Tonight Alex and I were talking about the pigeon. Yes, THE pigeon. We knew what we meant when we said it. The pigeon was a fixture in our lives for four or five days when we lived in Rome. It was one of the most disturbing, most horrible presences in our routine, which sat on a grass triangle in front of our apartment on Via Nemea in Rome. We noticed him almost by accident. But once we’d seen him, he took up residence in consciousness, and if I am honest, he’s still there, even now.
Who was he, this ordinary grey pigeon? He sat on the grass. The sprinkler fanned across him. And yet he did not move. Why? Don’t pigeons move when they are sprayed with water – or when something ruffles their feathers? Don’t they generally fly away?
When we looked closer we saw the reason why. His head on one side had been sliced off – revealing a blue grey pulp and red sinews we didn’t want to know about, and could not understand, on one side of his head.
So we turned away. He disgusted us, this half headed pigeon. Oh my God, we said to each other when we got upstairs into the safety of our apartment. Did you see that pigeon on the grass?
We gathered on the kitchen balcony, and looked down. Alarmingly, the pigeon was still there. Like Patrick Suskind's Pigeon, he freaked us out. Later, when we went downstairs, and got into the car, he remained in place.
He had gone into another zone. Was he alive? Maybe instead, he hovered between life and death. I mean, why did he allow the sprinkler to fan across him? Why didn’t he preen his feathers, or fly away?
We imagined he had a superior knowledge about the nature of existence. This was why we feared him. He was alive, yet he wasn’t behaving like a normal bird. Therefore he must be onto something – onto some deeper notion of existence. This gave him the edge on us.
Any one of us, me or Rozzie, Ben, Alex or Elliot could have taken it upon ourselves to end his miserable existence. But yet we didn’t do it. Was it cowardly? Was he in misery? We didn’t know and didn’t care –
Because frankly, we were scared.
He was a sentinel,or rather a kind of elixir of life and death, a distilled version of ourselves. There, and yet not there. Our pigeon was a zombie.
Was he conscious of being himself ? We couldn’t tell. We tiptoed closer on the way to the car, on the pretext of finding out. If I’d had the courage of my Aunt Shirley, I’d have taken off a high heel shoe, and hit him on the head, putting him out of his misery. But I couldn't bring myself to do it, because I was repulsed.
Besides, it felt presumptuous. The pigeon seemed to know a thing or two about existence that eluded me. He was in possession of himself – in possession of some knowledge of good and evil that I didn’t yet understand.
And so for days we passed him by, like cowards. We hated him because he revolted us, sitting there on the grass like an ordinary grey pigeon, with half his brain sliced open. Why didn’t the portiere remove him, we wondered, as we drove off in our cars. And when we returned, we very much disliked to see that he was still there.
Then one day he was gone.
We no longer had to look at him. Maybe the portiere had killed him. Or maybe he died in the night. We never knew. Nor did we care to know. He was gone and that was good enough. We hated that pigeon because we were cowards. That’s why he haunted us in his final zombie days.
That’s why he haunts us still.