Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Old Man and the Pigeon

Most of my stories are inspired by people I meet. Two days ago an old man on crutches came to PetSmart while I was working on a shift and asked, "Can you show me to your parrots, please?" This man was on crutches because he was missing his right leg all the way up past the kneecap and he had cut off that side of his jeans and tied it up in a knot.

As he hobbled after me, I could not help but think he was a pirate, especially since he wore a blue bandanna over his head and also wore a gray beard. I had to stifle the great desire of asking him if he was a pirate and instead said, "Here's our parrots. As you can see, we have a great range from the smaller tropical birds of South America to the larger parrots of India. All it really depends on, is how big you want em and how much you're willing to pay." "Well, how much are they?" He even sounded like a pirate! "Their prices are marked just below their cages." He stooped down so his old eyes could get a closer look and I thought about mentioning to my manager that we ought to make the font of those prices larger since old people buy a lot of pets. "Skulls and smoke!" he shouted. "I can't afford any of these!" I couldn't take it any longer and asked him, "What do you do for a living?" He smiled a me and answered, "I'm an actor. There isn't much of a market out there for one-legged actors, 'sides for pirate flicks. I ain't had any luck so far so I thought I'd buy a parrot to show them producers I'm serious and have done my homework. There's a casting call tomorrow and I have to get that part. I'll try anything. I can't afford a prosthetic leg until I get my breakthrough, but I can't be anything except a pirate until I get that prosthetic." "How much does a prosthetic leg cost?" "Eight thousand big ones." "How much have you got so far?" "Fifteen bucks. Not even enough for a parrot. Can you offer any sort of discount?" I felt sorry for the man, and in awe because he is the closest man to a pirate I've ever seen in my life. "I'm sorry, I can't. But there are a lot of pigeons around my home and if you come over tonight, I can help you catch one. It's not a parrot, but its something. I'm sure the producers would be impressed seeing that you have pigeon-wrangling skills." He looked at me for a few seconds as if wondering if he should believe me. "Sure." I gave him my address and told him to meet me at six o'clock. I figured it would best to sneak up on the pigeons while they were preoccupied with dinner. I know it takes a lot to distract me while I am eating. After work, I eagerly anticipated the pirate's arrival. I would have called Lester or Anna, but I knew they were both working late. When the pirate never showed, I could think of only two reasons why: either he lost his other leg in a freak-water-sprinkler accident or he, like the rest of our world, is prejudiced against pigeons. Why aren't they sold in pet stores? With so much new free time, I wrote this for all the pigeons out there:

In the smallest alleyway of this particular industrial capital, light was absent. The cobblestone street was sided by two large, abandoned, concrete blocks of buildings. The roofs were caved in and over half of the apartment’s doors were stolen. The alleyway was old and had never been restored or even repaired. The stones of the street were spread too far apart and it caused any automobile to shake wildly as it crossed. The stones were every shade of brown and gray, a mismatched stretch of road. They had been laid before any living human in the city had been born and had served as a well-traveled road connecting the southern part of the city to the north in its glory days. Now it was nothing.
The middle of the alleyway had sunken deeper then the rest of the street and a large, brown puddle had formed from that morning’s rain shower. Automobiles passing sent a splash of mud onto the already-mud-caked buildings on either side. The moon had already risen and no such automobile had passed in hours.
A one-legged pigeon was fluttering his way across the great city in search of food. As it flew above the alleyway it spotted a small white mass lying next to the puddle and swooped down for a closer investigation. The pigeon was mostly grey, besides its mudded wing tips and foot. The peculiar thing about pigeons is their turquoise necks and the neck on this particular pigeon was fantastic, as if it shined of real emerald in its purest state; such a small area of beauty considering the domineering grayness of the city bird.
The bird landed on its one foot next to the strange white mass which is commonly referred to by human beings as chewing gum. The pigeon strained to peck the sticky, white mass flattened into a crack between two stones. The one-legged bird hopped around the white mass in an effort to find a better angle at which to receive the prize it sought. Fully concentrating on the white mass, the pigeon’s foot landed and stuck in a crack and when it tried to hop free the pigeon stumbled into the muddy puddle.
The one-legged pigeon immediately panicked and, using its instincts to ensure survival, it flapped its wings wildly, trying to take flight. The wet wings could not function as they were supposed to and the pigeon only rolled around in the dirty water, sending sprays of water in all directions. There was nothing it could do, but nature taught it to struggle anyway; to never give up. The one-legged pigeon thrashed about in the brown water with no thought of any other plan of escape. It simply flapped its wings harder with more veracity, never slowing down. Hope left the situation as the bright lights of an automobile flooded the dark alleyway where the one-legged pigeon fought for life.
Hope returned in the form of a small, speckled hand that clasped the pigeon around the neck and pulled it out of the wet pit of doom. The old grandmother, with a green scarf tied around her head that hid what was left of her thin, white hair, flattened herself against the dried mud plastered wall of one the buildings and the red automobile roared past, splashing grandmother and bird with a new coat of mud. The grandmother, with only three teeth and a noticeably large wart on her chin, kissed the grateful one-legged pigeon’s turquoise neck.