Carmen hums, finally getting to the last plate. Wiping til it shines, she hops around the kitchen.
Her tiny kitchen gleams, dust doesn’t dare show its face here. Growing up poor means having little to no money for fragrant and “tough on germs” cleansing products. Spit and polish had to do. Gross… Carmen fought her way up in Chocolates and Caviar Catering. As soon as she could, she looked to rent in a better neighbourhood. One where she could actually hang clean washing outside and it was still there when dry.
She loved her flat. Tiny as can be but her home. And it was spotless. Which is why she was horrified to spot little black bugs shuffling their way out from behind her spathiphyllum plant. The pristine white pot showed them up like walking germs and Carmen gulped.
Spraying Desol germ killer, she moved the pot aside. The window was open a crack and lice were wondering into her house through it in a broken stream. The sweetest bird’s nest was on her windowsill. In it sat a surprised looking mommy bird and 3 chicks, straining their necks for food.
‘Bird lice. Yuck!’
Quickly closing the window, Carmen hoped it would stop the lice. She cleaned the sill, sink and all the counter tops again, her fingers raw from rubbing.
‘That should do it.’ Smacking her hands together, she moved the now-sterile pot back and yawning ran a hot bath.
Breakfast was always fruit. Carmen believed it helped her stay regular. Her bowel was her worst enemy if she didn’t.
‘Banana or apple? Hmmmm…’ She froze. The fruit bowl was adjacent to the window and the fruit was crawling with lice. She gagged, picking up the bowl, she threw it into the sink. It was wood so bounced but the fruit went everywhere, spraying lice all over her kitchen.
Carmen freaked, a horror show of lice was taking over. Not bloody likely! She grabbed the half-empty bottle of Desol and sprayed the kitchen down with it. By the time she finished, the air stank of bleach and they had given her shift away. Carmen knew she couldn’t allow lice to crawl into everything in her home while she was at work. Shuddering at the thought, Carmen moved the pot. A bigger bird was feeding the chicks.
‘Hey dad? How ‘bout you move?’
He just stared, his red-rimmed eyes a solid black in the middle, it was creepy.
“I can’t’ she tried to explain. ‘You have lice. Please take your babies…’
Flapping his wings, the pigeon took flight. Carmen blanched at the thought of how many lice must be flying off his wings as she watched. Keeping dead still, she waited until the dad disappeared. Pulling on her yellow gloves she slowly opened the window. Carefully reaching under the sill, she tried to grasp the nest. Her plan was to relocate it on someone else’s windowsill or in a tree. Anywhere but here!
Rough splinters scratched at her arm as she struggled to grasp the nest. The gloves didn’t help, they were thick and made her misjudge her grip. She gasped. The nest had fallen from her grip. It plunged down 3 stories and Carmen knew that the chicks had little chance of surviving.
‘Oh crap.’ Carmen took the stairs two at a time but she needn’t have bothered. The babies were lifeless. Tears brimming, she used discarded newspaper to pick them and the nest up. The dustbins were around the corner, Carmen carefully carried the lice-ridden package. She wanted to puke, but also knew that her problem was now solved. She would Dysol the sill…
‘Eek…’ something swooped past her hair. It was daddy bird. He stopped on the gutter, looking at her and cooing. It didn’t sound happy so Carmen hurried over, threw everything into the dustbin, along with her gloves and shot back to the house. Mommy bird dived at her as she ran inside, bouncing off the glass door.
Carmen ran upstairs, closed the kitchen window and washed her hands red and sore. Clothes in the machine and kitchen gleaming, she poured herself a white wine. Dry and ice-cold it was just what she needed. She relaxed and let the wine work every inch of stress out of her body. Before long, her snores resonated.
‘Bloody birds’ she mumbled. They were cooing in her dream. She could see 2 sets of empty, red-rimmed eyes, they scared her awake. She wasn’t dreaming! There were 2 fat, lice-covered, cooing pigeons sitting on her chest. She froze.
Carmen wasn’t scared of birds, just ones sitting on her chest staring into her eyes. Shoo! Shoo! She shouted. They rose and came down again, she was too scared to move. Her mind shouted ‘go, hit them off, they are just birds’ but her body didn’t, couldn’t respond. It was their eyes. Staring, boring into hers.
Daddy bird walked across her chest to her face. Sickened she wondered how many lice he left behind. Trembling she stared, he stared back getting closer. When he pecked at her eye, the pain was instant. She felt water running down her cheek. Her hand shot to her eye and daddy bird moved to her face, pecking at her, it was a horror movie and her mind struggled to make sense of it.
Mommy took her turn too. Carmen in shock and horror didn’t even see her coming, she was agonising about her eye. A peck and more water ran down her face, blood ran down her hands as the pecking continued. Screaming she waved her hands trying to brush them away. MOVE, her mind screamed and she stumbled towards the door. Carmen misjudged and fell against the wall. Blood-smeared handprints followed her as did her screams.
Her neighbours would find her half in, half out of her door. 2 fat pigeons sitting on her back only moving when the neighbour shooed them away. They both crapped as they flew away, spraying her and her immaculate home.
Carmen was blind. It was like learning to walk and think again. After 3 days in hospital, her brother came to help get her organised. She was terrified. What about her job? How would she make money? A small insurance had agreed to pay out but would only last a few months. The terror of returning to her apartment showed on her face as Cornell, held her hand guiding her in. Flopping onto the couch, Carmen breathed in the smell of her home. Tears flooded her painful eye sockets.
‘Hey, hey.’ Cornell sat holding her as she tried not to cry. He was frightened for her. What would she do when he had to leave? Carmen insisted he checked for the birds and made sure that the windows were all shut tight.
‘Its secure love’ he hugged her tight until she fell asleep.
Cornell made supper and they sat at her breakfast nook eating. At least he was, she had no appetite. And was too embarrassed to ask him to cut her meat.
‘You have to eat Carmen. Build up your strength.’ She tried a bit, it was tasty but she shook her head.
‘I’m tired Cornell, I think I must sleep. OK? Thank you … for everything.’ He nodded then realised she was waiting for an answer, he rubbed her arm.
‘Will you be ok?’
‘I’ll shout if I’m stuck’ the thought scared her. “From wiping my own ass to making tea, I’m like an invalid” she thought. Carmen managed to make it to bed without too much hassle and hugging her pillow fell asleep.
Cornell was up first doing his daily 3 S’s. Shower, shampoo and shave. Steam filled the room. He opened the window a little for fresh air, fully intending to close it when he finished. He didn’t. Whistling softly so as not to wake Carmen, he started breakfast. The bacon was off, damm! Grabbing his coat, he knew staying in town, that he could get more and be back before the kettle cooled.
Carmen felt pressure on her chest. Lifting her hand she intended to brush it off but froze. “Cooo. Coo-coo.” It was a pigeon. Terror froze her and she stopped breathing. Wings fluttered and she felt pressure on her stomach, another bird… Panting she tried to call Cornell but a whisper came out. She tried again. Whisper.
The bird on her chest stepped forward – coo-roo. The other bird answered back coo-coo. IT WAS THE PARENTS. Carmen started crying, ‘please, please. I didn’t mean to do it.’ She croaked out, her throat dry and restricted. ‘I’m sorry.’ Tears slipped from her eyes and the birds stopped moving. Her neck pulled tight and she waited. Her sense of smell and hearing were peaked and she prayed they would leave.
A second before hearing their wings, she felt their weight lift off her and cried in relief. ‘Thank you… I’m sorr..’ The first peck to her cheek, numbed it and shocked her. It was close to the other wound given her by the daddy bird. Then the pain set in. Carmen screamed, finding her voice. Another peck, to her wrist, her head, her chin. Blood trickled slowly as she raised her hands, hitting blindly and screaming.
Cornell returned just as she let out a scream, dropping the food he ran into her room, stopping short at the horror scene before him. 2 pigeons were attacking his sister, pecking and flying and crapping as they went.
‘Hey. Hey – go…’ he slapped at them and they retired to the curtain rail, a trail of crap marking their territory. Cornell grabbed his hysterical sister and pulled her towards the front door.
He felt sick and was soon covered in blood, trickling from loads of tiny puncture wounds and drizzling from the peck on her wrist. Carmen sobbed and keep tripping as they ran to his car. Gently he laid her down, two streaks of rubber marked the tar as he pulled away.
3 blocks later he slowed, put his hand on Carmen making her scream. ‘It’s ok, its me.’ She took his hand and hugged it to her chest – ‘thank you. I can’t believe it, it was an accident – the nest – I…I’ she started to cry. Cornell drove holding her hand. They would go to his place, she would be safe there. They would worry about everything else later.
High above the old blue car, two pigeons rode the wind, keeping up with them. They settled in the old Oak outside the window of Cornell’s place and waited.