
I said goodbye and he waved to me as I disappeared into the swirling crowds.
The next day I went to a pet shop and bought some wild bird seed. I separated it into two bags, one for the old man and one for me, so that we could feed the birds together and chat some more. I felt happy as I walked through town to visit the old man and the birds.
Through the surging hordes of shoppers, I could see the bench. But the old man was not there. My heart sank as I noticed that neither were there any birds. A sign had appeared on the tree next to the bench “Do not feed the birds – penalty £100”.
I never did see the old man again. And the birds had gone too but I found them in another part of town, away from the frenzy of shoppers, near a railway embankment that was strewn with litter, blown there from the overflowing bins in the town centre. The brown and white pigeon, the one that had made such an impression on the old man, was there too. Although there was no bench, I found a tree stump and sat down while I threw the seed to the birds. One of them hopped up on to my lap and took some of the food from the palm of my hand.
The old man's words came back to me. “It's like meeting old friends again every day”. It started to rain and the birds flew away. I could see them under the eaves of a derelict building nearby. I stood in the doorway of the building. Like kindred spirits, the birds and I, we sheltered together from the rain.
That was many years ago. Now I'm an old man and I feed the birds every day, though there aren't as many as there used to be. As it is with all friends, the circle grows smaller with time. Funny though, the brown and white pigeon still comes to see me. The sight of her gives me comfort. It brings to mind something I once wrote....
A soul in such a humble dove,
the harbinger of peace arrives.
she speaks with me of hope and love,
the universe and many lives.
And if my world should fall apart,
my days and years should go awry,
though heavy rocks might still my heart,
In her, I hear a lullaby.
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story and poem © Jason Endfield 2018
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