The common street pigeon in Athens waddled across the pavement, his calloused little bird feet immune to the boiling August temperature, near to melting the asphalt. With a characteristic, calibrated turn of the head, he seemed to be taking notice of the exotic birds in the cages of the nearby street vendor.
On my way to pay a parking fine, I was in need of some comic relief, so I paused to observe this serendipitous avian interaction. Backing away, so as to provide both an unencumbered view and an unobtrusive presence, I rested my weary bones on an old rectangular piece of pipe, intended to prevent automobiles from driving on city sidewalks. I caught my balance, leaned back against the city market light pole and watched a pricy, foreign-export bird in a cage commune with an ordinary, nasty peristeri (Greek word for pigeon) on the street – the kind that my prejudice insists we have far too many of.
Although my linguistic fluency is improving, thanks to language studies in both Albanian (Shqip) and (contemporary) Greek, I really have no competence in bird-speak. But my imagination translated the dialogue between these two feathered creatures.
The cocky, bright colored cockatoo seemed to be speaking down to the pigeon. From his cooler, lofty perch in the swinging cage, this articulate and pompous prima ballerina of the feathered classes seemed to be saying: “Oh, you poor, sad creature! Destined by fate and genetics to tread the filthy streets, scavenging on a scatological diet and savaging to survive, it’s just too bad that you could not be like me. I was born to privilege, destined by DNA to be among the higher of the bird species. People treat me like royalty; they bring me food each day; they talk sweetly to me; they clean my cage and ensure that I have fresh water. And all I have to do is sit here on my perch and occasionally peck at the little bell. It takes so little to make some people happy!”
The pigeon fluffed up his filthy feathers, leaned back on those well-worn street feet, cocked his tiny head, and said: “Yes, my dear fine-feathered friend, you do seem to have some advantages that I do not have. When I am tired of the street life, sometimes I long for your life of leisure and security.”
Now lifting his massive wings and catching the hot, steamy updraft rising from the city street, as his aerodynamic body began to rise swiftly, the pauper pigeon seemed to say in retort. “But, I am free! And freedom, my fellow bird friend, is far better than pedigree or luxury!”
I'm working with Albanian immigrants in Athens and praying that, despite their limited opportunities, they will know the truth, which sets one free!