by Noemi Szadeczky-Kardoss
The Pigeon and the Little Parrot
The pigeon lived in the city. Every day, when the sun came up, he would be thinking that maybe that would be the day when he would die of hunger. And every winter evening, when the sun went down, he would be afraid that on that night he would freeze to death. He had nothing but his freedom to enjoy in his life.
One day, out of curiosity, the pigeon flew into a room through a window somebody had left open. The family who lived in that apartment was nice to him and wanted him to stay. They put him in the big golden cage where their little parrot lived.
The little parrot was happy to have a new friend. She asked the pigeon to stay with her. The pigeon said he would stay only for a year. He knew he was strong enough to open the door of the cage, so he could leave any time he wanted. The little parrot didn’t understand why would the pigeon ever want to leave that nice cage, but she was glad to hear that her friend would stay for a whole year.
But, after a couple of months had passed, the pigeon wanted to leave. ‘I’m going back home,’ said the pigeon to the little parrot. ‘Why?’ asked the little parrot. ‘Don’t you like this golden cage? Don’t you like all the colorful, tasty food we have?’ ‘I like it,’ said the pigeon. ‘But I miss my home.’ ‘I don’t understand you,’ said the little parrot. ‘I know you don’t,’ the pigeon replied. ‘But you can come with me if you want to. Maybe then you would understand.’
The little parrot didn’t stop to think. She wanted to go. So the pigeon opened the door, and the two of them flew out of the window.
It was a cold winter day. The little parrot was shivering, and she was hungry, too. She asked the pigeon to show the way to his home. The pigeon then flew up to the top of a tall building, and walked to a little nest that was made of dirty newspapers and dry twigs. The pigeon sat in his nest, and the little parrot sat next to him. She was still very cold and hungry. The pigeon told her they would look for some food in the morning. And, seeing that the little parrot was so cold she was shaking, he streched out his wing and covered her to keep her warm.
The little parrot lived in the city for two days. Then she told the pigeon she wanted to go home.
‘But I will be back,’ she told the pigeon. ‘I want to stay friends with you. I go home for ten days, and then I come back to you.’ ‘All right,’ said the pigeon. ‘You know where I live, you will find me. I will miss you while you will be gone.’
The little parrot was happy, and flew home. She knocked on the window-pane and her family let her in. They were overjoyed that she had gone back. They fed her with her favorite food and made her nest the way she liked it. The little parrot loved her home. But she missed her friend, the pigeon. So, after ten days, as she had promised, she flew back to his nest. The pigeon was there, but he didn’t say anything to the little parrot.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked the little parrot. ‘I don’t want to be your friend anymore,’ said the pigeon. ‘But why?’ ‘I’ve been thinking while you’ve been away and realized we couldn’t be friends,’ the pigeon told her. ‘I don’t understand you,’ said the little parrot. ‘I know you don’t,’ said the pigeon. ‘You never will. Now go back home where you belong.’
And with that, he flew away.
We used to sleep in the same bed, but we never had the same dreams. One night I woke up to a horrifying scream. I asked him what was wrong. He said he was okay; he just had a nightmare.
His name was Phil, and he was different from everybody else I’ve ever met. His life-story is a sad novel. A novel that is unsuitable for kids, because it includes a lot of horror elements. He asked me not to tell anybody about it. So I won’t. One day he told me that I was the first person whom he had told so much about his past. He didn’t reveal that many details even to his last girlfriend. I know that is because I wasn’t asking. Others, when they learned that he had no family, and no mom and dad to be proud of, became curious and started questioning him. But I knew that the less I ask, the more he would tell, like the squirrel that runs and hides if you chase him, but comes to you if you stand still with food in your hand.
Early in the semester, I started working in the dining hall of the college. Most of the time, my job was to make tacos. Phil didn’t like tacos. But whenever he came in to eat, and saw me standing at the taco bar, doing nothing, he came up to me to talk, so that I didn’t get bored. He always ate early when there were not many people, because he preferred eating alone. That is, if I wasn’t there. If I was working, sometimes he ate his whole meal standing at the counter, talking to me. But he always quickly disappeared when somebody came to ask for tacos.
Every night I would go back to my room after work, and I would see the orange light blinking on my phone, showing that I had a message. I always knew it was Phil, saying that he hoped I wasn’t too tired and wanted to see him that night. I listened to the message and then called him. We told each other what had happened to us between the time we last talked (a couple of hours ago) and that moment, then I told him I would take a shower, change, and go over to him. He had a single room. We spent our nights chatting away, living on three or four hours of sleep.
After he had started seeing Caroline, all he talked about was her. He told me everything they did together, where they went, what they talked about. I first saw her when one evening I went over to Phil and she was there. I talked to Phil on the phone before that, but he ‘forgot’ to mention that he was with his girlfriend. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have gone, of course. Seeing me, Caroline said she had to go and hurriedly left the house.
One October night we were walking home from the pub. He asked me to stay over that night so that we could talk some more. I told him I would gladly do that, but I needed to stop at my house to pick up a blanket. With the blanket, we went on to his house. I decided to sleep on the couch. Phil sat next to me and we talked some more before he went to bed, but not much. Anyway, that was enough time for him to make me say, yes, I was actually a little bit jealous of Caroline.
The next morning he woke me up with a smile. He had an early class, and I accompanied him to the classroom. When his professor arrived, we said good-bye to each other and agreed to meet in the dining hall later on where I was working all day that day.
I waited for him, but he never came. After work, I went home, and found my room dark, with no orange light blinking in the darkness. I dialed his number. The DND was on. I left him a message, but he never called me back.
Days passed, and I didn’t see him anywhere. Then one day I was working in the dining hall again, and I saw him. He was alone. I knew that he had noticed me, but he didn’t come to me. I wished somebody had told me what was going on.
A few days later somebody did tell me. At last I went over to Phil’s house, because I had to find out what was wrong. I didn’t find him there, but a girl who lives next door told me he didn’t want to see me. I asked her why. She said because I was an untruthful friend who wanted him to leave his girlfriend.
I went home and cried. For the following week, I could hardly function. I couldn’t study, I couldn’t work, and I could hardly eat or sleep. I spent my nights in the computer lab, talking to strangers through the Internet, and reading stories that had a happy ending. When the sun came up, I went back to my room, slept for one or two hours, and then went to my classes. During my classes, I slept some more. After I started seeing things due to the lack of sleep, I decided to send Phil an email. I wrote only three words: ‘I miss you.’ The brief answer came very soon: ‘So do I.’
A New Beginning
After that, we met and talked over everything. He told me he had left Caroline, so we didn’t have to talk about that anymore. He also said that he missed me very much all the time. Everything came back to normal. The orange light would blink every night again when I went back to my room.
One night, around 1:30am, we were in Phil’s room, sitting on his bed, talking. From time to time, I yawned. He asked me if I wanted to go home, and I said yes. He said that if I had wanted to, I could come back later in pajamas, with a blanket, and sleep over.
When I went back, Phil had already made his bed. I headed for the couch, but he said I could sleep in his bed. I asked him where would he sleep then. He said, next to me, of course. So we climbed into his bed.
‘Wow, I can’t believe we sleep in the same bed,’ Phil said, laughing.
I thought to myself,’Well, it is weird, but it was your idea, not mine.’ But I only said, ‘Why not?’
After that, for a few days, I slept over at Phil every night. We were talking and laughing until dawn, then we fell asleep, and woke up a few hours later to go for an early breakfast together. I asked him to tell me when he wanted to sleep alone in his bed again, and he assured me he would say so if he had wanted that.
We always knew about the other during the day, because we left phone messages in every few hours to let each other know what we were doing. We met in the dining hall at every meal, then walked to Wal-Mart or Safeway to do our shopping. If the weather was nice, and we didn’t feel like going to a class, we just went for a walk. On weekends, we took the shuttle and went to a mall to see a movie or just to hang out.
It happened so suddenly when he told me on the way to Wal-Mart that he loved me. I, as if the words didn’t have any special meaning, said I loved him too, and then changed the subject.
Any Plans for New Year’s Eve 1999?
One day, close to the end of the semester, we were having breakfast in the dining hall when he told me he didn’t know how he would survive one whole month without me. I asked him why would he have to do that. He said because I was going home for the semester break. I told him no, I wasn’t, I was going home only for ten days in January, and I would spend Christmas and New Year’s in the States.
He got very excited when he heard that. He was staying here as well, of course, because he has no family that would wait for him at Christmas. He asked me what did I want to do at Christmas. I said just to go for a walk on Christmas Eve to see the decorations lit up on the houses, and then go to church. He said that was a good idea and asked me what I wanted to do for New Year’s. I said I didn’t know.
‘How about going to New York?’ he asked.
‘Are you serious?’ What I heard just sounded too good to be true.
‘Of course I am,’ he said, and smiled at me.
It was the night before the morning we left for New York. We were in Phil’s house, and Britney Spears was on the radio. Phil is mad about her. He asked me if I did mind that he was listening to the same song again and again. I told him no, I did the same thing when I liked a song very much. So we listened to ‘I Was Born To Make You Happy’ ten times in a row.
A girl was coming to pick us up early in the morning and drive us to Baltimore where we would take a train to New York. Needless to say, we couldn’t find an empty hotel room in New York City on the New Year’s Eve of 1999. We knew that we wouldn’t have a place to stay for two nights. I can’t explain why, but I wasn’t afraid of anything. I knew that Phil would be with me, and that made me feel safe. Plus, we had a pepper spray and a 130dB personal alarm in case of an emergency.
We went to bed early that night like an old couple. It was perfectly natural that I would sleep at his place. It was cold, and my feet were like ice. I told Phil. He took my feet in between his feet, and held them until they got warm.
The next day was December 31st, 1999. After we got on the train in Baltimore, found two empty seats next to each other and sat down, we finally realized what we were really doing. I was so excited and happy that I wanted to scream, but it was Phil who was better at expressing how he felt. He gave me a big kiss on my cheek.
From Baltimore, we reached New York in two and a half hours. Our train took us right into the middle of Manhattan. After we had arrived, we had lunch at the station, then went to check out Times Square. We saw the ball on top of the Times Building, and the big stage where the celebration was being prepared for the evening. On the billboards, we could read the most important events of the century. Plus we saw police officers everywhere, starting to barricade Times Square.
We had to decide what to do: Stay there until the evening, see everything up close, but freeze to death, or leave, go for a walk, come back later, but maybe not to see everything.
We did the latter and we didn’t regret it. We arrived back around 6:45pm. By then, millions of people were on Times Square, and thousands of police officers. Sometimes I heard Hungarians speaking in the crowd. Then I told Phil to take a look at my fellow countrymen.
We couldn’t get to Times Square anymore. Phil said if we wanted to see something, we would have to move faster than the crowd. He grabbed my hand.
‘Don’t let go, no matter what happens,’ he told me. ‘Let’s run.’
Before I could say anything, he was dragging me after him. There were as many people around us as trees in the woods. We had to avoid hitting them. I started laughing. All this hustle just to see a ball dropping and some fireworks? Oh well, it was the last day of 1999.
Finally, we stopped a few blocks from Times Square and watched the stage and the celebration on a big screen. The countdown appeared on the screen in every hour, so that we had something to wait for.
We were standing in the cold only for five hours (some people spent the whole day there), but by midnight, we were so cold that we couldn’t stop shaking. I was rubbing his back, then he was rubbing my back, but nothing could help anymore. We couldn’t feel our feet, and our teeth were chattering.
Ten minutes before midnight, the police officers put on helmets, fearing some shooting and bombing. They received more terrorist threats against Times Square in the previous few days, than ever before. Everybody was about to start panicking.
But 2000 arrived in a second, and nothing happened. Fireworks were shot up from Times Square, and that we could see even from where we were standing. Everybody was relieved, shouting happy New Year, and hugging each other. The police officers shook hands. I gave Phil a hug.
I had imagined that moment countless times before: the second when midnight would strike on the last day of 1999. I thought I would be at home with my family in front of the TV, or with my boyfriend and our friends in a loud party. And I was only dreaming about spending this time in New York City. But there I was. With a boy I had known for just a few months.
Now We Have to Survive
Since we were frozen, it was kind of hard for us to leave our place when the crowd started moving. But we had no choice, if we didn’t want to die there. So we started following the others.
We were all limping. The trash reached up to our ankles: cans, plastic cups, confetti, and things like this. Everybody was looking for an open cafe where they could drink something hot to keep them alive. Phil and I were looking for the same thing.
We went in the first place where we could somehow squeeze in. We sat down and held our hot cups in our frozen hands until they got a bit warmer.
After we had finished our drinks, we had to face the fact that we had no place to stay for the night. But it was obvious that we were not alone.
We decided to go back to Penn Station where we arrived with the train. We went back, settled under a pillar, and while one of us slept for an hour, the other was keeping an eye on our one and only bag.
There were many other people around us, lying on the floor like us, recovering from New Year’s Eve. I was so exhausted that nothing could surprise me. At one point, two police officers thrust a man against the pillar under which we were sitting. One of them yelled at him so that he let himself be searched through. I was just sitting there, staring up at the suspicious man, and barely knew what was going on.
But around 4am, we started to get so cold again that we couldn’t sleep any longer. We cuddled up to each other to keep warm and started thinking about what to do. Suddenly two guys sat down next to us on the floor. One of them was completely drunk. He put his coat on me, which helped a lot. I got warmer.
The other one was sober and started chatting with Phil. I preferred sleeping. Then the boys took a train and took the coat with them. I started chattering again.
We concluded that the only thing that could keep us alive was moving, so we decided to walk back to Times Square. The crowd had already left by then, and we could see the huge 2000 lit up on top of the Times Building. It was beautiful.
It was January 1st, 2000, and I was playing the homeless in NYC.
Phil suggested going to another station, hoping that there would be warmer. In that moment, this idea sounded completely logical and self-explanatory. Sure, if one railroad station is too cold, let’s move to another! But later, every time we thought of ourselves moving from one station to another in the middle of the night in NYC, we couldn’t help laughing at ourselves.
The other station where we moved to was nothing else but the famous Grand Central, New York’s biggest station. It was warmer, and we could get a good night’s sleep there, together with our companions in distress, other homeless people. Of course, they were only temporarily homeless like us, due to the overbooked hotels on New Year’s Day.
In the morning, we woke up to see two reporters from NBC setting up a large camera not far from us, then one of them taking pictures of us. Later we heard the reporter reading the morning news to the camera: ‘It’s January 1st, 2000, and here in Grand Central, people are recovering from last night’s New Year’s Eve celebration…’
After this, we struggled up to our feet, and went to look for some food. We stepped out in the cold, misty streets.
New Year’s Day 2000
The tops of the skyscrapers were covered in white fog, and the streets were empty and silent. We were cold again, so we started jogging. That helped us to warm up in no time. Then we were laughing at ourselves again, thinking of how fit we were, even starting New Year’s Day with jogging, when every sane person is at home, sleeping in a warm bed!
After we found a place to eat, we had breakfast, and discussed where we would go and what we would see that day. It wasn’t hard to find the Empire State Building, since it was towering above us and we could see it from almost everywhere. We didn’t go closer, we just looked up at it from time to time, and we were happy to see that it was there.
After sunrise, it got a bit warmer. We walked to Rockefeller Center to see the world’s biggest Christmas tree, the white angels with their golden trumpets, and the skaters under the tree. Just when we arrived there, the song they were playing at the ice-rink was ‘I Was Born To Make You Happy.’
Phil and I looked at each other, and we smiled. I was thinking that I could probably not do this crazy trip with anybody but him.
Then we were just walking around everywhere. We went in some souvenir shops. When we got too tired to walk, we took the subway. We ate a lot of bagels. We walked along a part of Broadway, too. Night quickly arrived, being winter. Hard times for homeless tramps like us!
Stay Warm, Stay Alive
It got very cold again, and the streets were dark and scary. Weird people walked by us. We took the pepper spray and the alarm from the bag, and holding those, shivering from the cold, we went on.
We wanted to see the Twin Towers at night, because they’re an extraordinary sight with their windows lit up. And we wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, too, even if only from the distance, because we both like it very much.
The statue was only a small green spot with a tiny yellow point on the top, but we were staring at it for half an hour. We were at the subway station at the port, where the statue can be seen from an open terrace. Many other people were standing there, staring at the statue like us. Of course, I don’t know if they liked the statue that much, or if they were simply frozen.
To warm up a little bit, we went in one of the Twin Towers and laid down on the carpet in a corner. We were not a striking sight there, because a few other tourists were already resting the same way.
It was so nice, lying on the soft carpet in the warmth! Above us, there were enormous glass windows decorated with thousands of Christmas tree lights, and the other tower of the World Trade Center was looking at us through the window.
If it had been up to us, we would have never gone anywhere from there. But, the World Trade Center is not a shelter for homeless tramps, it is closed for the night, so after we gained back some strength, we left.
We took the subway and went back to Penn Station. That is where we arrived at on Friday, and our train left from there on Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t New Year’s Eve any more. Real tramps were loitering at the station. We were not sure that the police would be so understanding towards us as the previous night, so we asked an officer if we could stay. He said of course, the waiting room was open for the whole night.
Yes, but the waiting room was ice-cold. We preferred sitting down at the wall again. But there we didn’t have a peaceful minute, because somebody always passed us and couldn’t stand not to say something to us.
Tramps came up to us and started telling us their life-story. One of them asked if we were high and whether we had some drugs. We then realized that we must have been in a real bad shape.
Finally, a police officer came and asked us to go to the waiting room. We had no choice.
There were a lot of people in the waiting room, many of them sleeping in the chairs with their heads drooped, some of them snoring in sleeping bags, lying on the floor.
We couldn’t sleep in the chairs, and we had no sleeping bags. We laid down on the floor, rested our heads on our bag, and tried to keep each other warm. But the floor was terribly cold. I think at the end I could only fall asleep because I was more sleepy than cold.
When I woke up in the morning, I was so cold as never in my life. Phil was asleep. I didn’t know what to do. I was cold, but I couldn’t move to do something about it.
When Phil finally woke up, he told me how dead asleep I had been at night. He said that after a while he was so cold that he seriously believed he would die right there. He tried to wake me up. He was shaking me and saying my name, but I didn’t move.
Normally, I’m never deep asleep, and I wake up to the smallest noise. I think I was really dead for a while that night if it was impossible to wake me up.
On the Last Day, We’re Still Breathing
Phil also told me what had saved his life the night before, and told me to do the same thing. He went to the bathroom and stood under the hot air of the hand dryer to warm up.
So we went to the bathroom to warm up. We must have been a pathetic and funny sight, stretching our frozen fingers under the hot air. Then we had breakfast at the station. We still had several hours left to spend in New York, and we didn’t want to waste a minute. I suggested going to the UN Building.
The situation was not very promising there. Being Sunday, the flags were not out, and the UN Plaza was closed.
But suddenly a little, hungry squirrel showed up and turned the UN Plaza into an interesting place. The squirrel was sitting on the fence, and when he saw us coming, he became alert. I had a box of corn chips in the bag, and I gave one piece to the squirrel. He took the food from my hand.
After we had fed the squirrel, we continued our walk. We went to the bank of the East River to see the bridges. Then we went on, aimlessly wandering, but surprisingly, it didn’t take a long time until something interesting happened again.
We turned in a street that happened to be East 52nd Street. We were walking, and then suddenly I saw a big red-white-green flag on a building. I told Phil that something looked quite like a Hungarian flag there, of course only if it was not Italian. But as we got closer, it became obvious that it was indeed Hungarian. We found the Consulate of the Hungarian Republic in New York City by chance.
After this, we had some pizza for lunch, and then took a subway back to Penn Station. Our train left at 4pm, and we had time to buy some gifts before that. We looked around in the Macy’s that is next to Penn Station.
After we got on the train, our only problem left was to try to stay awake and get off in Baltimore. That was unbelievably hard, but we managed to do it. Our friend who took us to Baltimore two days before was waiting for us and took us back to Westminster.
While the Parrot was Away
I thought that after we had shared all these special times with Phil, we would stay friends forever. But upon returning from Hungary for the Spring Term, I found Phil in the not-talking mood again. I asked him what was wrong. He said that while I had been away, he had been thinking, and had realized he could never forgive me what I had done last fall.
He didn’t want any friends, he told me, not me, or anybody else. He said he didn’t trust anybody in this world. I told him the only thing I ever wanted was to make him happy. But he didn’t believe me. He still believes that I wanted him to leave Caroline.
This semester, I go to bed early. I go to all of my classes, and I work hard. When I have to clean the tables in the dining room, I always carefully wipe off ‘Phil’s table,’ the one where he always eats alone. Then I lift the salt and pepper shakers to see if they needed to be replaced.