A pigeon fancier waits for a returning bird
George waited. He was used to waiting. After years of working down the coal mine, he’d been looking forward to retirement for a long time. Now it had arrived.
Retirement on a pension wasn’t all he’d hoped it would be. Yes, it was nice not to have to do long shifts down the pit, but he missed the money. Not that he’d ever had lots to splash about, but at least there’d be some left after Marge paid the bills; enough to go to the pub, have a few pints and afford his smokes.
Now he’d had to cut down on most things, but at least he still had his pigeons.
Gazing up at the sky, waiting for a returning bird, he crouched down in the squat position forged of years working in enclosed spaces.
His self built pigeon loft at the bottom of the garden had always been George’s retreat from the pressures of both work and domestic life. It was an enclave to where he could escape. Now he had more time, it was his intention to enter pigeon races; he had some good birds which he’d bred himself.
Today, he was waiting for his favourite racer, a bird he called, Sweetheart. He’d sent her to a liberation point by train,100 miles away, to be released with dozens of others at a set time.
When she returned to the loft, he would take off her rubber leg ring and place it into the locked mechanical clock, this then pin-pricks an internal paper dial with the time. This would be sent to the race headquarters.
The winning bird was not the one with the quickest time, but the bird with fastest average speed. This allowed variations in the distance travelled to be considered.
Sweetheart should have been back by now. George was well aware of the many hazards a bird could confront. Bad weather, falcons, or simple exhaustion on a long flight home.
He chuffed on his pipe, anticipating her return at any moment, searching the sky for a dot which could be Sweetheart.
There was also the wager with his friend, Tom, to be taken into consideration. It wasn’t the money though, more the loss of face that concerned George; he’d been bragging about his special bird for weeks now.
He gave a groan as he hoisted himself from his crouched position. Removing his tobacco tin from his waistcoat pocket, he began to fill the bowl of his pipe, tamping it down with a stained thumb. He struck a match and sucked hard until the tobacco glowed red. The old man sat on the low wall, chuffing the pipe and staring at the sky.
Then he spotted a bird flying towards him. His heart beat a little faster, anticipating it was Sweetheart, returning home. As it got closer, he saw it definitely was her. Placing the pipe down on the wall, he grabbed the clock.
This part, he knew, could be the most frustrating. She may fly onto the roof of the coop and rest there, out of his reach. George held out his hand full of corn and hoped she’d fly straight to him. He made soft cooing sounds. She was almost here; flying in circles about him, eying the corn.
At last she fluttered onto his shoulder, walked down his outstretched arm and onto his hand. George held her to his chest and removed the leg ring. He popped the bird into the pigeon loft, before locking the ring into the time clock, sighing with relief.
At last he could relax, the adrenaline gradually leaving his body. The waiting game was over for another day.