The boy in the city park always fed his food scraps to the pigeons. No one knew why, no one asked. It wasn’t that peculiar. Only his food was always the colour of rainbows. No matter whether it be a ham sandwich or cheese and lettuce or vegie soup, always it was multi-coloured and almost eppervescent in its brilliance.
And as the boy fed himself this most magical illumination, and shared with his dowdy feathered friends, the last of the scraps would be pecked up, the rainbows would disappear, and the brilliance that had pierced the dreary grey skies, achingly cold concrete paths and tired foliage of the park surrounds faded back into the dull monotone of giving up.
And yet, all the passers-by were blind somehow to this magical encounter that would unfold every single day at 6 o’clock, just before the huge church bells in the nearby tower would remind the minds of those that had fallen to the slumber of the mundane to go home if they had a home, or get to work hiding from view if they did not. It was unbelievable that those that had the least would be punished for it, as if they had any say in the matter. All the lost and lonely and mentally deranged would retract into the shadows like tentacles under the ocean, crouching small and low in the darkest corners until dawn enticed them back into the other world.
The other world being that of the fortunate and the nicely robed and the sound of mind and body. And yet, if those that hid in the undergrowth were ever asked, as if pretending they had a voice, THEY would say that indeed they were so gently warmed by the colourful splendour that befell their eyes each evening at 6pm, that the warmth that filled their hearts was enough to keep their own bones from freezing during the icy night. But nobody asked them, the poor and the wretched, dumped and overturned by the chiding tides of misfortune and injustice. Even the boy was unaware of their thoughts, he was just compelled from the pit of his stomach to venture here and share his sustenance with the little folk. He’d done so for years.
And then one day everything changed. He arrived at the park as usual, sipping in the last of the sunlit air as the day stepped aside to allow the night in. And before he could unwrap his parcel of food, brilliant sparks of luminous dust floated up into the air in front of his bewildered eyes. He reached out with curious fingertips but the embers suddenly gathered together as if an inhale sucked them into a clump, and on the exhale they darted off into the far reaches of the night.
The boy considered them for a moment, and felt a wave of disappointment fall over his body like a soggy blanket. Upon opening the parcel his food was just as common and plain as ever. He picked up a sandwich, the brown bread looked like cardboard and a chunk of ham hung out from between the bread slices like a misshapen tongue. A chunk of soggy tomato fell out and landed on his lap like a dead fish. Humph he sighed, and with a rumbling belly nibbled at the unappetising mass in his hands, still thankful he at least had something to stay his hunger.
And then he noticed the pigeons had not arrived. But they always did, they were often early in fact, their timing was impeccable. But not a flap or a flutter of neither beak nor feather. Perhaps they too had noticed the bleakness of this evening’s meal and decided hunger might be more satisfying.
But then he heard a most strange sound. Not at all that of a pigeon. But still a creature of some kind. And he noticed the sparkling flicker of star lit eyes in the darkness, first only one or two, then more.
Hey little friends, I have not much, but please share some of my food if you wish. And he crumbled some bread and tossed it towards the glistening shadows. And the shadows shifted, and the light of the park lamp landed upon a magnificent gossamer sheen. The boy was enamoured at this beautiful display of subtle colour. The cooing noise came again from this creature, and as it stepped slowly into the light, keenly aware of its exposure, its feathers unfolded into a huge expanse of peacock eyes, all smiling and blinking with a curious knowing at the boy.
The peacock eyed the bread the boy had offered, cocked his head sideways and moved closer to the face transfixed upon his display. Hey there beauty, said the boy, tears gently forming in the corners of his eyes at the sheer delight of this encounter. I’m sorry I have nothing more to offer you. And as he held out an empty palm to show the giant bird, he noticed the peacock held something in its beak. He dropped it into the boys hand, took a step back and darted back into the shadows.
The boy looked down and saw a perfect almond sitting in his hand. Oh joy he had not tasted such luxury in ever such a long time. He nodded to the shadows in thanks, and popped the perfect little morsel into his mouth. He closed his eyes and giggled with delight at this precious gift, and then as his eyes lids lifted he was astonished to see so many peacocks all stepping out of the shadows, perhaps twenty of them, he couldn’t count he was stunned by the wonderment of the sea of sparkling ethereal eyes blinking at him from fan after fan of peacock tail.
They all came to him, darting in and out of the shadows, bringing him gift after gift of almond and cashew and walnut and pine nut, all the most delicious treats he had forgotten about, or never tried. And when they had filled up his hands with treats they retreated back into the shadows.
And then a familiar coo. A pigeon had landed right next to him. Hey there little one, he said as he happily offered it a delicious pistachio. And the little eye glistening up at him, almost smiling, as it suddenly grew and grew, and its dowdy tail feathers stretched out into a most beautiful display, truly the most magnificent of the peacocks. The boy’s breath caught in his throat with such delicious surprise. The bird jumped off the bench and across the way into the shadows, turning its head back as an invitation to join him.
The boy was excited but also a little afraid of the shadows, as that is where the spirits of misfortune retreated to at night, and he knew not what they might become. And pouring the fresh nuts and seeds into his sack to free up his hands he felt his way into the darkness, past bushes and branches, listening for the coo of these grand birds as they led him deeper into the dense bush.
And up ahead he started to see a light. A dancing light. Moving and swaying like the exotic women he’d seen through the windows dancing at the cabaret club late at night. Only it wasn’t a woman, it was a fire, flickering in the midst of the dark night. And laughter, so much laughter. Human laughter. And as he neared he saw them, all the people of misfortune, all those who had slipped through the cracks of the ordinary and mundane, all gathered around the fire, laughing and feasting and draped in great robes of merriment and imagination. And the magnificent birds had shed many of their feathers as human like forms penetrated the birds’ bodies they had taken on.
Stunning blue skin, black kohl eyes, richly colourful gowns with great bustles of gold and blue tail feathers falling from their hips. The splendour, so remarkable, so beyond this world, the boy began to cry at the extravagance that befell his eyes. The celebratory party lit up when they saw him coming. Aah my boy we are so glad you have made it here at last. One of the old women he had seen bent and broken in the park was here resplendence in burgundy and gold velvet and vibrant as a young girl. Your magic has left us with so much to be thankful for, she said with a warm smile.
The boy was confused. Err what magic is that ma-am, he said, looking down at his own scrawny body self-consciously.
One of the peacock men stepped up to him, nodding his head respectfully.Your good heart has kept us all alive these years, throughout the hardest of times. You have remained generous even though you have little, you have seen colour where there is grey, you have witnessed the people of the shadows when others have not. And all this time when you were feeding us your humble bread, really what you were feeding us is hope. And now the hope and the kindness has become strong enough in us all that this brilliant light has become stronger than the shadows in which we dwell, and we have been transformed. This is your doing, dear boy.
The boy was speechless.
Come, sit with us and feast, it is time for you to be nourished now, said the peacock.
Smiling the boy pulled out his sack of nuts and seeds and began to offer them around. Aah dear boy, these will come in handy later, for now take this. And plates were passed around the fire, piled high with fresh fruits, roast vegetables and meats, fresh bread, giant cobs of corn. He had never seen so much food, and sampled a little of everything till his mouth and belly were buzzing in gratitude. And when he was well and truly done, they invited him to lay and rest. He curled up alongside the people of the shadows, and the stunning peacocks, and had a most wonderful and warm sleep.
A cold droplet of water met his temple and he awoke with a start. Light had penetrated night, and dew drops had started to fall from the leaves in the early morning. He looked around and was perplexed to see the misfortunates of the might, draped in their dowdy old clothes once again. Wrapped in filthy blankets and topped with weathered old beanies and scarves.
The coo of familiar pigeons nearly had him shaking his head. What had actually happened last night? He took a deep breath and shook his head to find his body and the ground again.
The old woman who had been dressed so exquisitely last night opened her eyes and peered at him, her tattered patchwork quilt wrapped around her like a cocoon. Welcome to the real world, she smiled.
The boy frowned quizzically. Last night, did I imagine….
Like I said, welcome to the real world. Her mouth opened in a broad smile and brilliant lights danced out from between her worn teeth into the morning dew. Go out into the sleeping day, my boy, and come back at 6 when you are ready to wake up again. We’ll all be here.
He smiled, slung the sack of nuts and seeds over his shoulder, and set out into the city streets, handing out little seeds of hope and wonder to the poor people with big empty houses and busy jobs and noisy phones who had lost their magic somewhere along the way.
Most of them were too alarmed by this homeless wretch to take his dirty offering, but sometimes a passer-by would take his gift, out of charity, or curiosity, and upon cracking the nut between their teeth would giggle at the rainbow lights punctuating their steel city of grey slumber.
And every evening the boy returned to his patch of paradise in the park, as the church bells bid him entry into the waking world once again.
The end… or perhaps just the beginning.
Written by Tjoni Johansen
Copyright 2016 all rights reserved
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