Field Notes: A Falcon on the Underground

falcon

Budapest, 2014. I was coming home from teaching, early evening. It was March, a faint warmth rising beneath the wind. I was taking the blue line one stop to Deak Ter, where I would change to the red. I stood near the sliding doors, waiting to hop out. The fluorescent lights and peeling blue paint gave the metal car a Soviet sheen. I braced myself, watching the platform slide away. And then, I don’t know why, but I turned my head.

Next to me stood a short, stocky man, wearing jeans and an old pullover. He was bald, with a five o’clock shadow on his round cheeks. His left arm was held stiffly out, elbow bent. On his forearm, perched without hood or restraint, was a falcon.

I didn’t move. The man walked slowly around me from behind, reappearing on my right side. I stayed still. I have always had an unaccountable but real terror of large birds. Even crows and pigeons stir an inner discomfort. Fear – and a secret respect. When I was fourteen, a gray crow ran its talons through my hair as it flew from a tree in Israel. I’ve always considered that to be a strange blessing.

The falcon and I were almost touching. All I had to do was lift my hand, and extend it a few inches to stroke its deep brown feathers. I controlled myself. God knows what the bird would do – though it was perfectly calm despite the crowds and juddering train. I looked into its clear gold eyes. The lenses twitched, taking everything in.

A bizarre thought struck me – that the bird’s eyes were filling the captured space around me with a wild light.

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