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Christmas Eve

The park has an abandoned air, as if there has been a warning to stay indoors. A risk of severe weather. A chemical leak. There is

an absence of sun, of breeze, of scooters whizzing by too close, of bicycle bells, of small yappy dogs straining on leads, of

footballs ricocheting. It is too still; too still for a Christmas Eve that falls on a Saturday. I try singing: there is no one to hear me.

“God rest you, Merry Gentlemen, Let nothing you -”

I see the feathers first- a broad scattering of what appears to be white against the damp grey of the tarmac path – and the

crow: sleek, gleaming, bold.  Opportunity – seeking, perhaps. Poised, most certainly. Bang in the middle of the cycle lane.

Camouflaged against the mottled grey of the low flint wall is a pigeon, huddled, but alive. Closer, I see that one wing is

completely gone, the tell-tale shafts of barbs reddened, but little blood. Toyed with, abandoned. What good is a pigeon with only

one wing? Puffing up what is left of his feathers, he faces the inevitable uneven approach of the crow. One slow claw after another,

perfectly weighted as if walking on a tightrope.

I run to the wildlife hospital – the small humpback bridge, the criss-cross wire, the muddy foreground – and burst through

the door marked ‘Reception,’ heart pounding: empty. I look on the counter for a bell to ring, but there is none. No ‘ring for

attention’ sign. Just the sound of laughter from a back room.

“Hello! Hello!”


I venture around the business side of the counter and knock on the door marked, ‘Private Do Not Enter.’


I knock again. Wait. My heartbeat is returning to normal.


Just a pigeon.

Still nothing.

Not the tawny owl of the campaign poster on the wall. The baby hedgehog. The miserable-looking black and white cat in

the fur-lined Father Christmas hat.

A delivery man bursts stiff-armed through the double doors to my right, motorcycle visor down.

“Excuse me. I’ve found an injured pigeon. Is there anyone around who can help?”

He stops seconds before he turns back, faceless. “I’ll go and see.”

“I’ve been waiting for ages -”

“I said I’ll go and see.”

“Thank you.”

The doors flap closed behind him.

Smells of sawdust and ammonia.  Sacks of economy cat food. “Give generously.” Just a pigeon. Just a pigeon.

I am on the verge of turning to leave when the door marked Private opens behind me: a young girl in a lab coat, dark hair

in plaits, her voice surprised. “Oh, hello.”

I explain in as few words as possible, trying not to mention the time wasted while I have been pacing the lino, except in a

factual way.

“Didn’t you bring it with you?”


“We don’t do call-outs any more. No funds, you see.”

“I didn’t think -”

“Can you take me to it?”

Back over the muddy forecourt, the wire gate, over the hump back bridge. It is further than I remember. The almshouses.

The dovecote. The red brick and the clock tower of Carew Manor. The squat tower of St Marys. “This way.” Conversation is

stilted. We have been twenty minutes too long. Hands in pockets, I say, “It was just up here. A dog must

have got it.”

“Or the crow,” she suggests.

“The crow?”

“Oh, yes.” She’s almost cheerful. “I’ve seen a crow bring down a kite once.”


“Yes. They’ll take on almost anything.”

I question my past admiration.

The feathers mark the way. And there it is, still huddled, still alive, except that now the feathers and skin of its head have

been picked clean revealing the pink and bloody membrane covering the skull. Even now the pigeon tries to evade capture,

surprised that it has been seen against flint. It is scooped up in capable hands. I make myself look at what I could have prevented

happening had I been a little braver, wincing.

“It would have died anyway – but it’s still better this way. We can put it down humanely,” she says.

Humanely. What sort of a word is that? What will it entail?

Just a pigeon.