El Desheredado (Pigeon 33)
“Tesla, you don't understand our American humor”. Thomas Edison
On rare days the sun would reach into the suite on the 33rd floor, beating city dirt and the protective shroud of many curtains to cast around inside the room. The windows were a risk, but he had to keep them open for the bird. The danger of open access to his interior world was obvious. On this particular day a diffuse patch of light had cheated the curtains, dived through the makeshift lattice of drapes and shawls and lit up the face of the man. Before him on a smoked glass table sat 33 matchsticks, arranged into peace symbols, 3 per shape. The man gazed at the matchsticks and ruminated, waiting for the flutter that would herald her arrival.
Each day the pigeon arrived at the same hour, 3.33 pm. In the 33 minutes running up to the momentous hour, the man would halt the entire complex labyrinth of his work and take one matchstick away from the group per minute. This was his daily release as he awaited instructions from the pigeon, and with the furore and complications surrounding his most recent invention, it was a much needed distraction. The pigeon had her own routine. Unlike the grey multitude (who he loved also, though not to the same degree) that waddled on his windowsills and shat copiously, his pigeon simply hovered at eye level, the beautiful white form gently entering his room and alighting on his desk. Recently, however, the pigeon seemed tired.
The man would cross the spotless living room of his two-room suite, and throw back the drapes before she arrived. The curtains were essential, he reassured himself, despite the elevation of the hotel room. Without them, who knows what devious methods they would employ to steal his ideas? The man would then converse with the pigeon for three minutes. Once the conversation was over, he would produce some of his special seeds, count out 33, and drop them for the bird to eat. The pigeon would then take to the wing and dive away from the ledge, sailing out into the New York afternoon. She arrived whatever the weather, invisible against the windowsill snow, lit up by the early death of the winter sun. Without the pigeon, the man knew, he was nothing.
For some time, the pigeon had been coming inside his room, to truly share the ideas he was seething with. The charged particle beam had consumed him. He knew that there was a limited amount of time remaining in which he could complete his plans, and without the support he needed he must do it alone. Even despite his treatment at the many gloved hands of the world, the man was surprised by how difficult the negotiations for his most recent invention really were. Theoretically, the concept was valid. The directed-energy weapon was, in his mind at least, capable of firing ultra-concentrated energy through the air. He smiled as he shuffled the matchsticks.
In his mind, the superweapon could bring world peace. Of course, the experimental laboratory could not be housed within the suite, but was nearby, 33 blocks away to be precise. There, the open-ended vacuum tube sealed by a gas jet could charge particles with innumerable volts. Using electrostatic repulsion, his weapon would be the prize of any defence department. He was considering the current negotiations with MI5 when the telephone suddenly sounded. He frowned, hating the interruption to his routine.
He reached the telephone within two rings, but he let it ring a third time before picking up. He was silent, holding the receiver away from his ear and mouth. He had wiped it just that morning, yet he wasn’t entirely sure whether it still looked clean.
“Nikola, it’s me.”
Her, again, when would she understand? He wished that the ‘Do Not Disturb’ that he had placed on his door and never removed could extend to the telephone.
“Are you alright?”
He maintained his silence.
“What are you doing?”
Eventually he responded, very quietly.
“Waiting for my friend to arrive.”
She sighed, was silent herself for several seconds.
“How is the work?”
He thought he heard some kind of interference on the line, looked at the receiver quizzically.
“I must go, the bird will be here soon.”
He hung up and went back to his matchsticks, moving three at a time to make up the lost minutes. He thought of all he had accomplished and all that had been torn from him. His precious ideas, the inheritance he would leave to the world, and he wondered what it had all been for? Had he really changed the world as he intended? Had he used his unique understanding and creative brilliance wisely? It certainly didn’t feel like it. He was sinking, and without the pigeon the strength that had propelled him through the maelstrom of life would evaporate, diving away from the ledge like the bird herself.
3.33 pm came, and the man went to the window and opened the curtains. The room, three desks adjoined and heaped with paper, suddenly opened up to the sun. The bird was late, which had not happened since the start of the routine around three years before. The man made a note to check the exact calendar date, a bit over three years, he expected. The bird arrived around three minutes later, three minutes and thirty-three seconds, according to his stopwatch. It flew uncertainly into the room and weekly circled three times before alighting on his desk.
It was not any old white pigeon. The bird was absolutely beautiful. Taking the 33 seeds from his pocket, the man counted them onto his desk – 3,6,9 etc. The bird would not eat and so the man went to the stove, where he kept a large pot of boiled water. It was freshly cooked and could not be contaminated, it was good enough for the bird, the man thought. He reached out and touched the light grey wingtips and thought about what a particle beam would do to those feathers. Of the thousands of pigeons he had nourished and cared for over the years, this was different. He crooned to the bird: “Magnificent girl. What can I do for you? How can I help you?” and the bird stared up at him through impenetrable eyes and it barely moved. Despite her sickness, however, the man had never seen a whiter pigeon. She was so white that there was no chance of impurity, so white he could stroke her and know she was clean.
For several days the man stayed beside the bird as she became weaker and weaker. Her illness was obvious and permanent and although the man did not know how much longer it would be he maintained a constant vigil. Over time, it became clear that she would die, and the man watched her intently, waiting for some signal that it was near. He watched very closely, as if waiting for a message. All of a sudden the room was lit with an intense ray of light. Was it the particle beam of his imagination sprung to incinerate his workings? It was so bright and pure, the man had to shield his eyes and turn his head away. He had never seen or created anything so piercing. When he turned back, the white pigeon was dead. He took the tiny body and placed it upon the window ledge. He started to say a few words about returning to the air, but he could muster nothing. From that moment forth his curtains were open. The fight was gone from him. Beaten ragged by a world without credence, the pigeon was the final breaking point. The man sat slumped and dejected in his chair. Sometimes he would turn to the window in hope, but the bird was gone.