Vermin by Ivor Tymchak
A pigeon once took up residence in my back garden. I had no idea how it got there because my back garden has a continuous fence running all around it. It could have flown into the garden, I suppose, but if it had, why didn’t it fly out again?
I first noticed it when I was clearing some weeds from a border. The pigeon was hiding behind some runner bean plants, pressing itself into the fence only a few feet away from me. When it noticed I had spotted it, it didn’t burst into explosive flight as I had expected but pressed itself harder into the fence. That struck me as odd behaviour so I investigated further by moving nearer to it.
As it still didn’t attempt a take-off, I concluded that it had lost the
ability to do so. It looked like a fully-grown bird with no outward
signs of injury so I was puzzled as to what might have caused the
disability. My initial thought was that it might have flown into a
window and, being momentarily stunned, needed some time to
recover. We exchanged eye contact for several seconds before
I backed off and left it alone.
I continued with my work and forgot about the pigeon.
Later that day I returned to the garden to conduct another task when I spotted the pigeon sitting underneath a wooden bench on the patio. If it had flown into a window I calculated it should have recovered by now so I was surprised to see it still in the garden. We exchanged eye contact again and since it looked perfectly healthy my only other theory as to why it couldn’t fly was along the lines of it had some disease or possible parasites that affected its flying ability. Again, I left it alone.
Later still, as evening approached, I was in the conservatory that looked onto the patio and I observed the pigeon wandering about looking for food. It had clearly explored the limited territory available to it and was checking it all again carefully for anything of interest.
It being October, my attitude towards it was to let nature take its course. Had it been May, however, when I would have had young, tender vegetable plants growing in the garden, I would have quickly done something about it – vegetable growers and pigeons are mortal enemies.
The next morning, the pigeon was visible on the patio, sitting in a corner and ruffling its feathers. It had managed to survive the night, escaping the jaws of foxes and cats, presumably because my garden is fenced in and not easily accessed.
As the day progressed I found myself going out of my way to check on the pigeon, sometimes standing directly over it to confirm it wasn’t able to escape my presence by flying off. As I looked down on it – its black eye blinking at me with a fearful expression – my attitude towards it started to change; it wasn’t just a pigeon anymore, it was my pigeon.
Throughout the day I observed it wandering the patio picking up anything that looked remotely like food. Several times it picked up an old and dirty sycamore seed that looked promising but each time it decided it wasn’t edible and dropped it again. It must have been starving. A thought entered my head to find some food for it but it was immediately snared by other thoughts reminding me that pigeons are vermin and they need to be eliminated. By rights, I should have wrung its neck and put it out of its misery but it was a large creature and I’m sensitive about taking life. Chopping slugs in half with a spade is one thing but breaking the neck of a warm-blooded, feathered creature that blinks at me with a jewel-like eye, is another…
By the end of the second day it had a resigned look about it. It
rested against some vegetation with its back towards me. A large
fly was crawling over its plumage as if it had caught the early scent
of death and was investigating the source.
Annoyingly, I felt a sense of moral duty to this bird, but why?
Pigeons eat my vegetables and collectively they plague our towns
and cities with their opportunistic scavenging and filthy droppings –
I’m human though. And this bird was suffering distress. It sought
sanctuary in my garden and I felt an unwanted responsibility
towards it. We had made eye contact many times and we had
recognised each other as living creatures existing in a moment in
time. A part of me intuitively understood that other life forms have
as much right to life as I do and that even if they take my food they
are only doing what I was trying to do in growing it – to feed their
family and themselves.
I am not a pigeon so I don’t know what it feels like to be one. If I’m honest, I don’t even know what it feels like to be anything but myself. It’s only when I make eye contact with a fellow traveller and we exchange a silent acknowledgement that in this life we can be certain of very few things – distress, compassion, love and mercy being some of them – that I know I’m not alone in this world.
That’s when we realise we are connected to others by a force greater than the sum of our fears.
On the third day there was no sign of the pigeon.