There’s a man on my block who feeds the pigeons. I’m sure I’ve seen him do this before, but today is the first time that I really watched him. He was on the little square in front of our place, the one that connects five shortish cobble-stoned one-way streets. He was picking up triangular pieces of bread (not the French kind, but the Middle Eastern flat kind, that is easier to get in our neighborhood than baguette), inspecting them briefly and tossing them onto a flattened cardboard box. Then he picked up a sandwich, one of those triangular kinds, in a plastic container the same shape as the sandwich. He had trouble opening it, and so he rummaged around his pockets until he found his set of keys, and sheared open the plastic film at the top. He separated the layers of sandwich and tossed them all onto the cardboard too. He then picked up a stick lying around, or maybe it was a gnawed-down corn cob, the kind street-vendors sell from makeshift grills made out of shopping carts along the boulevard. Whatever it was, he used it to break the pieces of bread into smaller bits.
That’s how I knew he had no intention of eating any of this – until then, I wouldn’t have put it past him.
He went to rinse his hands at the fountain (the old, green kind, financed by a British philanthropist in the late nineteenth century) and put the plastic into the garbage can on the corner of the square.A few pigeons, loitering around, ventured onto the cardboard box. The man joined his friends sitting with their walking sticks resting between their knees on the little brick wall by the side. One of them picked up a leftover sandwich, still in its container, and examined the label, wondering perhaps, whether to eat it or not.
Soon enough, birds were swooping in from all directions. It was as though they had been watching him all along, and now, two, three at a time, at least a dozen every second, were coming to claim what was there. The pecking intensified as the group grew. They had trouble with the salami from the sandwiches, fleshy pink triangles, that they pecked but were unable to tear a piece off of. It looked like they were playing ball, with these pink things flapping up in one pigeon’s beak, twirling in the air, and then landing a little way’s off, then being picked up again by another pigeon. At one point, a salami landed on a pigeon’s back, but the pigeon didn’t seem to notice until, quite a bit later, it slid back down.