by Michael Ross
Everyone knew her, even people living outside the city had heard about the pigeon lady.
Most days of the week she would stumble around the city centre. It was hard to judge her age, somewhere in her middle hundreds I would guess. Even now I feel guilty at writing something so flippant. Who do I think I am?
She was utterly oblivious to the crowds around her,the young school kids had long long ago given up on upsetting her. Oblivious. She just lived for the pigeons.
Draped in a dull stain-soaked overcoat she would stagger around the corners of the square, slowly dishing out crumbs that she had stored deep down in her pockets. She would spend two or three hours every evening, with the birds dutifully tripping around her feet. It did not matter how many times you watched there was always a theatrical delivery to her evening performances.
On the few times I tried to attract her attention, her chocolate black eyes just looked through me – she saw me but there was no eye contact. There was a dull, unpleasant odour around her that made it too uncomfortable to linger for very long. Her greasy hair was a mat of drab grey curls; there was always a dew drop perched on the end of her nose. And a damp red knitted cap pinned to her head.
She was best not observed in close-up; better to linger at a slight distance as she circled the square, chanting her incoherent mutterings at the birds. For the last twenty years of her life it would seem she had nothing to live for but her pigeons. People were not even a distraction, they did not exist.
She utterly fascinated me, so I probed about and learnt some of her background. She had been born between the wars, in France, somewhere in the Loire Valley, where she had fallen in love with a British Army officer, impulsively leaving her homeland to live with her lover. Her name was Noelle and unknown to her, the lover was already married. His eventual abandonment left a hurt that stained her heart forever. She had no friends and wanted none, and yet I was magnetically drawn to her. As I sat and drank my glass of red wine my heart would bleed for her desperate existence. I should have tried harder.
Last week when I realised I had not seen her recently I did some digging around and was devastated to find out that she had died all alone in a back alley, only a few days earlier. No violence involved – just a defeat. When they searched her room at the hostel they found thirty kilos of bird food. And twenty three bottles of rat poison.
Like most things in my life, I did not understand until it was too late… but she must have hated pigeons, really hated pigeons.
Michael Ross is living in Wales, studying in Bristol and writing in earnest.