Falcon boy

The morning humdrum of upper Broadway on a cold, crispy November morning. People rushing off to work, nagging kids being dragged to Trinity school by bemused nannies, newspaper sellers hopping on the sidewalk to keep warm, smell of coffee and fresh bagels from street carts luring passers-by still struggling to shake off the last cobwebs of sleep.

I join the river of human robots heading towards the hole in the ground waiting to suck us into the underground maze of trains. Our flow is stymied by a throng of our brethren being disgorged by the 96th Street station in the opposite direction. They climb out and pass, we stand at the mouth of the staircase, waiting to descend. No words, no greetings, no eye contacts are exchanged. We are nothing to each other but a slightly annoying distraction in our tubular journey from A to B.

And just as I am to be swallowed by the subway, a kid from the opposite column stops dead in his tracks, breaking the flow of people around him in two, like a small rock in a shallow stream. He can’t be more than eight, dressed in hip-hop style, “LA Dodgers” cap, the school bag on his back clearly too big for his frame. He stands seemingly oblivious to the rush around him, his eyes glued to something above us, in the sky. He squints to sharpen focus and as he does, a look of wonder and excitement washes over his face. I am drawn in; my eyes follow the line of his gaze upwards, above the sunlit tops of Upper West Side buildings, to the metallic blue sky and the fading Moon, already half-eaten by the Sun’s advance. What is he looking at? The Moon? What so special about… And then I see it.

To the right of the Moon’s disappearing orb there is a bird. Its wings spread wide, it appears completely motionless, as if somehow affixed to the blue background. The only noticeable movement comes from quick turns of its head, as it scans the landscape below. A Peregrine Falcon, Falcus Peregrine, the majestic New York native.

It hovers with spread out grayish-white speckled underwings in absolute synergy with the air current, allowing for the stealthy, stationary presence above us all. I am hypnotized by the sight. But, what attracted it here? Should it not be closer to Central Park, hunting for squirrels and small birds? My question is answered as its prey emerges from the direction of Riverside Park in the form of a small flock of pigeons. They fly incoherently, perhaps looking for a warm roof to soak up the sun, unable to agree on the best spot.

The falcon strikes. Two swift wing movements propel it downwards. It draws the wings in, turning itself into a gray mass hurling at lightning speed towards the center of the unsuspecting flock. The impact is vicious, almost audible, the targeted pigeon disappearing in a small cloud of bluish feathers. The flock disperses as the hunter flaps towards a fire escape of an adjacent building, the prey’s struggle faint in its claws. As it is about to land, it changes its mind and ascends. It turns the corner and disappears from our view.

It all happens in a flash. I turn to the boy, our mouths still gaping with ecstatic astonishment at the surreality of the brutal encounter we just witnessed. Although neither of us speaks we both know it is not only the spectacle that moved us, something was stirred very deep within by what we saw. This feeling of elation was born out of the sense of participation, not merely observation. I want to hug him, thank him for making me aware. But I don’t.
“How did you notice it? Why did you look up?” I ask instead.
“I look at everything,” he smiles while adjusting the huge rucksack on his back, suddenly realizing he’ll be late for school. “Because everything looks at me.”

He walks off, waving at me. I can’t help but smile even as a burly man in a gray suit bumps into me on his way down. “Man, what the fuck is wrong with you, standing there like a fool!” I mutter an apology and follow him underground. But not before I steal one last glance at the piece of blue sky where the drama of life just played out in the most spectacular of ways. The Moon was still there, although almost completely faded.

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