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  • Ben Stower

Pigeon Love on the Seine

Sunny days along the Seine are ideal for people watching. Yet even in this worldly city people still tend to look the same. They walk at the same leisurely pace, wear the versatile jackets of travellers packing light, and in groups there’ll often be one carrying a bag of some sort. I guess that’s why the odd ones draw the most attention. They’re usually alone, but not always, and they’re the ones that make people watching worthwhile.

A man caught my eye today. He was dressed modestly – worn jeans and shoes and a t-shirt under his jacket. He sat down by the water on the edge of the walkway, first placing a brown paper bag under his arse. Before then it had been holding an assortment of items one doesn’t usually see for sundowners. He placed these neatly beside him: a small bottle of Jack Daniels, an extra-large can of Red Bull and two packets of nuts.

Headphones in, he proceeded to take intermittent swigs of the Jack and Bull, never mixing the two together and always leaving a few minutes between swapping. Between swigs he would nibble some of the nuts and crunch up what remained in his hand to sprinkle on the bricks beside him. Slowly, a small group of maybe four or five pigeons gathered around him, calm at first then eager to pick at the nut crumbs offered to them.

He had a purpose for this, as I soon discovered, when instead of scattering the nuts on the ground he held his hand out and waited for the braver pigeons to eat them out of his palm. It didn’t take long. I was fascinated by his contented sharing of food with these city lepers. It was an odd display of kindness backed by the disjointed playing of a saxophonist on a bench behind me.

After some time, a woman sat down a few metres from the pigeon man. She was thoroughly amused by his actions, smiling and watching the birds as they landed, fed, then flew off again. She was an obese woman with thick and wobbly arms and a rotund shape that enveloped her from feet to face. Her hair was up in a bun and she had her own snack – a pastry in a paper bag, which she ate by pulling bits off and popping them in her mouth.

I wondered then if a connection might be made between these two. If it were possible that something might pass between them through the rat-doves. Her eyes darted from the pigeons to the man, possibly hoping to catch his own in a moment of introduction. But he never looked beyond his bottles and winged companions. And she never shared her pastry.

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