Charles rested on his favorite concrete bench, watching a crowd of sailboats race slowly across the harbor. The sails shimmered in the sunshine.
The usual stream of tourists and restless souls filed past him on the boardwalk. Their heads were down, over small devices. Charles tried to ignore them.
Out near the entrance to the harbor, perhaps three miles across the water, a small blur of cloud followed a tiny white dot. That, Charles knew, would be the seabirds, greedily following the boat of a returning fisherman.
Charles watched and reflected for a while.
He became aware that one bird had separated from the boiling cloud. It seemed to have changed its mind, given up. It seemed to be flying directly toward land. Directly toward Charles.
The pelican landed on a plastic blue trashcan several feet away.
The pelican turned its head and stared at Charles.
They silently regarded each other.
The pelican’s round eye conveyed strange intelligence. The eye, light blue with a small black pupil, seemed human. The unblinking eye was turned upon Charles, and the pelican stood like a statue. The stream of people walking past with their heads down didn’t appear to see anything at all.
For several minutes, Charles and the pelican regarded each other. The eye didn’t blink.
“Hello,” said Charles.
The bird moved its head slightly.
“Did you come here to tell me something? What do you want to say?”
The round eye seemed to stare at Charles critically.
“Are you able to think?” asked Charles. He wondered if the bird had some reason to stand on the trashcan. It probably was hoping for a handout of food. Birds are simple creatures, nothing but animal instinct and appetite.
“Did you enjoy being out on the wide ocean this morning?” Charles asked amiably. His voice contained a dash of irony. “Have you eaten already? So what do you do when you’ve finished eating? Just pass the time? Is that all you can do? You kick back, breathe in the salt air, and take in the scenery? Like me? It’s a very pleasant day, indeed!”
The round eye looked back at him, unwavering.
“You don’t understand a word that I say. You don’t even care that I’m talking. I suppose we’re just two wandering spirits, gazing at each other at this random place and at this random moment. Meeting for just one moment. Adrift in our own lives, unable to truly communicate, or even to understand. But here we are. That’s life, I guess. Look at me, the philosopher. Talking to myself.”
“Even so, I wish you a good day,” smiled Charles.
Then Charles noticed one foot of the pelican was missing. Somehow, the silent bird still managed to balance atop the trashcan.
Charles stared at the spindly leg that ended in a sudden stub.
Of course, the loss of a foot probably was a death sentence. Perhaps the bird was indeed hungry.
Charles didn’t know what to do. The concrete bench seemed more uncomfortable than ever. He was strangely afraid to look up and meet the pelican’s eye. Did the creature understand its own fate?
“I’m so sorry,” Charles finally said, looking up.
But the pelican flew away at that exact moment. And the stream of people continued past.
“I’m so sorry,” Charles murmured. “I’m so sorry.” He looked down at his hands.