Picture this. North York. Nineteen ninety-something.
I am a teenager. Maybe in my early twenties? I'm too old to remember now. I have decided in my foolhardiness to walk from Finch Station (the end of the line) to my parents' house in Thornhill. It's summer. I walk. I walk and walk and walk. This was when the plazas in North York on Yonge north of Finch were in slow decline. I walk up to Yonge and Steeles. Not much farther, I remind myself. I remind myself that I like walking. I feel I am a Friend to the Environment.
Yonge and Steeles is dominated by Centrepoint Mall. This story took place when it was Centrepoint, I think. Not so long ago that it was Towne and Country. This was before Yonge from Steeles to Clarke went through the Korean-Iranian renaissance.
I must have been a teenager because this was before the Depressive Episode, back when I talked to strangers. Er, more than I do now.
Let's begin again. I am walking. A woman stops me on the sidewalk. She has a big dog and a pigeon. (The pigeon is in her hands, not inside the big dog.)
This is not terribly unusual. I mean, the pigeon is unusual, but not the fact that she stops me. I'm often stopped by strangers because I often have a look on my face that says "harmless" and "bother me, I won't hurt you". This woman was looking for a stranger to stop and she found me.
"Please," she says, "can you take it?" She holds the pigeon out to me. It is in shock. (I am too.)
"Uh," I say.
"Please, her wing is broken, and I can't take her-" she gestures with her head towards the big dog. "The dog will go crazy."
"Um," I say.
"Please, her wing is broken, can you take her?" Her eyes implore me. I don't care if that's a cliche. "I can't leave her here," she says.
I can't disappoint this woman. I am young. I have compassion for all living things. Part of my brain is also flashing other messages at me like:
I ignore the messages.
I take the pigeon.
I hold her - though who can say the gender of this particular pigeon - I hold her gently and firmly. The woman thanks me profusely and walks away with her big dog.
I stand there on Yonge Street. I enjoy looking at this pigeon up close, in as much as I enjoy examining any living creature, except slugs. I also wonder if the pigeon will peck me and if I will get a disease. I also begin to feel a simmering string of expletives form (as it always does when I've willingly and knowingly invited stupidity into my life). Sunday afternoon on the border of Thornhill and I've been entrusted with the life of a pigeon.
I don't know what else to do, so I continue walking north towards my parents' house. My internal monologue is strained to say the least. I mean WHAT am I doing holding this BIRD with a broken wing that I cannot fix and really what kind of PREDATORS would there be anyways out by the stunted pines of the ornamental greenery around Centrepoint Mall, and if I were a pigeon, I wouldn't WANT to be carried by a big scary human all the way to THORNHILL, I would just want some corner to feel safe so I could just DIE or HEAL as I (or Pigeon God) wanted me to, and WHO does that woman think she IS just handing off PIGEONS to people anyways, and isn't it perfectly NATURAL for her DOG to go crazy, as a dog would and why do I DO these things and can I somehow blame it all on RANGER RICK?
I've walked past Centrepoint Mall. I stop. There's no vet between here and Mom and Dad's. The only vet is almost right at their street. It's closed on Sundays anyhow. There's no park, no green space, nothing useful to a hurtin' pigeon from here to RICHMOND HILL for the love of... anways. I change my mind. The woman must be far off now. She won't see me.
I turn around.
I walk back towards the only spot of green. The shrimpy pines around the mall parking lot.
I carefully set the Pigeon down under a tree. Animals like to be hidden in corners to die. I don't know how I know this, but I do.
Suddenly, "LIAR!" Much like that scene in The Princess Bride, the woman is back - how did she get there so fast? Was she waiting and watching around a corner?
"I trusted you! Why did you lie? You lied to me! You said you would take her!" She goes on and on. I am horrified. Not actually scared of her (which maybe I should've been), but ashamed of being busted. I feel guilty. I want to say, "pigeons are dirty" and "neither you nor I can help her now", but I don't say those things. I should've said, "why don't you leave your dog and take the pigeon", but I don't think of that till now, years later. I just stammer something like, "Sorry, sorry, I'll take her. I have a long walk. Sorry, sorry."
Are you ready? I take the damn pigeon AGAIN. I walk, holding her, for approximately 3.7 kilometres. I leave her in the bushes outside the vet clinic.
I go to my parents' house and wash my hands. I tell very few people this story. I phone the vet and leave them a message (or was it a note?) that there is a wounded pigeon in their shrubbery. I quietly loathe that woman for a long time.
But wait, there's more!
Fast-forward to now, just a few months ago. I was in Toronto, walking past a little plaza downtown. It is partly the front driveway of a building, and partly some stores. Mostly, it is full of parents watching little kids go round and round on bikes or roller blades. But that morning, a new person held court. A Crazy Pigeon Woman with a Piazza San Marco-scale pigeon brood at her feet. She is tossing them chunks of stale bread from her bundle-buggy. She has a black garbage bag full of bread. I suspect it was given to her in the hope that it would feed her not her pigeons.
Now I know why there's been a severe increase in pigeon crap in the area. It's not a coincidence.
"Excuse me," I say, "Why don't you feed them in the park?"
"There is no park around here!" she retorts.
"Yes, there is. There are three - one on X, Y, and Z, all in a row."
"They're too far," she says.
"No, they're not," I say. They're five minutes from here, I walk it every day." Besides, she doesn't panhandle or stick around the area, meaning she is getting to and from there somehow.
"What do you care?" she says. Our voices are rising. "You're wearing shoes! You don't eat off the ground!"
"Yeah, but why do I have to step in pigeon sh-t on the way to work? Why do you have to feed them here?!"
"Pigeons are just like people, you know. They have feelings! You have no feelings. You're heartless!"
"Fine. I'm heartless," I say. And then I get really mature and add, "At least I have a brain". And then I realize that I am having an argument with the Crazy Pigeon Lady, and that this can't be a good sign, and that also, I'm not winning. I walk away.
And later, as I ponder over my flaws and failings I spot the lapse in my logic. Did you catch it?
It was when I chose to start a conversation with the PIgeon Lady!!!
And lest you leave this entry convinced of my heartlessness, cowardliness, and neurotic tendencies, I'll have you know that I'm not the only crazy one in this blog entry. Here, read for yourself.