Walking to an early meeting, the sharp tapping of my heels on the sidewalk ricocheting off the stone walls of the old cathedral on the corner, I looked down at my feet and I was shocked by what I saw. I’d almost stepped on two tiny wings. A sparrow’s wings. The sad, singular remainder of a deadly battle between predator and prey.
At that moment, I looked up to see a woman coming toward me. She’s a familiar sight downtown. Small, with a quirky rolling gait, like a little sailor listing from side to side as she moves, she walks her city like a tourist. She peers up at window washers hanging from scaffolding. She peeks into buildings that are under renovation. She studies parked cars as she walks slowly past them. She looks up to follow planes as they pass low over the city. She turns to watch bicyclists and skateboarders rocket by.
I see her often and she always reminds me of a bird in an urban cage. She lives in the senior apartments near the Cathedral where I was standing. Her world is an orderly grid of streets and avenues: Six blocks to the drugstore. Four blocks to the market. Five blocks to the mall.
Every day, she walks, listening and watching the rest of the world; men in starched shirts and silk ties and women in heels and power suits, all hustling from one meeting to another, on their way to coffee breaks and corporate lunches.
I can’t help but think she must have been something when she was young. Even now, in old age, there is a hint of the petite, curvy, young woman she must have been. Now, even in elastic-waist pants and sensible shoes, I see a girl who wore a flower behind one ear. A girl who danced at the USO.
I wish I knew her story. Is she a widow? Or, perhaps a divorcee, from a time when divorce set a woman apart, leaving her to live on pennies and prayer.Did she raise a family, taking car vacations to National Parks or the train to big cities? Did she work? Does she miss all that?
How did she lose her wings, I wondered to myself. When did she turn into a solitary figure who walks the city as an observer?
The woman walked up to where I stood and stopped beside me, looking down at the feathers at my feet. Then she peered up at me, cocking her head to one side in that birdlike way she has.
It was all I could do not to ask, “They aren’t yours, are they?”
I couldn’t see her eyes behind the dark, oversized glasses she always wears, as she smiled and shook her head in pity.
“Poor thing,” she said, and walked away.
Watching her, it struck me that a bird can’t survive without its wings. But people? Well, people do it all the time.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com