“The sign couldn’t be more clear now, could it?”
The officer had a point. Oscar knew better than to talk back to a city cop and had carefully handed over his identification when asked. By this time, he could follow the whole procedure just through muscle memory, careful never to move too suddenly.
At least this cop kept his voice even when he spoke, and his shoulders slumped with a weariness about the world. Oscar assumed the hefty man thought he had better things to do than issue a fifty-dollar ticket to an equally calm middle-aged man reading on a park bench.
Still, all of the pigeons had instinctively known something wasn’t right. Once the cop first drew close, they flew off in all directions like a gang of underage drinkers fleeing a busted party. Leaving Oscar literally holding the bag, and an incriminating pile of seeds on the ground.
“Well, here you go,” the officer said, ripping the top copy of the citation from his rectangular pad and handing over the white paper. “Next time, read the sign.”
The white sign told Oscar not to feed the pigeons, lest he incur a fine and possible jail time, and helpfully featured an illustration of a crossed-out red circle over a hand offering breadcrumbs to a badly rendered bird.
Oscar collected his canvas bag of books and what remained of the seeds, leaving what was already on the ground there in case the birds came back.
When he got home, Oscar shoved the ticket into the top drawer of the kitchen cabinet, already overstuffed with similar notices and the late-payment letters the police sent after two weeks. He’d accumulated so many that their corners crumpled from getting stuck in the drawer as it closed.
Eventually, he knew the city would come after him for the thousands of dollars in back tickets. But winter was fast approaching, and he had no intention of being around by then. To his mind, if he got to fly south like all the other birds, he could at least leave those who stayed behind with full bellies.