O was having breakfast at a café by a pretty little canal. It was a sunny morning so O had decided to fork out most of the coins that had been stashed away for a couple of days now in an attempt to assimilate the mood the turn in the weather suggested.
Three pigeons swerved into the scene from the right—or had they come from behind and to the left, only to then land from the right?—disturbing the air and the cheap napkin the waiter had placed on the edge of the small round table that rocked on unstable legs when O jerked forward, reflex action, to save the napkin from falling, coffee spilling from its cup into the saucer.
Rats of the sky, some people call them. But with their bobbing heads that jerk back and forth when they walk, if grounded, or the side-to-side tilting that suggests uncertainty, & those blinking beady eyes, they really don’t resemble the cunning of rats. Their little legs and feet don’t service them with the speed or manoeuvrability from which a rat’s cunning can be surmised. Pigeons rely on those awkward little legs when gathering enough feed to service their small-chicken sized bodies, to keep their miniscule hearts beating. It must take a huge percentage of their days, this foraging: fighting amongst themselves for enough food; awkwardly yet incessantly turning and curving; chasing away or running from other pigeons, erratically tracing lines around their pecking orders.
Another pigeon, pecking, turned the corner made by that potted Citrus. This particularly poor bastard had landed in a tussle of string. Its probable confusion or indifference had effectively left him shackled by the string. It had entangled itself around his twig thin legs; retarding the already impoverished gait his body offered him. He continued on in spite of his chains, searching out crumbs that fell from the table. Luckily his wings are much larger than his feet and in an inexplicable moment he’d taken to the sky. O wondered how long it would be before the bird would again have to land as he bit into his croissant.
November 6. Like a path in autumn: scarcely has it been swept clear when it is once more covered with dry leaves.
A cage goes in search of a bird.1
If only O could, or would have slowly gotten up from his table, careful not to knock it with his upper thighs as he unfolded into an upright position. He’d have to be very conscious of the things, like the coffee; now spilt from the cup into its saucer, arranged on it’s circular top. Were the table to wobble on those unstable legs, unsettling his breakfast, the pigeon in question might have been scared away.
O would then have to be even more cautious about the way he would be folding himself again, this time into an even more contracted form than a sitting position, something like a crawling/squatting position. His new posture might resemble a hunting type of pose, especially that he would be watching so intently, fixing his gaze on the bird, extending his arms out verrrry sloowwwly.
But it’s not a hunting operation being imagined here. Although he would be intending to take hold of the bird; at which point he’d be aware the pigeon would probably have been completely freaking out, O’s becoming form, instead of wanting to ensnare the bird, could have been intending to free it of the tangle of string—an alternative to projecting his foul mood onto the pigeon trickle-down effect.
Empathising with the bird’s situation, O’s fingers and hands would have to first become the air in which the pigeon stood, its eyes scanning. They’d then have to take the shape of the bird itself. He’d have to be ever so concentrated now, any wrong move might provoke it to take to the sky in an instant.
Once in his firm but not too tight grasp, O would cradle the pigeon to his chest, hoping the beating of his heart would calm its nerves. He might even stroke the birds back.
He would have already imagined that the butter knife was too blunt, so after unsuccessfully trying to untangle the mess of string with his free hand, he’d take his cigarette lighter, turn its flame down to low, and with a couple of fingers extending from the hand that held the bird to his chest, O would attempt to separate the two bound red legs and use the flame from his lighter to free them of their predicament.
Franz Kafka, Blue Octavio Notebooks:
The Third Notebook. Exact Change. Cambridge 1991. p. 22