When Dom and I lived in London, we had a small roof terrace, off our one bedroom apartment, that we could access by climbing through a sash window half way up the stairs. Outside, there was enough room for a little BBQ, a few folding chairs and a hydrangea in a pot. I had some empty plant containers, a bag of potting soil and a pair of secateurs stuffed in one corner near the window, and in the summer the terrace served as a welcome extra room. We were on the third floor and the street we lived on was a busy bus route with double-deckers grinding gears outside our bedroom window. The roof terrace, though, looked out over our neighbours’ gardens and the soundproofed and thus silent Maida Vale Studios. One day in early March, when I could see fresh green shoots on the brittle hydrangea branches, I went out to the terrace to sit in the sun. After a few minutes there was a sound behind me. Thinking it was a rat; I leapt up and clambered back through the window. I knocked a chair over and made enough noise to scare the birds off the roof above me. I assumed my intruder would have scarpered too. Inside the apartment, I managed to catch my breath and take a second to look at the scene I had scrambled from. Nestled on some gardening gloves in a plastic flowerpot was a mangy looking pigeon. The bird viewed me from its quarters, beady eyed and severe. From behind the glass I tried to shoo it out of it’s newly adopted home. I tapped the window and made the kinds of noises I used to make out beating through the bracken when I was younger, trying to put up pheasants on my father's shoot; ‘Eye, eye, eye, eye, eye.’
There are plenty of pigeons in London, scabby grey things with mangled feet and beaks blunt from pecking on the pavement. This was no rare breed and I didn’t fancy it making a home in my spare room. I grabbed a broom to give it a poke through the open window. It didn’t want to budge but I was determined to get it airborne and with a few more prods it shifted uncomfortably and took reluctantly to the sky. I climbed back onto the terrace to see that it had left behind a shabbily made nest of sticks and feathers. As I stood above it I could see the reason for the bird’s steel eyed stubbornness: eggs, two of them, a pigeon pair, white and just a little smaller than chickens’ eggs.
I have a friend who is effortlessly chic, highly efficient and utterly organized. It was that friend who called me, just as I was thinking what to do with the issue of the pigeon nursery on my roof terrace.
‘It might be quite sweet to watch them hatch in a few weeks time.’ I said.
‘Hatch?’ She was evidently disgusted.
‘You want pigeons coming back to breed on your terrace? Because you know, that’s what they’ll do. They always return to the place they were born.’
‘Oh, no, I don’t want that.’ She had won me over in one concise argument. ‘Pigeons carry diseases, don’t they?’ I added.
‘Well you’ll have pigeon shit all over your roof terrace.’
As she said that, I could already smell the pungent fungal droppings. It was decided. I made enough noise to keep mum away and climbed back out of the window. The eggs were still warm. I cupped them in my hands. I couldn’t bring myself to break them but I put them gently in their new nest among the musty potato peelings of my kitchen bin.
Then my brother called. I told him what I’d done and his words chilled me;
‘A mother is a mother, Em’.
Neither of us were parents in those days. I appealed to him with the disease, shit, annual breeding arguments but he didn’t shift position.
I was a little unnerved by the violence I had so dispassionately carried out. I admit too, that a few years later, when I became a mother, I was scared to be left entirely on my own with my fragile newborn. I told myself I had never held such a vulnerable being, never been depended upon so utterly. But on the roof terrace high above that dirty bus route, I had held life in my hand and I had been found wanting.