I work at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel on Thursdays. The stately hotel sits in the belly of all the skyscrapers, condos and shadow land that defines the downtown financial district. Having worked there for five years, I am an expert on where to maximize sun exposure at any given hour of my 3-9pm shift. In fact, I would almost brag that I am a human sundial. So, at 5:45 when I had a break scratched into my schedule, I knew I would be heading with my book and prerequisite coffee to the south side of Front, just west of Bay, to my roost in front of Union Station.
I grabbed a cornmeal muffin from that oh-so-sinful-this-is-really-cake-not-a-muffin place called mmmuffins because I had wolfed back my entire lunch when I arrived at 3pm before my first client. Setting up my sun-intake camp I split my muffin in two, sucked back not-hot-enough coffee and creased the fold in Long Way Down. It’s a book I’ve been reading intermittently, and it’s going to take me the same length of time to finish it as it actually took Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boorman to ride on BMWs from Scotland to South Africa.
In no time I had a dozen pigeons bobbling around me. The muffin was like a heat-seeking missile. Toronto pigeons are brazen. I’m quite certain they would eat right out of your mouth if you didn’t shoo them away.
And I didn’t shoo. I appreciate all birds, even the scrappy, scavenger ones. I watched a few of them fight over a cigarette butt and felt pangs of unfortunate bird love. Then, compounding that emotion, a ratty little house sparrow landed beside me and I just about had a cry as I noticed its leg. He hopped about, chirping his fool head off as the pigeons milled about in a seemingly drunken stupor. My tiny sparrow friend was missing half his right leg and rested on a little nub that ended where a bird’s ‘knee’ would normally be.
I watched as he bounced about and leaned back on his amputee leg and wondered how I might be able to rescue him. Yes, this is my train of thought. How could I bring this sparrow back to the Annex with me, where I live, so I could take better care of his one-legged welfare? I tossed him a bit of the muffin, and of course 100 pigeons descended upon me like a horror movie.
I tried again, to reach my disabled bird friend, and still, the bully pigeons edged him out of every crumb. Wisely, I placed a few crumbs above my head on the ledge of the wall that was too skinny for the wide hips of a pigeon. Sparrow friend took immediate note and chirped a thank you as he finally tasted the mmmuffin.
It was a very sweet moment that blurred out the rush hour commuters stampeding the sidewalk in front of me. Suited, sweating men were sprinting to suburban trains. Skirted women in Asics runners kept stride with laptops and Louis Vuittons.
And I was focussed on a sparrow wondering what on earth happened to his leg. I wanted to somehow wrap up the muffin and send him home with it. The pigeons were pissed, name-calling no-doubt, amongst each other.
Finally the one-legged sparrow took flight (and he could fly quite confidently) and I returned to my book, personally distracted, but now holding the captive attention of 359 pigeons.
I thought about that sparrow a lot that night, and for many days after. And, this is where the story takes a Reader’s Digest type-turn. One of those back-of-the-book shorts about an extraordinary event on an ordinary day that makes you smile and feel good about the world.
Fast forward to the next Thursday. I’m at the hotel again and gathering my things to head outside for my break at 6:30-ish. At this hour, the building shadows are extreme, and the sun is just about to leave the front of the Union Station building.
I have brie and crackers and set-up in my usual spot, all fancy-like with my makeshift picnic and pate knife, spreading triple crème brie on crackers not really designed for spreading. The pigeon mass is on high alert and thrilled that I’m eating something so crumbly. I’m reading the same book, but have moved on from Luxor and the guys are in Ethiopia now, getting socked in by monsoon rains.
I’m in the moment, so absorbed in my brie and Africa. Not so distantly, I hear a bird chatter but don’t look up. The call is persistent, and getting louder. I finish the paragraph and turn my head to the left to find my darling one-legged sparrow hollering at me.
I question my mental stability when I find myself actually saying a very excited “hello!” to a bird. I am overwhelmed. Flabbergasted. It’s been an entire week and clearly, he remembers me. This is a recognition chirp. I immediately doll up a broken cracker with some brie and place it on the ledge. He pecks away so happily, resting on his half-leg as the pigeons roll their eyes and return to the cigarette butts and a blowing Dorito bag.
I can’t believe the sparrow is back. Did he come back every day and patiently wait for me? Is it a mere coincidence? Have other people had this experience with him? A rational mind would suggest, “Well, he probably doesn’t fly far because he only has half a leg. He’s probably fed all day long by people having their lunch on the steps.”
I like to think that something greater and larger than life is unfolding though. How cosmic is it that I could run into the same sparrow on two Thursdays in Toronto in June. At different times?
Is it weird to think about a bird so much?
I’m sure I pass a dozen of the same people every day on my path to work, but I don’t take notice. How, in this city of 2.7 million people and, god knows how many birds, do I see and recognize the same bird twice?
Am I having a double-rainbow-guy meme moment? “What does it meeeannnn?”
It means that life is really cool and surprising. It means that I will be looking for this sparrow every Thursday on my break. It means that I will be slightly devastated if we miss each other.