Yesterday, a man twice my age and half my height, stopped to look at my feet.
“I don’t usually walk around without shoes. I lost them trying to save a seagull.” I said.
“You couldn’t save the shoes?” He asked.
I shrugged. “They were cheap.”
“You have beautiful feet.”
That’s what he said. And then he walked off, loaded down by his groceries and about eighty five years of life. It made me wonder what strange events he had witnessed in that life, and how many other bare foot women he had stopped to flirt with.
I don’t usually walk around bare foot. I’m scared of hypodermic needles, and dog poo. According to urbananimal.net over 40% of the 7.5 million households in Australia own a dog. That’s a lot of dogs. And not all of their owners carry around those little disposable plastic poo bags. Admittedly some of the dogs carry their own in those cute bone shaped containers hanging from their collar. But I have no evidence that any of them have been taught how to open the container, take out the little plastic bag and pick up their poo. There are also no accurate statistics on how many hyper dermic needles there are lying around, but I’m not taking any chances. I really don’t understand why any one would walk around barefoot. Unless they’ve lost their shoes. Maybe everyone I’ve ever seen walking around barefoot has actually lost their shoes.
Before I lost my shoes I was walking along the esplanade. The tide was very low and so instead of pretty little waves lapping at the edges of the sand there were about 50 meters of dank smelling mud flats. A fisherman had staked out four fishing rods in an even line parallel to the path. He was nowhere in sight but there was a whole colony of seagulls diving, swooping and squawking around the lines. As seagulls do.
What is it about seagulls? They have these beautiful little faces with bright orange beaks that elegantly offset the grey and white nautical theme. They can balance on one long orange leg while the other one completely disappears into the feathers under their belly. But then all this natural grace is completely lost at the smallest prospect of a chip. They shriek and squawk, viciously flapping their wings and arching their necks until they seem twice their original size. And that’s how they eventually force their rivals to flat foot it away. Aggression is their major mode of communication. And yet they keep coming back together. You see them late at night on the sand, clumped close, each perfectly formed seagull head twisted strangely back into itself, quietly asleep. How does each fierce little individual instinctively know that its chances of survival are far better when clustered close to identical others; particularly if it’s managed to elbow its way to the very middle, and pushed the weaker ones out to the edge?
On the mudflats the seagulls were flapping their wings aggressively at each other. I couldn’t tell what it was about. Then I noticed that one of them was behaving a little differently, thrashing about like it was having an epileptic fit. And then I realised that it was caught in one of the fishing lines, and in its struggle to free itself, was winding itself up ever more tightly.
It flashed through my mind, that I should just walk away. What did this seagull’s life have to do with me? It would free itself. Or the fisherman would come back and undo the line. Or the poor writhing thing would slowly drown in the mud.
So I climbed over the rocks and started to walk out across the mudflats. Except that you don’t actually walk across mudflats. Each step that you take sinks you closer and closer towards the molten core of the earth. Suddenly I was in a drunken dream wearing lead boots; the more I tried to pull my feet out, the further I sank into the mud. I wondered if anybody would ever walk down the esplanade again, and if they did would they notice, next to the dead bird, the human hand sticking strangely out of the mud.
When I finally got to the bird, it was in a mad panic, trussed up tightly in the fishing line. I grabbed the line with one hand, and tried to grab the bird with the other. It squawked and snapped. Its red rimmed eyes were wild with fear, and something else. Was that loathing? I was knee deep in mud, trying to save its life, while its dumb friends dive bombed me and I was the enemy?
I read somewhere that the basic training for paramedics involves ensuring their own safety before they rescue others. Obviously I haven’t had that basic training. I should have put my hands in my pockets and counted to ten before setting out on this rescue mission. I decided to step back and give us both a moment to think. The bird declined the opportunity and continued to squawk and bite as I tried to move away. I decided to take off my shoes. Perhaps that would slow the sinking. As I was struggling with this usually simple task I realised I was no longer alone. A woman now stood next to me in the mud. She was barefoot and holding a pair of scissors. She had thought about the obvious before recklessly jumping in to save a seagull’s life.
She nodded and handed me the scissors, then took hold of the feathered torso with one hand and let the orange beak clamp onto the index finger of her other hand. She spoke gently to the writhing, squawking creature.
“I know you want to bite me, go ahead, bite away, but it won’t do you any good.”
She instructed me to carefully lift one of the seagull’s wings and cut away the line. I was very nervous. The last time I’d got this intimate with a bird was to tear the drumstick off a roast chicken. When I was done the woman released the bird. It glared at us sharply before flopping awkwardly away through the mud. When it reached the water’s edge, it took its time washing itself clean, gave us one more dirty look and then flew off.
I don’t think that seagull was aware that it had just been rescued. Is it sitting on a beach now telling its mates about the attack? It might go something like this: “The other day I got caught in this fishing line. I was almost free when these humans came along and grabbed me and tried to stab me with this huge knife thing. But I fought them. I beat them with my wings. I swiped them with my beak. I even got one of their fingers right down my throat. Drew blood! That scared them. And I was squawking pretty loudly. They backed right off. Then I flew up really high, circled a couple of times before dive bombing. I showed them. Hey! Hey! That’s my chip! Hey! Hey! I saw it first! Back off! Rahhh! Rahhh! Rahhh! Squawk! Squawk! Squawk!
You can imagine the rest of the scene.
And so that’s how I came to be barefoot and covered in mud and to have my feet complimented by an old man. I was nearly home by the time I passed him. The journey was mostly behind me. It had been rough going in parts, with shattered glass and sharp stones to contend with. But on the whole it had been surprisingly easy. My senses were heightened; my adventure with a muddy seagull had left me strangely elated. And then, as I turned the last corner, just before my driveway, I saw the police cars and the ambulance. A four wheel drive had leapt the kerb and crumpled against my neighbour’s stone fence. I thought I’d been out saving a seagull, but perhaps it was the seagull that had saved me.