The Boring Bird

Before I begin, I’d like to write a quick apology. I haven’t written a blog in a while. Recently, I moved to China and it has taken me a while to settle in and build up the energy to write a new entry. I suppose that is the case whenever there are big changes in our life.

Though I’m not going to get into it too much now, I’ve come to China to teach English for a year. I figured it would be a good way to see the world…and make some money. I’ve been off of work for the past year and a half working on my book, and that isn’t the most financially rewarding things in the world. Well, not yet. 😉

Anyway, I know I should probably start this blog off with some of my impressions of China. And I promise that I will do that one day. But, today I wanted to post a story I had written many, many years ago.

The other day I was talking to a few new friends about travelling and some of the moral dilemmas we get into. Specifically, we were talking about how difficult it can be to do what we think is right when we’re in a new place. We often get conflicted by wondering what our place is in certain situations. Once, when I was backpacking around Europe after university, I came across this problem and wrote about it. I actually wrote a whole book on a lot of my adventures and observations during that trip, but I haven’t tried to get it published. At least, not yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about self-pubslihing it lately. Again, I’ll write more about that later.

Back to the story.

It takes place in England. And I witnessed something horrible. Unfortunately, I didn’t act on it because I wasn’t sure of my place. I have to admit that it’s one of my biggest regrets. I might have been able to stop it from happening. Even if I hadn’t, I should have pointed out to the young perpetrators (for lack of a better word) that it had been wrong to do.

Okay, here’s my story. I’d say “enjoy”, but it really isn’t a story to enjoy. Hopefully, it’ll get you thinking though.

Like always, any thoughts are greatly appreciated. I’d especially love it if you had a similar experience. And I’d love to know how you handled it.

Let’s begin.

***

As I sit in Trafalgar Square, ready to spend the afternoon reading the open book on my lap, I hear laughter. The loud, high shrieks of three young teenage boys.

They are wandering around one of the fountains. School boys dressed in blue uniforms. Polished shoes and trimmed hair. One is wearing a baseball cap. Their arms sway at their sides as they all take long strides forward.

Again, the laughter.

It’s not the type of noise that you hear from someone who is having a great, heart-felt, enjoyable laugh. But the sound of trouble-makers on a quest. Evil intent is in their happiness.

“There’s one,” the boy in the baseball cap says.

He’s pointing toward a flock of pigeons, singling out one of them for his friends to see. The one he has chosen seems to have a broken wing or damaged leg. It’s wobbling around trying to keep up with the others. A tiny limp protrudes with each step.

“It can’t even walk,” another boy says.

“Look at it.”

The three begin their devilish laugh again.

They make their way over to the pigeon and stand in front of its hurt body. Their frames tower over the small creature. A cruel sparkle is in their eyes as each of the boys’ heads are directed down toward the bird, staring at it intently.

Panic builds in the small bird’s eyes. Its eyelids flutter rapidly in confusion. His neck begins to shake violently as he tries to figure out what to do. His imagination wondering what is going to happen.

Do birds even have imagination? Can they invent plots and characters? Can they think of situations that don’t exist? 

At any rate, this pigeon appears to be thinking of the future, wondering what these boys are going to do to it. Maybe its just instinct. But, by the looks of things, he can definitely picture a horrible ending to this story.

I, too, am thinking of the endless things these boys might do to this bird. They range from bad to worse. And I can only comfort myself by thinking that the three will walk on by with a snicker and a few rude remarks to the defenseless pigeon.

“Watch this,” one says while lifting his foot and bringing it down full force beside the small bird.

The bird moves in every direction, unsure of which way is best. It hobbles around, eyes searching for an escape route. Its neck bobs back and forth, side to side, contradicting the movements of its body which has decided to go in the opposite directions.

The boys break into another fit of laughter.

I guess that I was wrong. They took it further.

Anger builds up within my chest. The way in which these boys are acting makes me want to scream. I feel like running over to them and stomping on the ground as hard as possible. I’d love to watch them run away in fear. But, I do nothing.

Something inside me is saying to stay seated. That’s its not my place to interfere. I’m in a foreign country, an unknown park. I’m unsure of my limitations and responsibilities.

It comes down to being nervous. So all that I can do for the moment is watch.

No one else is doing anything either. Maybe no one has seen. Loving couples, friendly families enjoying the beautiful afternoon. People feed birds grain from the palms of their hands.

“Now, watch this,” the teenager yells again. His foot comes closer to the bird this time. Almost stepping onto the creature, crushing its head against the pavement.

Laughter.

The pigeon’s movements have slowed down. He’s not fidgeting as much, doesn’t look for a place to hide. It has exhausted all options and is tired. Admitting defeat, he sits waiting for whatever these boys are willing to give. Calmly and patiently. Sadly.

I, too, feel defeated. And pathetic. How I could let these boys frighten this pigeon? I’ll never understand. There is just something that is stopping me from getting up and telling the boys to get lost. A feeling deep inside that says not to move.

Of course, there is also the voice inside that is telling me that everything will be fine. That these boys are only going to frighten the bird and then leave, doing very little damage.

Our fears and weaknesses constantly tell our consciences that a situation will more than likely not end up being as bad as we suspect, especially when we are in the wrong.

“You’re over-exagerating.” it will tell us. “Its not as bad as it seems.”

It’s a coping mechanism to deal with the guilt of not doing what our hearts know is the right thing. When paralyzed, as I am now, for the simple reason that I don’t know if its my place to do anything.

That’s the problem: it never feels like our place to do so. Its always someone else who needs to take responsibility for our youth. Parents blame teachers for not raising their children with proper morals and good values. And vice versa. Everyone blames television for its violence, disregard for respect, attitude toward sex and relationships and whatever other deviant, anti-moral messages people find these programs to convey. Musicians are always attacked for their derogatory lyrics and negative messages. And, in the end, nothing ever get accomplished. Nothing is ever learned or taught to our youth.

We don’t explain our views on certain t.v. programs and songs and why they are or aren’t proper, positive, accurate. Instead, we spend our efforts on trying to get them banned. Not many people sit down with their children to teach them manners, common courtesy, because they hope either that someone else will take the time. Or they’re so naive that they think these characteristics are natural, inherent in their children and don’t have to be taught.

In the end, we no longer take any responsibility for our community. A notion that I can’t believe I’m taking part! A notion that I’m too afraid to admit at the moment because I don’t want to do anything. Once again, its might not be my place to interfere.

Yet, on the bright side, there still is the chance that I am over exaggerating. It’s possible that these boys won’t do anymore harm then the already have, isn’t it?

“He didn’t even move,” yells one of the other boys.

“I saw,” responds the other. “What a lazy bird!”

“You’ve scared the shit out of it. That’s what.”

“Well, he should be scared of me. It’s a stupid, fucking bird!” He lets go another stomp of his foot to which the bird fails to reply. “Let’s get out of here. This is boring.”

“Yeah,” the other two agree.

“You’re a boring bird.”

“Yeah, a fucking boring bird.”

Laughter.

As the three boys begin to walk away, my heart begins to settle in my chest. I’m still angered by the nature of these teenagers, their ability to attack and harm a defenseless pigeon. But, I begin to feel more at ease with the knowledge that they aren’t going to torment this bird anymore.

I also feel my guilt begin to absolve. The pressure that my fear had set upon me was beginning to lighten. Maybe I was over-exaggerating, after all. Maybe I didn’t have to go up and stop these kids from scaring the pigeon, no matter how cruel. No real harm came out of the situation. They’re leaving. And soon the pigeon will be back with the rest of them, picking for food.

Maybe.

“Fucking boring bird,” I hear yelled, again. It’s the boy with the baseball cap. He’s standing in front of the pigeon while the other two stand a few feet away.

With one quick motion he raises his leg behind him and swings it forward with full force, connecting with the pigeon. There is a dull sound as the bird is sent into motion. It moves gracefully through their air, avoiding a struggle or attempt to fly out of the situation.

A lady turns her head as it goes past. The look on her face reveals that she, too, has understood what was happening with these teenagers and the pigeon. And, like myself, she stayed clear from the situation. Now, horrified at what has happened.

The bird drifts in an arch, raising into the sky, and comes bounding down into the water. No movement exists. Not a flutter of its wing, nor a twitch of its neck. Its lifeless body floats in one of the fountains in Trafalgar Square. The bird has been killed.

Laughter.

Inward sorrow.

I feel horrible about this pigeon. That its life was taken before me in such a cruel manner. Worse of all, I feel like a coward. I could have done something to help this bird and possibly these teenagers. To let them know something about compassion and responsibility. But, who am I to talk after such a display?

And, the more that I think about it, it’s not the first time that I’ve remained quiet in such a situation, felt that it wasn’t my place to say anything. A lady yells hysterically at her child in the supermarket for grabbing a piece of candy from the counter. A young man whistles and shouts rude comments at a female college student walking home from class. Boys knock over filled garbage cans into the streets. Someone doesn’t bother holding the door open for an elderly person carrying several shopping bags.

Each time I say nothing.

Quiet.

Sorrow.

Laughter.

The boys walk into the crowd and out of my sight.

With heavy heart, I put my book back in to my bag, do up the zipper and prepare to head back to the hostel. I don’t feel all too much like reading today anymore.

2 thoughts on “The Boring Bird

  1. Daniela October 9, 2012 / 4:37 am

    Your story disturbed me deeply and on many levels. It produced such effect for two reasons; vivid prose, and complex issues addressed. Through actions of those teenage boys, the very essence of human nature is revealed and both sides of it; cruelty and cowardice. One needs the other to flourish. It has been said that all evil needs to thrive is for good man to do nothing.
    It is the story many of us know well, just in different times and circumstances. If we are honest enough with ourselves to admit it. Those who are usually learn from it. That in itself is testament that we are all equally capable of both; good and evil.
    Daniela

    • Michael McManamon October 10, 2012 / 10:08 am

      Hi, Daniela,

      Thanks for your reply. And thanks for the compliment. I’m glad that you enjoyed the writing (even though it was disturbing). I agree that this is something that we have all experienced at one time or another. And, you’re right, it’s important that we learn from it. 🙂

      Michael

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