December 29, 2000

First Person

The Pigeon

By Hazel Tesoro

While waiting for the 14 Muni bus at the Embarcadero and Mission, I saw a pigeon with gum stuck to the bottom of its right claw. It struggled to remove it. First it tried to shake the gum off, then it hopped around, hoping it would fall off. Then it tried to take off into flight, but every time it rose three feet, it bounced back to the ground as if some invisible chain prevented it from escaping.

I gritted my teeth. I didn't have to be that pigeon to know it was in misery.

After several vain attempts to get rid of the gum, the bird just sat still on the ground and buried its head within its wings. It stayed that way for several seconds then got up and tried to free itself again.

I tried to approach the pigeon to help it out. But every step I took toward it, it backed away. When the bus arrived, I continued to stare helplessly at the struggling pigeon.

"You gettin' in or what?" the bus diver hollered at me.

"What?" I turned around to face him. "Uh, yeah." I hopped onto the first step just before he shut the door. I paid. The bus moved.

I looked out through the windows as I rushed towards the back of the bus, watching the pigeon until its figure disappeared from view.

For the next few blocks as the bus grew crowded, the pigeon remained in my head. By the time the bus reached 10th Street, it was so packed that the air felt like one huge glob of gum. Even then the driver kept taking in more people.

"Move to the back," the driver repeated several times.

"Yes, move on to the back, people, there's a lot of room back here," said some guy sitting behind me. But as if to rebel reflexively against anything that sounded like an order, many people stayed toward the front.

The guy behind me spoke again. "Man, why they stuffing up the front like that?"

"Cause them Chinese is scared to go back here with all us black people," replied a woman.

A blond woman who sat in front of me laughed. I wanted to smack the back of her head. I was infuriated. In my head I came up with tons of adjectives to call these people. Ignorant. Racist. Clueless. But I clamped my jaw shut and looked out the window.

I wish I could get out of this city. I'd spread my wings and just fly off if I could. I've planned it many times, but always end up putting it off. I just keep hanging around like those damn pigeons. I have to do something before the same thing happens to me.

I might have to leave in a few months anyway, when my building gets sold. I might as well start making plans.

The bus came to a long halt at 16th and Mission. Half of the passengers got off. I stared out the window. The regulars—drug dealers, junkies, homeless people, prostitutes and perverts—were all out. They are like the early birds, out there before anyone else to take advantage of the crumbs. They never leave that area, and if they do, there'll always be another flock to take their place.

When the bus finally took off from 16th, I turned away from the window until we passed 20th Street. There was a time when that whirlpool of life from 16th to 20th fascinated me, when I used to think those people were a completely different species from me, that they had their ways and destinies, and I had mine.

I know now that this is not true. I've become aware that at any moment smart aleck Life can make me trade places with any of those people. This realization has gotten to the point where it takes me hours just to shake the pictures off my mind.

First thing tomorrow, I'll do some research on the Web. I'm going to find a place to move to where I can breathe fresh air, where there's no prejudice of any kind, where people yearn to help one another, and where things like gum getting stuck on a bird's claw do not happen. I wonder if there is a place like that, and if so what its name is.

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