I used to think people fed pigeons out of kindness, that it came from that portion of the human heart that longs to help, to serve, and even to protect. Our nurturing nature when it comes to other humans. Or nurturing nature and all its creatures. I held this beautiful thought until today when I saw the old woman sitting there, head covered by a woolen scarf, spine pulled down by time, heart fully exposed to the world and all its elements. I stared at her deeply as if I was looking for something I had lost in her. Her feeble smile brought me in closer, a smile highlighted by the deep set wrinkles around her mouth—parentheses formed by life and a pause from it. The lines on her face irreparable, perpetual, permanent, ageless—a constant reminder of something that will never escape her, even if her mind goes, even when her life does.
So she feeds the pigeons every morning because now she is old and her appetite is gone and her children have left and her husband is no longer and there is no one in her nest to feed. Only the pigeons are there for her, every morning. A ritual. A rite. A reward.
Her smile disappears along with the early morning light. And emptiness pours over her like iced water, bringing her to. To what? Then I see and now I know. I was mistaken. Taken in by my kindness, by my unlived eyes. The impetus behind her charity is control. She enjoys deciding which pigeon has had too many bread crumbs and which pigeon deserves more. She kicks her mangled leg with newfound vigor when the pigeons come too close, when they begin to feel comfort in her presence. Her kick, a reflex, a sign of superiority. It is their adoration that brings her crooked body to the park every morning, her hunger for their attention. I am your God, I hear her mutter between wheezy breaths. The smile on her face is as deceiving as her sense of control. The moment the crumbs run out, the pigeons scurry away…on to the next god.
– Christopher Troy