Gay-Neck’s birth happened exactly as I have described. About the twentieth day after the laying of the egg, I noticed that the mother was not sitting on it any more. She pecked the father and drove him away every time he flew down from the roof of the house and volunteered to sit on the egg. Then he cooed, which meant, “Why do you send me away?”

She, the mother, just pecked him the more, meaning, “Please go. The business on hand is very serious”.

Excerpts from Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon [Illustrations by: Boris Artzybasheff]
Excerpts from Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon [Illustrations by: Boris Artzybasheff]

At that, the father flew away. That worried me, for I was anxious for the egg to hatch, and was feeling suspicious about its doing it at all. With increased interest and anxiety I watched the pigeon-hole. An hour passed. Nothing happened. It was about the third quarter of the next hour that the mother turned her head one way and listened to something — probably a stirring inside that egg. Then she gave a slight start. I felt as if a tremor were running through her whole body. With it a great resolution came into her. Now she raised her head, and took aim. In two strokes she cracked the egg open, revealing a wee bird, all beak and tiny shivering body! Now watch the mother. She is surprised. Was it this that she was expecting all these long days? Oh, how small, how helpless! The moment she realizes her child’s helplessness, she covers him up with the soft blue feathers of her breast.

By the time he was five weeks old he could hop out of his birth-nest and take a drink from a pan of water left near the pigeon-holes. Even now he had to be fed by his parents, though every day he tried to get food on his own account. He would sit on my wrist and dig up a seed at a time from the palm of my hand. He juggled it two or three times in his throat like a juggler throwing up balls in the air, and swallowed it. Every time Gay-Neck did that, he turned his head and looked into my eyes as much as to say: “Am I not doing it well? You must tell my parents how clever I am when they come down from sunning themselves on the roof.” All the same, he was the slowest of my pigeons in developing his powers.

In another fortnight Gay-Neck was taught how to fly. It was not at all easy, bird though he was by birth. A human child may love the water, yet he has to make mistakes and swallow water while learning the art of swimming. Similarly with my pigeon. He had a mild distrust of opening his wings, and for hours he sat on our roof, where the winds of the sky blew without quickening him to flight. In order to make the situation clear, let me describe our roof to you. It was railed with a solid concrete wall as high as a boy of fourteen. That prevented even a sleep-walker from slipping off the height of four stories on summer nights, when most of us slept on the roof.

I put Gay-Neck on that concrete wall every day. There he sat for hours at a time, facing the wind, but that was all. One day I put some peanuts on the roof and called him to hop down and get them. He looked at me with an inquiring eye for a few moments. Turning from me, he looked down again at the peanuts. He repeated this process several times. When at last he was convinced that I was not going to bring these delicious morsels up for him to eat, he began to walk up and down the railing, craning his neck occasionally towards the peanuts about three feet below. At last, after fifteen minutes of heart-breaking hesitancy, he hopped down. Just as his feet struck the floor, his wings, hitherto unopened, suddenly spread themselves out full sail as he balanced himself over the nuts. What a triumph!

However, one day long before the end of May, his father undertook the task. This particular day a brisk north wind, which had been sweeping about and cooling the atmosphere of the city, had just died down. The sky was as clear as a limpid sapphire. The spaces were so clear that you could see the house-tops of our town, then the fields and arbours of the country in the farthest distance. About three o’clock in the afternoon, Gay-Neck was sunning himself on the concrete wall of the roof. His father, who had been flying about in the air, came down and perched next to him. He looked at his son with a queer glance, as much as to say: “Here, lazy-bones, you are nearly three months old, yet you do not dare to fly. Are you a pigeon or an earthworm?” But Gay-Neck, the soul of dignity, made no answer. That exasperated his father, who began to coo and boom at him in pigeon-language. In order to get away from that volubility, Gay-Neck moved; but his father followed, cooing, booming and banging his wings. Gay-Neck went on removing himself farther and farther; and the old fellow, instead of relenting, redoubled his talk, and pursued. At last the father pushed him so close to the edge that Gay-Neck had only one alternative, that is, to slip off the roof. Suddenly his father thrust upon his young body all the weight of his old frame. Gay-Neck slipped. Hardly had he fallen half a foot when he opened his wings, and flew.

Oh, what an exhilarating moment for all concerned! His mother, who was downstairs dipping herself in the water, and performing her afternoon toilet, came up through the staircase and flew to keep her son company. They circled above the roof for at least ten minutes before they came down to perch. When they reached the roof the mother folded her wings as a matter of course, and sat still. Not so the son: he was in a panic, like a boy walking into cold and deep water. His whole body shook, and his feet trod the roof gingerly as he alighted, skating over it furiously and flapping his wings in order to balance himself.
At last he stopped, as his chest struck the side of the wall, and he folded his wings as swiftly as we shut a fan. Gay-Neck was panting with excitement, while his mother rubbed him and placed her chest against him as if he were baby who badly needed brooding. Seeing that his task had been done successfully, Gay-Neck’s father went down to take his bath…
About the author – Dhan Gopal Mukerji

1137 words | 11 minutes
Readability: Grade 5 (10-11 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: stories
Tags: #wings, #pigeons

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