Short Story | ‘I Bumped Into the Pigeon Man’ by Jonathan Ryan Vassallo, Illustration by James Brown
Union Station does not just unite the Go Train, buses and TTC together to form the main transportation hub of Toronto; it also unites cultures. Every day thousands of commuters pass through Union Station and each one of them is a true testament to the diversity of our city. They come and go from every direction and they may not notice him, but Pigeon Man is there every day.
When I met Pigeon Man, I had just bumped into him. I got off the Go Train at Union Station and was rushing off to catch the TTC when I turned to look at something shiny and didn’t see Pigeon Man standing in my way, and I bumped right into him.
“Excuse me,” he said with a gentle smile and looked me in the eye.
“No, I am sorry,” I said, “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“That is quite alright,” he said, still smiling and maintaining eye contact.
There was something very striking about him. He did not have any particularly strong features, and his face gave no indication of an ethnicity. His complexion seemed two-toned and it changed as the light reflected on him at different angles; one moment he looked remarkably pale, and the next his complexion seemed quite dark. When he talked his voice had a hint of an accent, but I couldn’t tell where it was from. I guess he looked pretty ordinary, but the striking thing was how calm he made me feel when I was talking to him.
As if he saw that I had finished studying his face, he said to me, “I hope you have a good day,” then turned and walked away. I didn’t really think much about him after that – I didn’t even know he was Pigeon Man until a few months later.
That day I finished work early and was standing just outside Union Station on Front Street having some street meat, when I saw Pigeon Man walk right by me. I recognized him right away, and I wanted to say hello. Instead I just stood there and watched him. He was carrying a small bag and he walked about fifty meters further down, then stopped, reached inside the bag, brought out some bread and started to break it up and gently toss it all around him. The pigeons flew in from every direction, but instead of forming a mob and fighting over every breadcrumb, they seemed to have an organized and civilized system.
About fifteen birds would fly to the ground and eat as much as they could for a few seconds, then, as if they had an internal alarm go off inside them, they would simultaneously fly up in the air and another fifteen or so pigeons would fly down and take their place. The birds would then fly to the back of the line and wait for their turn again. It was hard to keep track of each individual bird, but I am quite certain none of them butted in line or tried to steal any breadcrumbs from another bird.
When there was no more bread left, the Pigeon Man folded up his empty bag and went down into the train station. I didn’t intend to follow him, but I was done eating my hotdog and I needed to find out what platform my train was going to be on, so I decided to go down into the train station as well.
I headed towards the south end of the station where the Go Train TVs are and I looked up to read the screen while I kept walking and ended up bumping right into him again.
“Excuse me,” he said almost automatically as he looked up with the same smile on his face, bringing with it the same feeling of calmness as it did the first time.
“No, it is my fault. I wasn’t looking where I was going,” I said.
“That’s OK. I have a small confession to make,” he said without relinquishing eye contact, “you didn’t bump into me, but, I stood in your way.”
“What do you mean?”
“I stood here deliberately so you would bump into me.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Every once in a while, some people need to bump into someone or something and it just so happens that today was your day.”
“That’s funny. You may not recognize me, but we have bumped into each other once before.”
“I know exactly who you are. And, actually we bumped into each other two times before, but you do not remember the first time because you just kept walking.”
“But why me?”
“Do not be eluded. It is not just you. I do anywhere from fifty to one hundred bumps in a day.”
“This is crazy. You feed pigeons and deliberately stand in peoples’ ways so that they will bump into you?”
“That is correct.”
“What is your job?”
“Let’s just say you can call me the Pigeon Man. I noticed you watching me feed the pigeons a few minutes ago.”
“Do you do that everyday?”
“Two times a day. The pigeon’s are my eyes and ears. They tell me what is happening in the city. I am never alone; there is always a small flock of birds or a small crowd of people surrounding me at any given time.”
“But, how come I have only noticed you twice if you are here everyday?”
“People only see what they want to see, or what they are forced to see. Maybe you will recognize me a little more now that we are better acquainted,” he said as he offered one more gentle and calming smile and walked off.
I looked up at the screen one more time and saw that I had three minutes to get to my train – plenty of time. I walked slowly and watched the people in front of me rush ahead. I knew eventually every one of them would bump into him too.
Illustration by: James Brown