August 22th, 2020
DovesThe man who breeds doves lives on the fourth floor, quietly nursing his aching head, his work's strain pulsing in heartbeats behind tired eyes. His hair was once wild and tangled, now he keeps it short because it's easier to clean, and doesn't sting his eyes when it sweeps greasy and down over his brow. His hands are covered in the scratches of a million birds, the claws of white peace that flailed and scraped on their way into cages for ceremony. He lives, with his birds, on the fourth floor because it is the top floor, and has a roof terrace, a small paved area where his birds live part-time. His life is spent shuffling from crate to crate, feeding, brushing, cleaning and talking with his snow-drop companions. Inside, the apartment is three small rooms, the map of his world divided equally into the four quarters of living, sleeping, birds interior, and birds exterior. Once a week a car, usually black, stops on the street below. The door on the passenger side opens and someone steps out, looks up at the sky, then goes to the rear door and opens it. Someone gets out and the door is closed behind them as they look up at the sky. The opposite door opens and another passenger gets out, much larger than the first, wearing all black, with an ear-piece that makes him look like a poorly disguised secret agent. The first gets back in, the large man bangs on the roof and the car slides away. He then strides past the smaller man, who still stands looking up, he turns and makes a comment, walking over to the door of the building, taking out a key and going inside. The smaller man stays squinting upwards for a while before following the other inside. 'You look tired, Dominic.' He laughs nasally, a joke. 'This is Dominic.' 'It is a pleasure to meet you at last, Mr...' The man who breeds doves stares at the new-comer with haggard eyes, brimming with emptiness. The large man laughs, openly this time, from his gut. 'Dominic will not talk. He eats, he feeds the birds, I think he used to sleep.' Another laugh. Dominic stares. From the rooms beyond they can hear the muted cooing of the doves, waking and shuffling as the sun glows bronze behind heavy curtains. 'Shall we go through?' 'No. You wait here. Dominic will fetch what you need.' The small man looks at Dominic who moves backwards to the door. He bends, his eyes sinking to the floor, then straightens as much as his hunch will allow, and reverses out from the room. The two men stand in silence, the larger watching the smaller, who looks puzzled at the door. 'Who was...' he trails off. 'That was Pieter.' 'Gods—. I did not recognise...' 'Would you like a glass?' 'How...' he trails off. Next door Dominic is standing in front of rows upon rows of small wooden crates, the homes of his flock. In one hand he holds a bucket half-empty with seeds and feed, in the other a small wooden scoop with which he tips a handful of the mix into a cup-like attachment which rattles down behind the thick wire bars. Softly he mutters to each door, whispering their names. 'Arjan. Dewitt. Jacobus. Walden. Nadim. Cadman. Faas.' He pauses. He watches. 'Boniface.' He prays. He reaches the last cage and his eye catches, as it does every morning, and every night, on the small silver hook with a miniature lock that keeps the wooden front of the cage's frame in place. Every morning and every evening he touches, with fear, the golden padlock, gently stroking its cool side as though at any point it may leap for his hand and break his fragile finger. He squints through to the terrace where a feather falls, titling to catch the morning's warmth on its soft underside. His eyes widen with the brightness of the pure down. He fumbles for the door and goes out into the open air. The sound of the birds and the city rushes over him. Like the sea crashing against the earth's mantle a hundred leagues below, he feels the ebb and flow of the urban spirit chasing and spilling around his fourth floor corner of paradise. The curtains twitch on the fourth floor where the man who breeds doves watches the street below as a car, usually black, stops in the street. Someone gets out the passenger side and goes to the back, opening for two small wooden crates, then closing. The doors open and close. A man stands in the street looking up at the sky. One day he will see the nothing but a blanket of pure white as the wings of birds disguised as harmony flock through the air, wheeling and calling, singing their private melodies, freed from their golden lock with a golden key that hangs loose on a chain around the neck of the man who breeds doves, and guards their secret peace. At The Hague a treaty is ratified, in Somalia a truce is sealed. Floating on an ocean of sand in Namibia, a presidential fleet arrives in a small war-torn town to celebrate ever-lasting peace. Beijing opens talks with Tehran. Tokyo signals its acceptance of convoys from Washington. The broad peninsulas and flat-stone squares of the world are packed with eager press who snap hungrily to the sound of crowds of 'ooh's and 'aah's as a seventy-two white doves are released into the open sky, each blinded by the sunlight, careening upwards on unprepared wings. Arjan finds a home with the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. Nadim is hunted by the vultures of Kuwait. Faas, Boniface is the sole inhabitant of his island-dwelling namesake. In the Deep South the sound of rifles masks the thumps of falling bodies. On the fourth floor, quietly nursing his head, the man who breeds doves brings peace to the world.
©2007-2021 Benedict Esdale