Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week a south London cafe gets an unwelcome visitor.
Vegan Pigeon Eater
One Sunday we ventured out to fill up our reusable bottle with red wine from a shop on the high street. We enjoy visiting this shop because it has two wiry old grey dogs with arthritis who sit on large oriental cushions. They always look forlorn as their owners pour wine into our bottle from the silver tap on the barrel. We knew they wouldn't be there this time though because we saw them playing, or rather limping about, in the park with the lady who often pours our wine. So instead we went to a little cafe at the edge of the park, one we hadn't visited all summer. It's right outside our gym so we usually call in for eggs and bacon or at least a cucumber and ginger juice most weekends; however, this particular gym has poor air conditioning and so we avoid it in the summer and return only when the weather has cooled.
So we hadn't been to this cafe for a while and they looked happy to see us again. We started visiting the cafe when it first opened and it needed our custom. We always tipped well because we liked them; the service was good and you could tell they were a small family operation. However soon word spread that their coffee was decent — by London standards. It was only alright by Australian standards. The food was fresh and seasonal and people in gentrified south London value these two things highly and so it became busy quickly. Suddenly there were buggies and children everywhere and we could no longer just walk in and get a table. The only positive aspect to this influx of children was that they all ate off-menu sausage sandwiches and we didn't know it was possible to order sausage sandwiches before.
This time it was around four in the afternoon though and so we were able to walk straight in. We ordered our coffees and sat at the table by the door so we could still breathe in the crisp autumn air. I was busy telling my partner that the cappuccino was good, the milk was properly hot for once, and I liked the large handles on the coffee cups. They weren’t large handles really, just a normal width in which to slip a thumb and pointer finger; however, so many other cafes use cups with tiny handles — ones that can’t even accommodate a pinkie — that a normal sized handle has become a delight. Partway through my rant about these tiny-handled cups, a pigeon came into the cafe and started pecking at the mat just inside the door, picking up little crumbs. Soon it moved away from the mat to the front corner of the cafe where a young lad in his twenties was reading a book and nursing a hot chocolate. I said the pigeon would be alright as long as it didn't get frightened and fly up into the ceiling. It is very stressful watching a bird flying around the corners of a ceiling trying to escape out into the open. I don't like the physicality of birds personally, the flapping wings and the bony little claws, I prefer them to just stay at ground level and walk around.
Thankfully this bird wasn’t easily frightened. When the waitress came and shooed it away with a swoop of her arms it ran outside like a scolded pet. However in the time it took for her to walk behind the counter the bird was back inside again, poking around near our feet. This time my partner kicked the air and clapped his hands and it went out again. It came back, of course, and the waitress then tried to sweep it out with a broom. We were laughing now; we'd had a nice day and the theatrics were entertaining, though the chef, who I believe also owned the cafe, was starting to get stroppy with the bird. The young lad with the hot chocolate went to use the toilets at the back of the cafe and when he came back the bird was on his seat. At this point the chef swept the hat from his head, came out from behind the counter and chased the bird right out into the street. When he came back in he put his hand up to the sky and announced: "I'm a vegan, but for this bird, I'll make an exception."
Copyright, Rae Chambers, 2014. Image by Narges Rashidi.
We’re taking a break from our themed stories for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we’re still after your general submissions, which you should send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.