I wasn't there, so I can't be sure

I don’t know, because I wasn’t there, but apparently there was an old man who had birds for hands.

He stood on the east corner of the Old Town Square and showed people for money. I hope he made enough to live on, because it sounds like tiring work.

He stood there with his hands under his coat and told people, Look, look, I have birds for hands. Come gather and I will show you. And they did, because not many people have birds for hands, not even in the Old Town Square; not even at that time of year, although it might be different in autumn.

I don’t know, because I wasn’t there.

When enough people had gathered and thrown coins into the wrinkled hat at his feet, he drew out his hands from his tattered coat sleeves. It was dusk, just when the lamps were lit on the corners and long shadows threw themselves onto the cobblestones. People leant forward, women held lace handkerchiefs at their throats and prepared to gasp. A dog poked his head into the circle and waited, head cocked to one side.

When the man drew his hands out and people saw only his fingers, the hisses began.

I think the dog ran away, but I can’t be sure.

But before they could reach for their coins and spit on his shoes, he made the birds appear.

A wing came first, rising slowly. And the people stopped with their hands outstretched towards their coins. They stopped, and they watched the wings rise, heads turning as the feathers formed.

The man drew his hands together.

He clasped thumb around thumb.

He hooked them and held them high.

The lamp light fell and the shadow of his birds rose, dark against the bricks. The feathers grew and grew as the shadow loomed large above them, until his birds took up the entire wall of the Town Hall and even the dog looked back over his shoulder, and whimpered.

The crowd was so focused on the enormous shadow wings above them that they didn’t notice the talons opening. And in one fluid moment, each and every bystander was snatched between the claws and lifted, their feet dangling above the cobblestones.

The man with birds for hands stood in the Old Town Square, and watched them soar into the dusk of the evening sky.

Two shoes fell, and one person kicked a brick loose from a smoke streaked chimney.

The dog got away, which is nice, when you think about it.

The man with birds for hands kept sight until their shadows dipped behind the spire of the Mikuláše church.

And then he slowly dropped his hands to his sides.

He bent, picked up the hat, and folded the brim over to the keep the coins warm. He turned his face from the spire, and slipped the hat inside his coat.

And the man with birds for hands walked slowly out of the Old Town Square.

I don’t think he looked back, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t be sure.

I wasn't there, so I can't be sure


Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

I think I’ve been reading too much Kafka.

If there is such a thing.

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