The Death of a Bird

Afternoon school run traffic on the edge of city centre.  People boldly parking on double yellows outside the shops means traffic along the stretch is chaotic, and stop-start.  As I edge towards the next set of traffic lights, I notice a small commotion in front of my car.

A car in the stream of oncoming traffic, stops almost level with me, idling, and has unknowingly hit a pigeon who had alighted in the centre of the road.  The pigeon has survived, but is in a bad way, and is flapping in distress, its body contorted into a shape consistent with severe injuries. A young male in a yellow hoodie glares angrily in the direction of the driver, who seems unaware of the pigeon.  The young man strides into the street, in front of my car, and carefully lifts up the injured pigeon, cradling it, while it continues trying to flap its crushed wings.  As he does, the driver starts edging his car forward again, still oblivious to the scene.

Now, another male on the pavement steps into the road and bangs his fist loudly on the back of the car in fury, as the first male is still trying to soothe the dying animal.  The traffic in front of me has begun flowing again, but I do not move my car.  I do not move at all, and am holding my breath, contemplating my words to the call-handler should this moment of rising tension continue to escalate, and I need to call 999.

The driver stops sharply at the sound of the man’s fist.  Slowly, he gets out of his car, taking in the man in the yellow hoodie holding the hurt, still spasming pigeon, as he realises what he has done.  He immediately puts both his hands up, gently and tentatively, standing very still in the middle of the street.  The other two men make eye contact with him, and the driver gestures in apology, using his body to communicate his regret, without speaking.  The one who banged on his car, still frowning, now nods in acknowledgement.  The driver gives a slow, half-hearted thumbs up, perhaps asking “Are we okay now?….”  It was an accident, after all. The one who thumped his car holds a hand up in agreement.  The two men walk off in the direction of a city park, gently holding the bird who has gone still, by this point. The driver gets back in his car and drives on.

The entire incident unfolded in under a minute, and yet stayed with me for much of my remaining journey. Indeed, here I am recounting it again, some days later.  Why?  It’s only a pigeon. Presumably, they get run over all the time.  The reason moment in time was so loaded is because it happened in a neighbourhood rife with violence, gang activity, youth aggression and even daylight murder of teenagers.  A neighbourhood which is so scary, it has had metaphorical scaffolding in place for two years provided by a police violence reduction unit.  I felt afraid enough that day, in my already-locked car, to observe the men’s responses so intently, ready to call for help if violence erupted, and it easily could have done.  And those three men seemed to know that, also.

The street was full of children, young families walking home after their school day.  I wonder if they felt the bubbling atmosphere, too?  Perhaps they don’t notice it anymore, desensitized from living with it on a daily basis?  I wonder if those two men are in fact violent, themselves?  And, if they are picked up by the police for perpetrating violence, if anyone would guess how they reacted with such tender compassion to witnessing the accidental death of a bird on a city street in their neighbourhood, on a Tuesday afternoon?