Demerara was Joey’s favourite. She wasn’t the colour of sugar but her nature was just as sweet, the sweetest pigeon in the loft. The least sweet was Darth who was almost completely black except for a flash of green on his left shoulder. He was the fattest pigeon, he ate the most and flew the least. Actually Darth was a pigeon version of Joey, a fact that neither recognised.Joey would spend every moment in the pigeon loft at his allotment if he could but he worked in the other direction, near enough home to walk or cycle. Two miles northbound, a straight road but a bit uphill. Two miles southbound at night, downhill, straight as an arrow, no map required. Every morning Joey pulled on his old fleece and got into his rusty blue Escort, carrying a pack-up made by Gill. It was because of Gill’s baking that Demerara was called Demerara. And Bakewell, Muffin, Drizzle, Battie [for Battenberg] and Simnel. Even Darth had originally been named Parkin but the name never stuck.
It was the beginning of Spring and change was afoot. The pigeons were restless, strange birds were appearing at the bird table from the south, finding their way automatically year and year. Gill swore the same pair of redstarts returned to their garden because of the superior fat balls [made by Gill] on the bird table, the worms in the lawn and the sludgy water in the pond. Joey grimaced every time she said something like this in front of his birding mates.
‘We cannot understand the mysteries of migration.’
‘I don’t need to know their migration route, because they know it. They know this is home.’
‘Don’t be bloody daft.’ The zip of Joey’s fleece broke as he stretched it one too many times across his belly.
At midday Joey opened his lunchbox to find Spring had arrived there too. Instead of cheese and pickle on thick white doorsteps, there was a small plastic box with two spoonfuls of rice mixed with vegetables. Two mouthfuls. Instead of a slab of rich fruit cake there was a dry muesli bar. Joey knew he hadn’t been bad enough to be forced to eat muesli. And instead of a chocolate bar there was a banana. He hated the smell of banana.
That night Joey didn’t go home, instead he sought solace with Darth. Darth didn’t fancy the rice either and though Muffin and Simnel did peck at a spoonful, neither ate it. Joey felt vindicated. He settled in for the night. He would not go home to Gill if she meant to persecute him. This was a protest. But the wooden bench was hard under his soft bottom, his back ached from sorting out a huge consignment of sofas which had been delivered to the warehouse at 10am, and his stomach growled with hunger. Without the thought of cake to draw him home, he shifted on the bench, until at 8.15pm his homing instinct won.
© Sandra Danby
[this story was first published at Ether Books as part of the ‘Flash Fortnight Challenge 2014]
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HOME: a #shortstory about pigeons, migration, & going home via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2vy