They were beating on the door. Huey could hear it rattling, see it shaking in the frame. They were going to take him away and lock him up like he was crazy. And this was only fair, Huey reflected, edging a little further out onto the ledge. The cars below looked like droplets of blood wending their way through plastic tubing. He kicked off his loafers and watched them tumble in the cross-drafts.
A pigeon landed beside him. “You’re in a tough spot,” the pigeon said.
“Yeah,” Huey agreed.
“You gonna go back inside?”
“Can’t,” said Huey. “They’ll get me.”
The pigeon scratched at its beak with one foot. “You got one option, then.”
Huey laughed once, bleakly. “Jump?”
“Nah,” said the pigeon, stretching its wings. “Fly.”
It took off. It looked pretty easy.
Huey looked down. Huey looked back inside. Huey looked up.
He shrugged. He jumped.
“Hey, good job,” said the pigeon, swooping around. “You got pretty good technique for a human.”
Huey swerved, flapping wildly. The winds were brutal between the skyscrapers. “Harder than it looks.”
“You’ll get the hang of it. C’mon, I’ll show you around.”
The pigeon wheeled toward the park. Huey followed.
The pigeons were gathering around the park bench. An old man in a white suit dipped slow fingers into a bag and sprinkled bread crumbs all around. He eyed Huey, then stood and departed with dignity.
“Hey, guys,” said the pigeon.
“What’s up?” asked another one.
“Showing the new guy the ropes.”
Huey waved shyly.
“He gonna be a pigeon?”
“Might as well, right?”
The other pigeons murmured. “He scared off the bread-crumb man,” one pointed out.
Flushing red, Huey opened his mouth to apologize.
“Give him a break,” the pigeon snapped. “It’s his first day. Jeez, some people.”
“I’m really not comfortable at all,” Huey said. He clung to the statue’s head, his pants around his ankles.
“It’d be easier if you just ditched the clothes,” the pigeon told him, pecking playfully at his fingers.
“I don’t have any feathers underneath.”
“Those will come,” said the pigeon contentedly. “Can’t rush those. Pooping on statues is something we can take care of now, though.”
They were silent for a while. Huey grunted.
“Man,” said the pigeon, “you’re slow, but you’re thorough.”
“Bran muffins,” said Huey, looking relieved.
“Yeah, those are great. Everyone throws away at least half. C’mon. We’ll hit the day-old bagels.”
“The city is for us,” the pigeon told Huey, perched on the back of the bench, “for pigeons, and we love it. We love it because it loves us.”
“But humans built it,” said Huey. “This is our- their place.”
“No.” The pigeon flared its ruff. “Humans built the city, yes, but the city is _for_ the pigeons. It feeds us. It warms us. It shelters us. The city is the nest and the egg in the nest. It is-“
“Huey?” It was Ellie. Her hair was pulled back in an onyx river, and she was wearing the maroon lipstick. “Why the fuck are you not wearing pants?”
Huey started to blush, then remembered, and blushed at forgetting. He scratched his nose with his feet instead, having not yet grown his beak or scaley claws. “I’m growing feathers,” he told Ellie.
Ellie squinched up her face, her brown eyes almost disappearing into slits. “You’re in a bad way, Huey. Look, I just came-“
“I won’t come back,” Huey interrupted, puffing his chest out and tucking his hands into his armpits to make stubby wings. “That world is lost to me forever.”
“I wasn’t asking you to,” said Ellie, using her words like tweezers. She held out a folded packet of papers. “Here. It’s a restraining order. You come near me or the kids again and I’m having you arrested.” She wheeled and click-clacked away down the sidewalk.
“She seemed nice,” the pigeon said, “for a human.”
“Yeah…” Huey fingered the papers. They might make good nest lining once he’d softened them up a little. “What about rats? Is the city for them?”
The pigeon made a rude noise. “They can keep the subway. Philistines.”
“I’m worried about my feathers,” Huey said. His beard was long, now, but still patchy. He’d kept the suit jacket for the cold winter nights. It was completely black now, mostly from oil and exhaust fumes.
The pigeon sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t. They’re not important.”
“But you said-“
“Look, honestly, you’re probably not ever going to have feathers. It’s just not a thing. But that doesn’t make you less of a pigeon, capisce?”
Huey bent back over the strewn garbage, hunting for fat and juicy maggots. He didn’t say anything.
“I gotta go. Remember what I said about the city.” The pigeon spread his wings.
“When will you be back?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Huey perched on a ledge halfway up the Scotia Bank. He was alone. He was nude. He was off-balance, his featherless limbs akimbo, but he’d made his nest with a stolen parka and three entire newspapers and the expectation of eggs. The sun was setting, and the air was cold. The day-old bagels would be dumped soon, and Huey had designs on an unattended hot dog on a cart down below. But not just yet. For now, Huey kept his wings tucked close by his side. Cars honked below him, filling the air with blue-tinged exhaust. One by one the streetlights were coming on. On the other side of the windows, televisions danced and shouted, but out here all Huey could hear was the traffic and the wind. He looked over the street and felt his chest swelling with the pride and love of a pigeon for his city. The city was an egg, and the nest around the egg. The city was for the pigeons, whatever anyone else thought.
“Coo,” Huey said, “coo coo.”
And he knew the city heard him, and loved him back.
Nathaniel Lee lives in North Carolina and dreams of snow. He is the Assistant/Managing Editor at Escape Pod and the Drabblecast, respectively, and his fiction has appeared in dozens of online and print venues, most recently at IGMS and in the third volume of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology, as well as previously here at FFO. He has never checked to see if he can fly.
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© 2014 Nathaniel Lee