NOTE: sorry it took so long to get this out here! I’ve had an awful cold and my internet was out for days, but I should be back in business now.
THE RUNTY PIGEON, cont.
Finally, she simply replied the only way she could.
“I hope he’s well, Paloma. If I made it all the way here, I’m sure he found his way somewhere safe.”
Paloma peered hopefully at Olivia.
“Have you seen any pigeons like him, dear? In your city, or along the way? Forgive me for assuming you’re a city pigeon, but you do have the sound of one. He might look a little different now, but oh, I’m sure you’d know him anywhere. He’s such a unique little squab. Have you seen my Splash?”
Olivia’s feathers fell.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t think I have.”
“Oh,” said Paloma softly. “Well no, of course not.” She brightened again. “After all, if your wing is hurt then the humans must have brought you here, and you wouldn’t have seen any pigeons along the way.” She gave her wings a quick flap, as if to say that was all there was to say about that.
Olivia wanted to say more, or at least to learn more about these humans that Paloma seemed to know so well. But she was interrupted by one of the strangest sounds she had ever heard.
At least, she thought that was what it had said. It was loud, louder than the biggest pigeon, and was followed by a piercing shriek like a crow’s. Olivia quickly dropped to the floor of her cage and scurried into the darkest corner. Paloma, on the other hand, stretched out her neck and cooed happily.
“Hello, Sol! Managed to sneak away again, did you? She won’t be happy you were in here, but I do appreciate the company. Oh, and speaking of company, have you met our new friend Olivia? Olivia, come out of there dear, it’s only Sol.”
“Oli-va? Hello, friend!”
Olivia cautiously shuffled to the front of the cage. When she looked out, she nearly fell over in surprise. A brilliantly orange bird with a sharp, curved beak was perched on her cage door, watching Olivia with dark, glittering eyes.
“A- a- … HAWK!” cried Olivia, beating her wings frantically against the cage walls. He was like no hawk she had seen, but that cruel beak and those long talons were all she had to see. Since there seemed to be no way out of the cage, she puffed up her feathers so he’d know she was ready for a fight.
“No, no, no. Seeds. Seed-bird. Okay, okay.”
Olivia paused, puzzled. The fearsome orange bird kept cooing the words soothingly to Olivia, as if she were a nervous hatchling. Olivia had never heard of a hawk that could speak, and certainly not one that tried to reassure its dinner before eating it. She glanced at Paloma to see what she made of all this.
“He didn’t mean to frighten you, Olivia! He’s only a parakeet, though I suppose he does look like a hawk if you’ve never met him before.”
“Oh,” said Olivia. “Is a parakeet…” — she looked doubtfully at Sol’s sharp beak again — “Is a parakeet related to pigeons? I can understand some of what he says.”
“No, no, I don’t think so,” cooed Paloma. “He’s just picked up a bit from being around us so long. He used to live here in Quarantine; some problem with his feathers that lasted a very long time, as far as I can tell. But he seems to have lost his flock, so now he lives here with Mar — that’s the human who looks after us when we’re ill. It sounds dreadful, I know, living with humans instead of family; but as you’ve noticed, he’s very good with languages. He can speak to the humans as well, and he says Mar has even picked up a few Parakeet words. He’s pretty sure she’s just mimicking, though.”
Sol sat quietly through Paloma’s introduction, occasionally snapping his beak or fluffing his feathers in agreement. Now that she had a chance to look at him properly, Olivia realized he wasn’t such a frightening-looking bird. He was only Paloma’s size, really, with dazzling yellow-and-orange feathers fading to a cool, shady green on his wings and tail. She still wasn’t sure about the beak and claws, though. If he was telling the truth about eating seeds, why did he need such fearsome tools for the job? Sol cocked his head and looked knowingly at Olivia, following her gaze.
“Big seeds. Hard to crack”
Olivia cooed aloud in surprise. Of course, Sol had probably gotten this question from many birds before. He seemed more amused than offended, though. Olivia ruffled her feathers in relief, feeling better about this flashy stranger already. There was only one more question to answer.
“So, if he — sorry, Sol, if you — don’t live in Quarantine anymore, then why are you here? Paloma said something about the humans being unhappy if they knew you were here?”
Sol bobbed his head, which seemed to mean Yes. His eyes seemed to glitter a little brighter.
“Good with climbing. Good with cages. Sol can go anywhere.”
He puffed up with pride at this, but Olivia had a feeling he was only bragging a little. He was still hanging effortlessly from the front of her cage like a woodpecker, and his beak looked as though it could tear through the wooden walls with ease.
Olivia looked again at the cage.
She looked at Paloma’s cage.
She thought about her home and family, and about poor Splash, who had lost both.
Olivia had an idea.