Did I ever tell you about Henrietta? She was my pet pigeon back in those days when my count of years hadn’t yet reached double digits. Dad bought her from a cockney pal thinking I might benefit from a winged friend, being a change from the guinea pigs he’d previously given me and whose lives seemed to revolve almost entirely around nibbling and pooping.
I quite loved Henrietta you know. She had a bright eyed way of studying you, head cocked almost as though asking a weighty question or contemplating just who this annoying creature might be, carrying in her morning seed treat. And she had such lovely feathers, blue-greys and semi-transparent emerald greens which would shimmer in the sun.
Morning noon and night I’d be there attending to her needs and stroking her fine feathers all of which actually formed important parts of the training routine we’d been given by Henrietta’s previous owner, to pander her and make her feel at home and accustomed to the new aviary – a rebuilt and extended rabbit hutch – all of which was slowly leading up to that first day of release.
And then the day arrived and I don’t know who was more nervous between Henrietta, me and my Dad looking on. Her day of flight, of freedom, of looking back down on an unfamiliar landscape for the first time. Gingerly and with both of us trembling I gave her a last pet and a cuddle and a kiss, my Henrietta
and I lifted and released her fluttering body into the air
what a beautiful moment that was, seeing her fly, circle twice then perch on the rooftop, cock her head and peer back down
and that’s when we suddenly became aware, my Dad and I of two significant errors in judgement. You see there were a lot of pigeons where we lived, hundreds of the darned blighters in fact, roosting on the rooftops and being bossy around the bird-boxes. And although Dad had wrapped a piece of coloured tape round the tag on her leg, once up on the roof with all those other very samey looking pigeons, it was quite hard to see the tape or the tag and when she flew over to the rooftops on the opposite side of our patch some two hundred yards away you would have needed binoculars to see that tag and we had none. Of course it wasn’t just my Dad’s fault because at the just-ripe age of nine I should have been old and sensible enough to have thought of this too. It’s just that I loved my Henrietta and felt sure I’d know her in a crowd.
But then there was that second factor for which my Dad was fairly and squarely to blame. You see he didn’t know very much about pigeons and this friend he’d bought Henrietta from was no more than a ‘just friend’ and not a real friend. Which might explain why he bought me a homing pigeon without realising. In itself this wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if ‘home’ hadn’t been some five hundred miles away in her original owner’s much roomier pigeon loft.
Actually I don’t entirely blame Dad because to this day I truly believe Henrietta was captured by pigeon traffickers and condemned to a life of winged slavery. Yes it’s true she had that rather condescending way of looking at you, aloof and impatient for her seed and her water bowl to be filled but she did love me back just a little, really she did, perhaps as a flighty queen might love one of her loyal subjects?
Look, it’s as plain as day. She’d never have voluntarily and cruelly flown off like that. I mean would she?
Years later I told this story to Leaf and her family, who all roared with laughter seeing only it’s funny side. And then one day while strolling around a summer city town full of street painters, Leaf arranged a surprise.
“Go and sit in that coffee shop,” she smiled, “there’s something I just have to do.”
Twenty minutes later she came back and presented me with this.
And while we both laughed, I also longed for my Henrietta. Perhaps there are some traumas you never quite recover from?