An Ode to the Dying Pigeon, for Whom I Could Not Do Right By

The worst part was, it had been such a nice morning.

I woke up early, like 9 a.m. I felt fresh, rejuvenated for once, which is very uncommon, I don’t usually sleep well at all. But for some reason, on this day, I had slept well, and I woke up fresh and rosy-cheeked. Without waking my girlfriend, I left the bedroom, put my shoes on, and took a nice long jog through Jeanne-Mance park. When I got home I was sweaty in the best way, took a cold shower, meditated as I waited for the coffee to brew.

Honestly, it was such a nice morning.

But then, I left for work. I decided to take the long way downtown, because it had been just such a nice morning, and I had left with time to spare. On days when I take the long way, I try to only walk down alleys, or down smaller streets I haven’t been on. It makes the city feel fresh, which I like—keeps me hopeful. But I turned down the wrong alley, on this day.

I made a left, headed down an alley near Esplanade Ave. As soon as I turned off the street, before I’d even finished the full 90 degrees, I saw it.

It was a pigeon.

The pigeon was on the ground, half-buried in semi-dried mud, flapping these little awkward half-flaps of a clearly distressed avian variety. I stopped cold, and I stared at this dying pigeon. As I stared, it became clear the issue, as I could see indents of a car’s tire directly running over the animal and into the mud. The bird must have been sleeping, or otherwise dicking about, and been run over by a car. The car had clearly severed a vertebrae, but not the top one, because the animal was still able to move its head, and part of its neck.

I was unsure if the flaps were voluntary. The bird would raise its head slightly, its eyes so full of pained expression and terrified ignorance of what had happened, why suddenly its body was so full of pain and unresponsive to its tiny pigeon will. The head would raise slightly, but the neck was paralyzed, or almost paralyzed, and so the head would fall back over, awkwardly, onto the bird’s side.

As it raised and lowered its tiny head, it released these tiny, mournful cries, over and over again—not quite a squawk and not quite a coo, more like a choked, terrified call. It sat there, staring at me, as it raised and lowered its head, and awkwardly flapped its tiny wings. I could see the life ebbing from it.

At this point, as I was standing there, staring at this poor dying animal, with my stupid mouth agape and my stupid face just staring, blankly, unmoving, an elderly couple came into my field of vision. They had been casually strolling through the alley from the opposite end, heading toward me, commenting to each other on the beautiful gardens and architecture, really just having a nice time. It was at this point that one of them approached me.

“What is wrong with it,” the woman said, her accent heavy and her voice cold, observational. She was dressed in a black pantsuit, very nouveau riche business-type. I explained the situation in brief terms. As I did so, my eyes started to well.

“Oh. Yeah, I guess so,” she said.

It was like she was commenting on the state of a semi-heated frozen burrito. Like she had taken it out of the oven and I had said, “No, it’s not ready yet.” Like she was just noting the need to replace a frozen burrito back into the oven.

It really fucked me up.

I should say that during this whole sordid affair, as soon as I saw this small animal struggling against the dire jaws of death, I knew exactly what I should do. I knew that my place, as an able-bodied observer, I knew exactly what this pigeon needed of me. I knew it because it’s exactly what I would have wanted, were I that pigeon, were I any creature, slowly, painfully watching the life ebb out of me in a muddy ditch in the side of an alley.

There was a brick right next to it.

I could have done right by that bird.

But I didn’t.

I couldn’t. I couldn’t disconnect from my human morays and do the right thing for this animal. I couldn’t keep my eyes from welling and pick up that brick and do a good thing, the righteous thing, for a life in its last moments. I couldn’t even close my fucking mouth. And then that woman showed up, and treated this animal’s final moments like a semi-frozen burrito, and it fucked me up.

I just turned, and I left. And I regret it.

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