by Jessamy Corob Cook. Shortlistee of the Best Short Story for Children or Young Adults competition 2021

Even the word pigeon is weird. Pij-in. Doesn’t sound like it should be a word. I don’t like them. Fat and grubby and grey. And they’re everywhere.

So, why am I here, on Pigeon Lady’s doorstep? Why am I clutching this plastic bag, which keeps buffeting against my leg, because it’s surprisingly light and catches the wind? Why am I reaching for the bell, even as I hear the cooing chorus through the door?

Because I can’t live with a guilty conscience.

That, and just itching curiosity. Because everyone round here is curious about Pigeon Lady. Everywhere she goes, there is her entourage of pigeons. Round the park, in the shops, even on the bus. You’d think there’d be some sort of rule against that. But no one ever says anything. It’s like an unspoken agreement. You never say, that’s a lot of pigeons, or, I notice you have some pigeons, or, excuse me, are those your pigeons? You just go about your business, as though you aren’t being deafened by the burble of coos, as though you haven’t noticed the spatter-trail of poo they leave behind.

The door opens, and there is Pigeon Lady herself, surrounded by (you guessed it) pigeons. Pecking about her feet, perched on her shoulders, flapping about the narrow hallway.

I take a step backwards, because holy moly, that’s a lot of pigeons. But I’m here now; there’s no going back. I do an awkward wave with the hand not holding the plastic bag and say, ‘Hi. I’m Mia. From next door.’

Her voice is crisp, down-to earth, as she says, ‘Yes?’

She has short brown hair and a navy dress, very neat and tidy apart for the speckling of bird poo. If it weren’t for the pigeons, you’d probably think she was something normal like a chemistry teacher.

I say, ‘So, um. Something happened.’