Four Boys and a Pigeon

I keep not wanting to write about the pigeon, but I can't seem to write about anything else while I'm actively not-writing about the pigeon. I have started about seven different posts over the last few days, but it all keeps coming down to this damn bird, even when I'm trying to write about houseplants, and I have to stop and get up to wander the apartment or eat toast so I can think about something else. I feel stunned by heartlessness, like I am a child who has been knocked upside the head for being stupid.

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I guess it's a choice now between never writing again or writing about the pigeon. Life can be pretty stupid. So, here's what happened.

Aidan and I were walking around downtown on Canada Day, July 1st, hunting down a restaurant that might be open. We were just turning a corner in front of the mall when we noticed four kids running around by its doors. They must have been less than 14, or maybe even 12, but I didn't think much of what they were up to until I saw a grey bundle of flapping wings trying to outrun them. It rolled along the pavement just a foot or so ahead of their feet, and they weren't playing. My mind squeezed down onto the hard marble of what we were seeing, and I couldn't think anymore about supper and restaurants closed on holidays.

These boys were gleefully trying to kick and stomp a pigeon to death.

Both Aidan and I started yelling at them to stop. I tried to do my best guttural, authoritative bellow, but the sight of that bird fighting for its life had a stranglehold on my throat. I went for hoarse and angry. They seemed shocked and maybe a bit amused, but it wasn't until we started to cross the street towards them that they ran about 40 feet further away to watch us.

After a few moments, Aidan said, "I'm going to check on the bird."

"I can't. If we see it and it's in pain, we'll have to kill it," I said. "I just can't."

Aidan jogged over, surveyed the area where we'd seen the bird running, and came back to report that it had disappeared. With no bird, there seemed to be nothing else to do, so we walked away from the scene and the boys who still stood watching us down the street. 

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I had to turn to check on the kids, though, to see if they had the idiotic balls to come back and try to finish off the bird, and they did. Two stood at the lip of an alley, waiting for us to leave, while a couple of them edged back down the sidewalk toward the mall entrance, grinning at what they thought they could get away with.

"No fucking way," I said. I held up my phone in its bright yellow case and started marching towards them. I was shaking too hard to rifle through apps — they seemed pretty fearless, drunk on adrenalin and petty power — but I was bidding on the hope that they would think I was filming them. Thankfully, they took off running as soon as they figured out I might be recording.

I thought maybe we should call the police, but with both the bird and the boys already gone from the scene, it seemed like a hollow gesture towards justice, so we continued to look for an open restaurant. It felt all wrong, though, all of it. I couldn't settle back into the day. We'd gone from a quiet walk to supper to witnessing heartless animal torture by children to a quiet walk to supper, and my heart turned over and over in my chest.

Those boys wouldn't leave my mind. I knew that the bird, from the way it lumbered and flapped low along the pavement when chased, could no longer fly. It was likely hiding out by a pillar and dying if it wasn't already dead. The boys, though, from the smiles I saw on their faces as they conferred about coming back for the pigeon, or maybe even about coming back for Aidan and I, were looking for more. They'd had a grand adventure. They'd had fun. I imagined them hiding out now as though from the cops and feeling like men.

Those boys are still with me. Kids who display such a striking lack of empathy usually experience a striking lack of empathy in their own lives, and I want them to be loved. I want them to feel it and see it and know it. I want them to experience a world where each living thing can be seen to have value, to have similar experiences of connection and loss that must be honoured. I want their instillation of fear in others to pain them rather than thrill them.

I know that I am just some hyper-sensitive person who grew up privileged by class, race, and a peaceful ideology who's letting her heart bleed all over about the behaviour of some kids whose negative life experiences are likely not all that surprising. I am well aware that the world is not wholly beautiful. I know compassion is not something every being gets to experience much of, if at all. 

No matter, though. Some days I want to put love everywhere. I want to hug those kids well enough that they get it. I want to lay my hands on that bird and take away what was done. I want the whole damn world to learn to sing in perfect fucking harmony. But it's futile. They can't. You can't. I can't. 

It's not about me and what I can't do, though, or what you can't do. Those kids are doing what they know, and the world can't shift in such a way that they can unknow what they know. And this ridiculous blogger can't make that kind of shift happen. I can't gather those boys up and hold them and whisper love in their ears and make them know I only behaved threateningly out of love and fear. They're not stray kittens. Sometimes the world is a terrible place, and my hands will move nothing.

We watched four boys thrill at the torture of a pigeon, and all we could do in that moment was say no. That we could walk away to eat spice-rubbed chicken burritos on the other side of a restaurant window only compounds the heartlessness.