He had found it hopping about in the road outside his apartment on Leith Walk. It had a broken wing, but it was otherwise pretty sprightly, and he had managed to lead it back to his rooms, where he cuddled it and sang to it and built it a little sling. Later that day, I arrived at the apartment for an editorial meeting, and found that the bird had destroyed most of the kitchen.
“A seagull is hardly ideal as a pet,” I warned, over the uproar. “They’re too big, too loud…” I retreated as it tried to peck me in the ankle. “Too vicious.”
“He’s a handsome fellow!” James declared proudly. “I don’t know how he hurt himself, though. People throw stones at them and try to run them over. What do you think he will eat?”
“I gave him some cat food,” James said wistfully. “He puked most of the food back up, but he ate all of the can.”
“Just get rid of it,” I harrumphed. “How can we work in the middle of this?”
“Oh Biggy! You must have a heart of stone! I’m going to call him Oscar.”
The next week, I went to James’ apartment to pitch some ideas for the website, only to find that Oscar’s wing had mended and that he was shooting round and round the dining room in great whooshing circles. Every time he swept past, the bookshelves chattered like teeth and the chairs danced around wildly. Occasionally, Oscar would crash down on to the dining room table, hurl himself forward, and deliver an unholy chorus of deafening whoops. The stench of fish was unbearable and James had piled most of the guano up against the windows.
“It has to go! You cannot live like this.” I buried my face in a handkerchief, my eyes watering at the fumes.
“Oh, Oscar? He’s okay,” James said blithely. “But I’m not sure how he’ll fare back out on Leith Walk. The other seagulls can be very rough – I don’t think they realise how sensitive Oscar is – and it’s probably best if he stays here for now.”
I know that it is useless arguing with James, but I arranged to hold our editorial conferences in the Standing Order until his home became more hospitable. Yet on the last Wednesday of every month, Tori, Renata, and I usually dine with James in his apartment, and I could not have broken off this engagement without offending him. I could only hope that the seagull would be gone by the day of the dinner.
When Tori and I arrived at the apartment, it seemed to be once again in a state of order. We were in the hall and Tori was taking off her jacket. She tossed it over the back of a chair. “Hello!” she ducked her head into the dining room and waved to Renata, who was already seated at the table.
There was the sound of muffled flapping as Tori’s jacket rose into the air and started to fly around in great clumsy circles. My heart sank.
James was opening up the drinks cabinet. “Would anybody like a gin and tonic?” he called.
“That’s a Gucci jacket! It cost three hundred pounds!” Tori screamed.
I made a grab for the jacket, and managed to haul it and its struggling contents to the floor. Tori was on the floor, fighting to pull the jacket off the seagull, and when she had finally recaptured the jacket and opened it up to inspect the damage, she was rewarded with a horrible smell of fish.
“The guano has gone!” James said brightly, oblivious to Tori’s lamentations. He pointed to the floor, where Oscar was now strutting about in a litter tray. The seagull, clearly indignant at this concession to polite opinion, fixed us with a look of the most purest, foulest evil.
James was rattling about in the kitchen – he had cooked a herring pasta bake, so that Oscar would feel included in the dinner. When Tori and I seated ourselves at the table, Renata darted forward to confide in us. She looked troubled.
“He sleeps with it,” she reported.
“I was here this morning and James was lying in bed, cuddling that… thing. He cuddles it like a teddy bear.”
“Biggy,” Tori’s voice was wobbly. “Do something!”
“Leave it to me.” I nodded to Renata. “Just make sure that Tori and I are left alone with the bird after dinner.”
As soon as the bake was on the table, Oscar lunged for it and wolfed most of it down. We had to content ourselves with the salad. After dinner, Renata ushered James into the kitchen to start on the washing up. I put down my napkin and began to advance on the seagull.
“What are you doing?” Tori whispered.
“We’re going to have to kill it. It’s the only way.”
Tori chuckled. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
“I’m going to break its neck. Aw…” With a disgruntled cluck, the bird flopped neatly out of my reach.
I turned to Tori. “You’re going to have to help,” I told her.
The smile dropped from Tori’s face.
“So I’ll hold its wings…?”
“No, you’re not strong enough. I’ll hold its wings and you break its neck.”
Tori looked even more unhappy at this. “So… err… how do I…?”
“Tori!” I snapped. “It’s an entirely mechanical thing. It doesn’t have a mind. It doesn’t have feelings. Killing it is like unplugging a kettle.”
“I’ve never killed anything before… I mean, bigger than an ant.”
I suddenly scooped up the seagull and fought to crack open its wings. Whilst we grappled, Tori was stepping around us uncertainly.
The bird’s great muscular head was swiping furiously back and forth like a pirate’s cutlass. Tori reached gingerly out to find its neck…
“I can’t,” she said simply.
I dropped the seagull. “I have an idea,” I realised.
The seagull scuttled away into the hall.
“A few months ago there was a supervisor at my work – the hospital cafeteria – who was a thoroughly unpleasant woman. She was adamant that every member of staff should carry a pen at all times, there were spot inspections, and anybody who was found not to have a pen was sent home or suspended. There were endless arguments. Finally, each of the staff put in five pounds, we hired a hitman – a Polish guy in Granton – and he shot her dead outside in the hospital car park.”
“You want to hire a hitman for this… bird?”
“It’s a bird! The guy will do it for nothing… probably a few pounds…”
“These days, you can get three years in prison for killing a bird.”
But I phoned the guy in Granton and he was up for the hit. The next morning, whilst James was at the shops, the hitman broke into the apartment and killed the bird with a single bullet to the head at point blank range. Upon discovering the body of his friend, James was heartbroken, but assuredly none the wiser.
[Tychy previously described a seagull attack here. Ed.]