The old lady came to the park every day to feed the pigeons. She would bring whatever leftover bread she had in her possession, she’d sit on the same bench, and she would slowly reach into the bread bag and toss small crumbs onto the ground. She’d move through the tossing motions methodically while facing the morning sun, the rays of sunlight illuminating her weathered face. The whirlwind of pigeons that surround her swirled and ran and flew as if they were one organism. She was a conductor under the spotlight leading her own orchestra.
Park services were unhappy. There were signs in the park that specifically said Do Not Feed The Birds. They warned her many times before that her actions were frowned upon. They complained to her that – by feeding the pigeons – it made their work harder as they had to spend extra time scrubbing pigeon shit off the bench and surrounding sidewalk. Despite the warnings, the lady came every day. The park service employees and volunteers felt that they could not take any action against the old lady because of her frailty and age, so they begrudgingly spent extra time scrubbing the sidewalk and bench at the end of almost every day.
One day a female park worker was near the bench in late morning when the old lady came in her purple overcoat and ugly floral dress. The lady sat on the bench and slowly opened her bread bag and within seconds she was surrounded by many pigeons. The worker had been picking up garbage in the grass but decided to take it upon herself to confront the old woman.
The worker said, “You know you can’t do that.”
The old lady slowly looked up at her with a frail voice and said, “I know damn well I can’t.”
The attendant crossed her arms, “Then why are you doing it?”
The old lady replied, “Because the pigeons are reliable.”
Confused, the attendant asked, “What do you mean?”
The lady slowly responded with, “It means that these damn pigeons are the only thing I can be sure of. They are here every day. They always show up.”
“Well, can’t you rely on the pigeons somewhere else?”
The old lady suddenly became cross, “Only if you carry me there, dumb ass. You think this old body of mine could walk far enough to go somewhere else? I live just over there.” The old lady pointed indistinctly to the left of her.
“It’s been very annoying having to clean up all the bird…” the worker caught herself from cussing, “… poop.”
“I’m sorry you have to put in the extra time,” the old lady was frustrated, having had this argument with many other park workers in the past, “but this is the highlight of my whole day, so if you don’t mind leaving me alone that would be great.”
“Well I hope you understand that you just waste our valuable time when we have to clean up the mess you make here.” The attendant snapped back, unable to control herself.
“As sure as I am that the pigeons will return here every day, you can be sure to clean up after them.” The old lady hissed.
The park employee retorted, “As sure as I am that the pigeons will come when you’re here, they won’t return when you’re gone.”
The old woman looked up at the attendant with a pained expression. The expression slowly turned to anger, and then it softened, and with great purpose she said, “I am sure that you are wrong.” Then she turned away from the attendant and continued her slow, repeating rhythm of tossing the bread onto the ground.
Weeks passed before the female park worker and the old lady saw each other again.
The female worker was passing by the old lady on the bench when the old lady hissed, “You missed a spot.” She motioned towards all the pieces of shit on the ground.
The attendant stopped and looked at her with great malice and said, “One day soon there will be no spots to miss.”
The old lady pondered carefully what to say next, and with great conviction she said, “Only the selfish say that the value of life is ease.”
The worker retorted, “Only the selfish make things harder for others.”
The old lady laughed, “Well then, honey, you’ve never been in love.” She looked back towards the pigeons and tossed them more bread.
The park worker turned and walked away, silently mumbling a curse under her breath.
It was over six months later before they spoke to each other again. The female worker tried to pass the old lady without her noticing, but the old lady looked up at her with surprise and said, “You’re pregnant.”
The worker stopped, straightened up and rubbed her protruding stomach, “I am pregnant, yes.” She said with no tone of friendliness towards the old lady.
“Not that I care too much,” the old lady stated, “but congratulations. Obviously I was mistaken when I said you’ve never been in love.”
The female worker looked down, “No, this wasn’t from love.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” The old lady bowed her head.
The two women were silent while the pigeons stirred at their feet and flew around their heads. The worker watched the pigeons look at the old lady in anticipation as the old lady tossed another handful of crumbs onto the ground. The pigeons went wild, scrambling to be the first to gobble up the broken bread. In that moment the pigeons seemed ferocious.
The worker looked back up at the old lady and asked, “Do you have kids?”
The old lady tossed another handful of bread on the ground before answering, “Yes. I had two.”
The worker leaned closer to the lady, “Is it easy?” She asked, “Raising children, I mean.”
The old lady smiled, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
The park employee was stuck in thought before asking, “Do they visit you often?”
The old lady stiffened and tossed another handful of bread. Her voice was strained, “Just leave me be, please. I like being undisturbed when I feed the birds. Good luck with your child. Bye now.”
A couple months passed and the female worker’s stomach grew larger. She worked in the park until the final days of her pregnancy, and then she gave birth to a little baby girl. She couldn’t afford to take much time off work so two short weeks after giving birth she returned to the park, leaving the baby in her sister’s care during the day.
“Good news,” a male coworker said on her first day back, “The old lady hasn’t been in the park for two days. The first time in years!”
“Oh really?” The female questioned, “That’s very strange.”
“Maybe the old crone finally croaked.” The male laughed.
There was palpable silence.
The female asked, “Do the pigeons still come around?”
The male replied —