I live atop a hill just outside of town, on the fourth floor of a giant concrete cube that I share with a dozen other families, only half of whom I know beyond a polite nod of the head or wave of the hand. Our grey square, we call a condominium, sits across the street from an unnamed bus stop along the number 26 line, where the buses only stop when someone rings the bell explicitly to stop them there. There’s no reason why anyone would ever get off here, apart from those few unfortunate ones who’ve wound up actually living here- me being one of them.
Come this friday I shall have lived here for exactly five years, which is about four years and eight months longer than I was supposed to be here.
I’ve never had one of those “five year plans”. In fact, I hardly ever plan beyond a week or two. Most days I can barely decide on what to eat for lunch. Although, I have always had a very basic and simple itinerary for my life. Splitting it up in a series of decade long chapters. My twenties were supposed to consist of irrational, spontaneous adventures, globe trotting, fleeting romances, and fatalistic love. My thirties? A woman I could comfortably fart next too, and a career with a solid dental plan.
This is the path I have always tried to follow in my life, although I am now twenty-six, and I have had hardly any romances, fleeting or otherwise, and I have certainly never trotted anywhere on the globe. And as for the transition between the chapters, well, I’ve never quite figured out how that would happen. I’ve always just assumed it would happen somehow. Now I’m not so sure.
Some scientists say that a man’s brain becomes fully developed at the age of twenty-six. Particularly his frontal lobe, where reasoning and self-control is regulated. And I must say, although I am still prone to the occasional week long self-destructive benders, half of which I can’t even remember due to whiskey, I can now successfully motivate myself to actually wash my oatmeal bowl in the morning right after breakfast, as opposed to just letting the oats harden on to the bowl. This is a big achievement for me. Although, after dropping and shattering all the other bowls, it’s the only bowl I now own, so cleaning it has really become a necessity.
Within this giant grey cube I know the names of only two of my neighbors. Which is amazing when I consider the unbelievably close proximity in which we all technically live, and the amount of times we have seen each other in passing. We hold doors for one another, we pass each other on the street, and we occasionally collide trying to dodge the other in the hallways.
I smell my neighbors TV dinners in the evenings. I secondhand smoke cigarettes through the vents on my wall. I get burnt in the shower when they flush their shit. Through these cheap, paper thin walls and floors I have overheard so many conversations, arguments, and regrettably, sex.
It’s ridiculous! Every night, The nymphomaniac the floor above me has sex a measly eight feet above my head. It makes me thankful for the shitty night shifts I get stuck with at work. I can’t sleep with the uneasy feeling that the floors going to finally break apart and she’ll fall into my bed with her lover and I’ll find myself trapped in an horrific threesome.
It’s absurd. The amount of unwanted knowledge I have about each of my neighbors sex lives, and how much time we unwillingly spend in each others near presence while having sex with each other, separated by only half an inch of poorly constructed drywall. Yet I couldn’t tell you any of their names, and they couldn’t tell you mine. It’s as if we’re all constantly being forced into a continuous orgy with a bunch of strangers.
The only neighbors I really know are the Jeffersons- whom I hate, and Mr. Thomas, who I loved- but who recently passed away.
I don’t actually hate the Jeffersons, but I do hate their belligerent pet parrot. By extension I hate Mr. Jefferson too, because he insists on sitting on his balcony- the balcony next to my own- every morning with that stupid colorful bird of his. And every morning the awful creature mocks me relentlessly by screaming the most horrible profanity. I remember my dismay after researching the lifespan of these ugly birds, and finding it to be, statistically given my lifestyle, longer than my own! I think the thought of the stupid bird outliving me is what really pisses me off most. But, perhaps the worst part is that, given our thin walls, I know exactly where the birds dirty mouth comes from. Like I said, I know way too much about my neighbors sex lives.
Mr. Thomas on the other hand was my only real friend in this place. I remember the first time I ever met Mr. Thomas. It was a particularly loud night, I was surrounded by the loud awkward sounds of animal sex from all sides, and in a fit of rage I stormed out of my room and ran up to the roof in search of some peace and quiet. And I found him there, sitting in a dirty rusty old lawn chair smoking an expertly rolled fat joint, and throwing bread crumbs to a flock of pigeons.
He was buried in a cloud of grey, as the birds flew and danced around him on top of the grey concrete roof top. There was so much grey at first I didn’t see him, because he was such a grey person himself. He kind of looked like a pigeon in that way, as if he were color coordinating with them. His hair was grey, his eyes were grey, and his clothes were always grey as well.
That first night he was just lazily sitting there in his big grey cardigan throwing grey bread crumbs at that cloud of grey wings. He leaned back and took a huge drag on his ridiculously wasteful fat joint, and when he finally noticed that he wasn’t alone he let off a series of awful sounding embarrassed coughs as he exhaled smoke like a chimney. I was surprised, because I didn’t know people as old as Mr. Thomas- and he was old, probably out lived even the oldest parrot- smoked weed, but he told me he had gotten it from a doctor and only smoked medicinally. And so, on that night we started a tradition, every night we would feed his pet pigeons, he would smoke medicinally, and I smoked recreationally.
I never knew why Mr. Thomas would feed the pigeons. Every night he would sit out there on that lawn chair on the roof of this condominium, and he would throw bread crumbs and seeds to those birds. I don’t think he ever actually thought those birds really belonged to him, I don’t think they could ever really belong to anyone. It was like Mr. Thomas was feeding the city itself. As if he would be throwing that bread anyway, regardless of if the birds came or not. Just scattering crumbs across the grey rooftop. But the birds always did come, like clockwork, every night.
Mr. Thomas used to tell me that Pigeons came out of the city. Out of this city’s concrete walls and roads. He would say that the pigeons were like little concrete statues wobbling and flying around the city. They came from potholes in roads, and missing bricks on walls, or flew out of statues as they crumbled. They were like stones with wings, just popping in and out of the city life.
I’ve still never actually seen a baby pigeon. So maybe they really are just little parts of the city that decided to up and fly away. They certainly do seem to just pop out of walls as they fly about. What with their grey and black feathers, they blend in perfectly with this concrete forest, and they make it seem like an almost natural place. They are a defiance to mankind’s attempt to tame the world around them.
Everynight, as inevitably always happens when smoking and chatting with friends while gazing up at the stars or out at the horizon, our talks would become increasingly philosophical, and felt so much more profound than what they probably really were. But I look back at everything that old man said to me, and maybe now it’s only because he’ll never say anything again, but I cherished it all as the most profound of truths.
We would sit up there and gaze at the city down in the valley beneath us. The lights twinkling and blinking like a giant christmas tree.
“I’d reckon there’s a light for every soul down in there.” Mr. Thomas had said once. “Maybe even more souls than lights.”
He was probably right, a light for every apartment, every headlight, every office window. A tired cashier behind the gas station window’s fluorescent light, a hooker leaning against a lamppost smoking a cigarette, a trucker behind bright headlights, a family eating dinner, the light of their chandelier coming out of their dining room window and twinkling in Mr. Thomas’ eyes from miles away.
I looked out at all those lights. The thousands and thousands of them. An ocean of tiny lights as far as my eyes could see, and probably further too. Lights all the way up to the horizons edge, and continuing on seemingly forever, leaving behind a hazy glow that lit up the sky on all sides so far it blotched out even the stars. I remember looking out at the interstate, and seeing an endless stream of lights moving along like ants in a line. As if they were being pumped through the city by an invisible heart, the highway like an artery. I remembered I looked at that endless stream of headlights, carrying the life force of the city, and all I could think is how I didn’t even have one of those lights for myself. I would have to ride the number 26 bus down that highway on my way to work later that same night, and I would have to share my little headlights with a dozen other half awake passengers. And Mr. Thomas, looking out at the city from his rooftop, would never even notice my shared headlights as I passed right on by amongst a river of others, and I’ll become smothered by an ocean of identical twinkling lights.
I felt so small and insignificant looking out at those lights. I still do feel small when I look out at them now sometimes. But that night, up there smoking weed with Mr. Thomas, I started crying because of how small and meaningless I felt. And I felt so stupid, and I blamed it all on the weed, but I couldn’t help it, and I just kept on crying like a stupid idiot.
I remember Mr. Thomas laid his hand on my shoulder and asked me what was wrong.
So I asked him, “you ever feel like one of your pigeons? Like you just fly off and disappear within a sea of grey?”
To which he looked at me with those old grey eyes of his and said, “I’d rather be a meaningless, forgotten, grey, concrete pigeon… Than that fucking old parrot any day.” and he took a huge drag and went off gazing across the city. And I remember that I laughed so hard I was afraid I might actually vomit.
I don’t know why I feed the birds now. I suppose I do for no other reason other than because Mr. Thomas did before me. Maybe that’s why Mr. Thomas did too. For the person before him. But nevertheless, here I am tonight, like every night since he left, feeding these damn birds that don’t belong to me, or anyone, or anywhere.
I guess I’m not really feeding the birds at all. I’m just scattering crumbs. As if I was just feeding the city itself, and watching it get swallowed up and carried off by a sea of grey, carried off across this city to every nook, and ledge, and underpass, by a flock of concrete birds.