Back when I was living up in Harlem, there was this old lady who lived in our building, up on the 14th floor. Right below the roof. And we lived on the 12th floor, but this was one of these older buildings that didn’t have a 13th floor, so we were like right below her in the apartment right under her apartment and we could hear everything she did up there because the floors were so damn thin in this old ass place.
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And this old lady would get up every morning at five thirty, without fail, for years, and we could hear the door open and close and the damn thing would wake me up sometimes if I wasn’t sleeping good or if I had come home late. As early as I can remember, that old lady, every day, weekdays, weekends all the time would get up so damn early, and one day when I was about 13 or so, I got up early and went upstairs and waited in her hallway, standing were she couldn’t see me and I followed behind her, and she was carrying this big ass brown bag, and I was thinking what the hell is this old lady carrying around this heavy ass bag so early in the morning?
But she doesn’t get in the elevator, and I follow her up to the roof, and she had these two big ass coops up there, made of chicken wire and wood, and there was hundreds of pigeons, flying rats, all different colors, big ones, baby ones, everything, and they were all sleeping in their cages when she was walking up the steps, but as soon as she got close they all started moving and like all at once they fly out of the coops and there’s this huge flush of air and all the pigeons fly up and there’s all these feathers and crap flying everywhere, and the birds all flock together and circle round the building like three or four times and come back to sit along the brick edge of the roof.
Then she reached into her brown bag and she threw handfuls of birdseed onto the roof deck and all the birds hopped off the ledge and flocked to the where seeds landed. She was talking to ‘em and they were landing on her arms and shoulders, it was amazing man. The sun was coming up over the city in the east and it was all orange in the sky and you could see like straight out to Jersey from up there, but I didn’t want to bother her, you know, and I just stood there at the bottom of the steps watching her and the pigeons.
I don’t think she ever saw me, it was like, this was her moment, and I knew I couldn’t, I didn’t want to take it from her, it was so personal. My momma told me that lady used to live with her three sons, and that their dad ran off and wasn’t around. She said they were all about ten years older than me. And that they all went to my high school. But I don’t know if she was just telling me that to make a point or something, cuz she said that they all started skippin school and kickin it with some of the O-G’s who ran shit on our block back then, and that two of em got shot up, dead, the other one of em got locked up for life for taking down the guy who killed his brothers.
My momma told me that old lady up there aint got nobody anymore but her and her pigeons. Her boys were gone and she didn’t have no one to look after and nobody to take care of her, so those pigeons were her only family. And one day man, I don’t know how long it was after I followed her up there, I noticed that the floor above our apartment went silent, there wasn’t anymore sounds coming from upstairs. I don’t know how long it had been, but it wasn’t gradual or nothing, just one day, there was no noise, and then a week went by and we still didn’t hear nothing up there.
So I go up to the roof again, one weekend real early in the morning when she would have been up there, and it was all gone. The pigeons, the coops, the pigeon crap everywhere, everything, vanished. It was like it all got blown away by the wind and the roof was totally empty. Washed away, like it was just a dream. That messed me up something awful man. But more than anything else in my life, more than all the fucked up shit I saw when I was coming up on the streets and no matter what my momma could say to me, that shit kept me straight, thinkin’ of that old lady up there with her pigeons, I didn’t want my momma to end up like that. With nobody, all alone, and then, gone.