“Wanna see my pigeons?” Mooney asked. We’d been standing around aimlessly on the football pitch. Neither of us had brought a football.
“Sure,” I said, shrugging. I’d never been invited to the flats before, and the birds made me curious.
The flats were three large rectangular blocks built by the city council. They looked like abandoned Lego pieces without colour. Not all the apartments were used – some had boarded up doors, others were scribbled on and cracked, and a few had smashed windows, which rather than being fixed, had planks of plywood wedged up against them. A few green, white and orange Irish flags hung limply across the windows, almost like posters.
Mooney lived in the last block. The pigeon coup stood directly across from his block, part of a series of narrow storage units separated by a small playground. Encasing the playground was a short fence, waist high, the gate locked with a small padlock. Inside was a gang of older teenagers, leaning against the remnants of a swinging frame and smoking. As we passed them, they gave Mooney a little nod. I cleared my nose and hawked some spit onto the ground. None of them seemed to notice, although Mooney arched his eyebrows at me, looking slightly amused.
The pigeon coop was about the size of my bathroom. The instant Mooney opened the door, the stench punched me in the face. I forced myself to take little breaths as I surveyed the scene – there must have been at least forty pigeons crammed in, filling every nook and cranny. The walls were lined with shelves for the birds, little compartments stuffed with hay. Most of them were smeared with white streaks of bird shit, and the floor was covered in feathers. The only light in the room entered from two small rectangular openings covered by a square grid of iron mesh. Many of the birds were squawking and flapping their wings, disturbed at our entrance.
“What do you do with them?” I shouted over the commotion, as a pigeon flew into my face.
“They’re carrier pigeons,” he replied, grabbing one of the more frantic ones and holding it upside down, proudly showing me the little yellow ring on its foot. “Each one has its own unique ID.”
I nodded, unconvinced.
“You let them out and they come back,” he added, shrugging his shoulders.
I looked around, skeptical any of them would return if given half a chance. “How often do you let them out?”
Mooney ignored the question. He moved towards the upper shelves, grabbing a pigeon by the legs and using it to hit another pigeon, which screeched in protest and disappeared into the hay. “Sometimes I find a dead one,” he explained, looking serious.
I moved into a less occupied corner and sat down on a large pallet of boxes while Mooney did his rounds. The boxes underneath me were covered in mostly dry bird shit, but you could just make out the packaging:
‘BLACK CAT LTD. MEGA-BANGERS – Explosives. Do not hold’.
I realised I was sitting on a large box of fireworks.
“You wanna pack?” Mooney called out, inspecting the wing of a particularly fat pigeon.
“Bangers. Sister sells ‘em. You wanna pack or not?”
Bangers were small sausage-shaped fireworks smuggled in from Northern Ireland. They came in packets of ten, although there were always a few duds. Besides throwing them at each other, Mooney and the lads at the football pitch would often stick them in plastic bottles, the explosion launching the bottle into the air and filling it with black smoke. Another favoured technique was to wedge them into large piles of dog shit. Sometimes they’d combine all three: fill a plastic bottle with dog shit, shove a banger inside, and throw that at each other.
“Um, I’m okay, thanks,” I replied, moving away from the explosives. As I moved into a new space in the opposite corner, I felt something clumpy and soft underneath my shoe. I looked down, giving the pigeon a little nudge with my foot. It stared back at me, motionless.
“I think I found a dead one.”
When Mooney didn’t answer, I looked up. He had moved away from the shelves, and was now standing in the centre of the coop, about two metres away. His tracksuit bottoms were around his knees, and he was slowly stroking his cock. It was still limp in his hand, allowing him to twist and pull it in different directions. He looked at me, raising his eyebrows and grinning.
“Wanna touch it?”
“No way!” I replied, unsure if it was some sort of joke. I looked outside the wire mesh openings, half expecting the teenagers to be outside laughing. I tried mumbling something again about the dead bird.
“Go on, put it in your mouth,” he implored, pulling back the foreskin. “Just the tip.” A pigeon flew by him and he whacked it with his free hand.
I shook my head, storming out of the coop and slamming the door shut. The fresh air provided immediate comfort. I filled my lungs with it. After a few moments, when Mooney didn’t follow, I peered in through one of the small openings. He was hunched over, masturbating furiously. It looked more like an ordeal rather than anything pleasurable. The pigeons, disturbed with all the movement, flapped around him, cooing incessantly.
I walked a few metres away and sat down on the ledge in front of the flats, waiting. He joined me after a few minutes.
“They’re good bangers, they are,” he said, after a while.
I pulled a tenner out of my pocket, and we walked around the flats for the rest of the afternoon, exploding things.
Samuel Meyler was born in Portugal and grew up in Ireland. He worked as a marine biologist for many years and holds a PhD in the intersection between art and science. He’s an enthusiastic reader of flash fiction and any artform that explores human behaviour.