The bell above the bookstore door dings. Good, Mary thinks, a customer! She puts her book down and straightens her sweater, only to see a pigeon waddle in, one of those seven-foot ones.
“What do you want?” Mary asks. She goes back to reading the Adventures of the Big Man and his Little Sidekick.
There’s a commotion outside. Lights and sirens wail, and a team of riot police march up the street, banging their shields. Must be some sort of protest going on.
“Oh, that’s a coincidence,” the pigeon says lifting a pointed wing. “That’s just the book I wanted to pick up. Is it for sale?”
“Don’t be silly,” says Mary. “You don’t read. You can’t read, for goodness’ sake. Your eyes are on either side of your head.”
The pigeon shrugs and begins milling about the store, pretending to browse the books on the shelf, but Mary can see in her peripheral vision that the bird is keeping one eye on her. Why won’t a real human, just for once, come into the store and buy something? It’s been nothing but birds lately. No wonder she’s so into the Little Sidekick books. They’re so much fun. So…fulfilling! Much better than real life.
“You know, there’s a whole series,” says the pigeon.
Mary puts down the book again, sighing. “A whole series of what?”
“Those books. The Big Man series.”
“Yes, but don’t you mean the Little Sidekick series?”
The pigeon pauses. “Well, that depends on how you look at it.” The woman appears confused, so the pigeon continues. “If you’re a Big Man sort of person, you might call them the Big Man series. If you’re a Little Sidekick type, you’ll call them that.”
“I’ve never thought of it that way,” Mary says.
“Ever wish you could fight bad guys just like Big Man and Little Sidekick? It would be a thrill, don’t you think?”
Mary nods. Maybe she was wrong about pigeons after all. Maybe they do read. “Say, which one of the Little Sidekick — I mean Big Man — books do you need?”
“That one you’re reading is the most recent?”
Mary examines the cover, then nods. The sounds of riot boots and sirens return. There is some sort of commotion. She can hear the door of the butcher shop beside them get kicked in followed by muffled yelling.
The pigeon ignores this. “That’s the one.”
She smiles. “You know, I’m almost done. How about I give you a call once it’s finished and have you pick it up?”
“Deal!” The pigeon unslings a bag from his wing that Mary hadn’t noticed before. He undoes the zipper and pulls out a bright red guitar. He jams a little riff. The sound is amplified by a small speaker in his bag.
That’s a unique way of celebrating, Mary thinks. Then she blushes. Of course he would use music to celebrate. Pigeons can’t smile. “I’m glad you’re happy,” she says.
The pigeon hops up and down and riffs a little more, the piercing rock and roll filling the normally silent bookstore.
Mary hugs her novel to her chest, closing her eyes and taking in the sounds. She opens her eyes. “Don’t you ever just want to go on an adventure?”
The pigeon admires his guitar a moment, as if caught by its beauty. “Of course,” he says at last. “I do it all the time. Are you really up for an adventure?”
The pigeon is interrupted by shouting outside. The butcher is being dragged, kicking and screaming into the street. Mary cranes her neck. The police are trying to get ahold of his large knife.
“An adventure like in the books?” Mary asks.
The pigeon nods. “Like in the books.”
Mary takes a deep breath. Not in a million years did she ever believe she would meet someone — or some bird — who thought the same way she did.
“Bundle up,” the pigeon says. “It’s cold out there.”
Mary is already halfway to the coat rack. She does as she’s told then pulls on her wool toque for good measure. Naturally, pigeons have layers of feathers to keep warm in winter.
The pigeon holds out his wing, the eye on the right side of his head looking deep into her soul, as if this pigeon knows her. Mary grasps the tips of the feathers. They’re soft. This all feels like a dream.
They nod to each other, the pigeon holding his guitar and Mary clutching her book. The bell above the door dings as they push their way into the street.
“That one!” The platoon chief shouts to his heavily-armoured comrades. “Grab the freak in the bird costume!”
The bird-man and the old woman had caught them off guard, running out of the crack den like that. The platoon chief would be sure to leave that particular detail out of his report. This had been one of the biggest drug crackdowns in the city’s history, so there was bound to be a few surprises. Not the least of which was the syringe-wielding junkie moments earlier. And now here were two, clearly high, individuals thinking they could charge a whole squad of riot police.
“Sir, this one says she’s a bookstore owner caught up in the commotion,” one of the junior officers says.
Panic suddenly grips the chief. Did they just make a wrongful arrest? He’d be fired if they ended up arresting some poor, old bookstore lady.
The chief makes his way over to the woman. He uses his thumb to lift one of her eyelids and shines a penlight into the eye, then the other. Her head lolls from side to side. She mumbles something about going on an adventure with a pigeon. In her hand, she grips a wet, torn piece of newspaper.
An officer tries to take the newspaper away to make the arrest. “No!” the woman screams. “The nice pigeon is going to borrow this book after our adventure!”
The chief shoots a dubious look to the junior officer. “Are you kidding me, constable? Does this look like a bookstore keeper to you?”
The junior officer hangs his head, and they load the old lady along with the freak in the pigeon costume into the back of the paddy wagon and march down the road.