One cold Winter morning, I stood waiting for the bus. The Sun was low in the sky, having only just risen a half hour ago, and would set only a few hours from now. Stripes of clouds drifted in the air, stretching but never losing their shape. I was bundled up, but still felt the cold slip under the cuffs of my pants around my ankles and the chill on my back.
The bus was coming, but I had missed the previous one, and now would have to wait for 10 minutes. For almost an hour, there’s a near endless supply of buses at this stop, to take the morning commute into work. After that window passes, the stream slows to a trickle, and in the slowest moments, a bus would only come a few times an hour. I had missed the window, but I was still headed into work.
The corner where I caught the bus stood adjacent to the zoo, which has been in operation for over a hundred years. Within the fences you could see everything from bears and lions, otters and penguins, even giraffes. On an average weekday morning, you might only find a loose smattering of people wandering the grounds. The animals must have outnumbered the humans more than 2:1.
Just on my side of the fence (the other side, obscured through layers and layers of bushes, was the wolf exhibit) sat a large sycamore tree, of which a branch extended over the fence bars. At the base of the tree was a dirt circle, and resting on the dirt was about half a loaf of bread. It looked like it had been there for a while, gently picked away by various park animals that still roamed the city.
Another woman walked up to the stop, and leaned against the opposite wall of the shelter from me. I saw a flash of movement, and instinctively my head tracked it and I found myself looking at the fence once more. From the brush a flock of birds had flown and swarmed around the bread, pulling it apart in pieces, some birds not even stopping to land. This went on for a few heartbeats, like watching piranhas tear apart a body in a James Bond film, before all the birds at once flew back through the bars, to disappear into the green.
I stared at the bread, waiting for it to happen again. And sure enough, it did, the birds pouring synchronously through the branches and steel and attacking the bread mercilessly. They seemed to act as one unit, a murmuration, flitting around the bread and back into the zoo.
Did they see the other animals with pity, with disgust? Did they have to think about flying around the bars, or did they simply act? Of course, this is all nature for the birds. They just fly. They don’t have to ponder their circumstance, even if they have the capacity to.
The bus pulled up minutes later, and I boarded after the woman, finding a seat near the window. The birds weren’t around the bread anymore, perhaps back into the bush they came from. The bus took me towards the city, around past the lake, and further from the sycamore and the bread. As I looked out over the lake, I saw a flock of birds, flying up past the bus, out over the water, to pastures unknown.