This Seagull

Richard Barr

This seagull was bigger than my cat. Noticeably so.

It was rush hour. All at once the people, so many people, emerged from their buildings and out onto the street. Up and down that long industrious stretch, tall, glass-fronted, non-descript buildings haemorrhaging…people…like a mass evacuation of ants from their anthills.

People filled the footpath, 3 or 4 deep, all rushing in the same direction with their heads bowed, – blank looks on their faces, or determined looks, or self-consciously trying-to-ignore-the-beggar-on-the-corner looks, standing right up next to him as they were, waiting to cross the street.

And there, outside one of the eateries, is this big fucking giant of a seagull. Enormous.

And clever.

Clever, because this seagull was sizing up a fat, juicy bin bag, one of three that had been left next to an inadequately dimensioned public bin. The bin, on really looking at it, appeared as if it had been filled to capacity many days before, and now all of what it contained, all the detritus of this ever metastasising city, every variety of filth you could think of, bulged up and out and hung over the sides of that stupidly small bin, like flowers in bloom – like a septic bouquet.

But this seagull was much more interested in the fresh and still-warm contents of that one big heaving bin bag. He stood before it, his rapier-sharp beak an inch from its shiny, black exterior. He got closer, and using that long fire-orange beak, the deadly looking sharp pointy end of it, he pierced the bag and drew his beak down, making one long, foot & a half long incision, which separated and then parted with the weight of the bag’s insides against it, sending a cascade of steaming, putrid rubbish onto the footpath.

One of the many rush hour commuters was drawn from her shallow theta-wave semi-somnambulism then and stopped, surprisingly enough with the walks of her too, pacing it out rightly. And all with a head, up upon those wide and lovely shoulders of hers, completely deserted of any notion whatsoever, temporarily wiped – for as long as it took her to get to her bus at least.

Behind one of those big glass fronted panels, within the confines of another of the infinite cavities in the hive, she is beset with all the travails of High Business. Most likely,  it’s what gives rise to this short-lived absence of cognisant thought, and perhaps there were other things besides contributing to all that, who’s to say? But then she stopped, stone still, as if her heels had grown roots and anchored her to the pavement. Her mouth hung wide open, astonished, watching this seagull, as I watched that seagull, too. 

I was seated in the back of the bus home, seeing all this. The bus was stationary, stuck right in the middle of a stubborn traffic-jam that for the guts of 15 minutes hadn’t moved a single inch.

The commuter, like the bus, hadn’t moved an inch either. Others deftly sidestepped and moved around her in their rush, as if she was a rock, and they a rolling river.

But then what drew my attention away from this seagull – now pulverising a Styrofoam box containing chips – was the commuter’s tongue, framed between her pencil-thin lips, nestled there like a pearl in a wide open shell. I could see it, and was amazed by it. I have seen many a tongue before, my own included, but none were as bewitching as this, as her tongue.

So I got up and I got off the bus.

And I stood with her on the footpath, and we two watched this seagull, enormous big thing, tearing and pecking away at the diminished bin bag, now flat upon the tarmac, with all that it once contained, all that rubbish, strewn around our feet, and around the travelling, walking, stepping feet of others, as this seagull foraged away, its head down deep in it all.

Richard Barr has had several stories published in the last few years, including in Lancaster University’s The Luminary and The Big Issue. More recently he’s been published in The Honest Ulsterman, Litro Magazine, New Critique, Misery Tourism, Sonder Magazine, Headstuff and Bristol Noir. Stories this year have featured in Punk Noir with work upcoming in Pulp Modern.