“Young One, do you see that floating contraption coming from behind the mist? That is lunch”. I hesitantly looked up at my elder. Both said contraption and the large creatures coming out from it seemed rather indigestible, even for our decidedly non-gourmet flock. – “But one needs to be cautious” he added, after a pause. “These are wingless brutes that do not appreciate sharing. Be particularly wary of the small ones, which are clumsy but fast”.
We cooked this text under lockdown, from our home in Lisbon, and peppered it with photos from our 2018 trip to the Ciés Islands. The somewhat dystopian narrative fits both our current times and that trip, as a gull did indeed eat our lunch.
I was grateful for the moments spent with the Old One, and often wondered if I would one day be like him. Looking down at my lanky pale limbs and mucky brown plumage, I doubted that I would ever have the same strong yellow legs and such a magnificent white and grey coat.
The foggy morning further clouded my thoughts. It had been like this for days without end, and I felt trapped in our small island and my own tiny thoughts. I could only imagine what lurked behind the mist, and I craved for a time when my wings would be strong enough to pierce through it.
“Be patient, Young One”, he said, seemingly reading my mind. “Come, let us go for a flight around our domains”. As we circled around the island, a torrent of thoughts and other matters of equal substance poured out of the Old One.
“We birds, despite (or perhaps because of) our prodigious intellect, worry constantly. We worry about sunshine and we worry about rain. We worry about crowds and we worry about being alone. We worry about getting too tired and we worry about not getting tired enough.”
“Sometimes, something truly concerning comes along, and we realise how small were all our previous concerns”. – “And from that point onwards we don’t worry about petty things anymore?”, I eagerly ask. – “Sadly, no”, responded a desolated Old One. “But perhaps you will be better than I am in putting things into perspective”.
We had rounded the island and were again close to the wingless creatures. – “Look, see that family of three, distancing themselves from the rest of the pack? Let us follow them”, said the Old One.
The family wandered off to a beach, empty apart from a few of my siblings. “Young One, I am old and fat, I will stand aside and let you eat. And remember, be daring but cautious”. I studied the family from a safe distance. The two larger ones spoke some sort of incomprehensible gibberish, but the cries of the smaller one reminded me of my own kin.
I approached him, hoping that I could explain my empty stomach predicament. He saw me, put down his food and stood there, observing me. The food was tantalisingly close, but the Old One’s words of caution echoed in my head. After a while, he grabbed a handful of sand and offered it to me. “You mock me, young wingless creature, I see there’s no reasoning with your kind!”
I shifted my attention to one of the two larger creatures. He seemed to be the halfwit of the pack, and was busy pointing an odd tube-shaped contrivance to my siblings. I swiftly approached his unattended food and swallowed it whole. Before he knew what happened, I was high up in the air.
The wingless gull looked up, angrily waving his arms and voicing expletives. “Too late, my poor buffoon. May you learn something from this!”. With a full belly, I darted to the highest point of the island. Up there, the air felt cleaner and the mist was already clearing up. Life was good.
Verne and the Young One *