Hugo Alexander

and the Pigeons

 

By John James Carty

 

 

 

Hugo Alexander was in Jericho, Antioquia, for the weekend. On the Saturday morning he went with his mother to the town square in front of the cathedral to throw corn to the pigeons in the square.

The pigeons ate up all the corn very quickly as he watched them. When they had finished eating they all turned to look at Hugo Alexander, bobbing their heads politely.

‘Thank you very much for the food, little boy,’ said the biggest pigeon. Hugo Alexander lifted his hands, which were empty now that all the corn had gone, and said,

‘You’re welcome.’

The big pigeon came closer to Hugo Alexander,

‘My name is Barney,’ he said, ‘can you fly?’ Hugo Alexander shook his head, no.

‘But I can run,’ he answered, ‘like this!’ and he ran very fast into the flock of pigeons walking around the square. They flew away quickly. Except for Barney. He looked at Hugo,

‘Well, would you like to fly like us?’ he asked, as all the other pigeons settled on the roof of the cathedral.

‘No, thank you very much,’ said Hugo, ‘You need wings to fly and I haven’t got any – look.’ And he turned his back to show Barney that he had no wings at all, not even little tiny wings like a fly.

‘Huh,’ said the pigeon, ‘that’s not much good, is it? Wouldn’t you like to join us sitting on the church roof? It’s good fun, you know.’

Hugo looked up at the church roof. All the pigeons looked back down at him. It was very, very high up. He  thought for a moment or two,

‘I want some soup,’ he said.

‘What?’ said Barney, ‘you’d rather have soup than fly up to the top of the cathedral in Jericho and look down at all the people? You must be crazy!’

‘But I like soup,’ said Hugo, ‘soup is very nutritious.’

‘Who said that?’ said Barney, jumping up and looking around nervously.

‘I did,’ said Hugo Alexander, ‘look, I’ll say it again: nutritious, nutritious, nutritious.’

The pigeon shook his head and scratched his feet on the ground,

‘But you can’t say “nutritious”, you’re not even two years old yet!’ Hugo smiled at the pigeon,

‘I can say anything I like or, at least, anything I’ve learned.’

‘But it’s such a big word!’ said Barney shaking his feathers.

Hugo stroked the pigeon’s soft shiny head,

‘It’s not as big as “Bucaramanga” and you can say that, can’t you?’

The pigeon nodded his agreement,

‘Yes, I have to go there next week to see my cousin.’

‘Well, there you are, then!’ Said Hugo Alexander, pleased to have won the argument, ‘If I can say “galletita” – and I can – I’m sure I can say nearly anything else!’

‘Hmm, I don’t know,’ said Barney, ‘that word still seems to be a bit of a mouthful for a little boy. If you ask me, it sounds more like your uncle John.’ Hugo was very interested at this mention of Uncle John,

‘Do you know my uncle John?’

‘I certainly do,’ said Barney, ‘He often comes to sit on that roof with all the pigeons. He wrote my life story, you know.’

‘Do you know Mama Socco too?’ Hugo Alexander asked.

‘Know her?’ cried Barney, ‘Know her?’ I practically went to school with her. When she was living in Bogota I was her guardian angel (although this was a secret) and I went everywhere with her.

I never knew a woman who had so many friends, and who was so loved by them. I used to accompany her every day when she was in the chorizo business. Mama Socco was always very kind to me and my family.’

One brave pigeon suddenly flew down from the roof and landed on Hugo’s head. Hugo laughed and tried to look at it but he couldn’t turn his eyes up to his head.

‘Do you know Mama Laya too?’ Hugo Alexander asked. The pigeon nodded his head very seriously,

‘Of course I do. She’s the one who takes you for walks and gives you all your dinners, isn’t she? She’s the one who sings to you and tells you stories. She’s the one who holds you close at night.’ Hugo nodded in agreement. Barney took a very deep breath,

‘And she’s the one who changes your diapers every day.’ Hugo Alexander frowned: he was a big boy now and he didn’t like to be reminded of diapers,

‘I don’t need diapers any more and, anyway, Mama Socco used to change my diapers too.’

‘All very well and good,’ said Barney, ‘but diapers are silly things. I wouldn’t wear them. You never see a pigeon wearing diapers, do you? They’re nasty, dirty things. You take my advice and never wear diapers in the future.’

Hugo Alexander had a feeling that, as he had recently stopped wearing diapers, he wouldn’t need to use them in the future, so he gave Barney a big smile and agreed with him.

They had been moving slowly to the edge of the square, where some horses were standing. Hugo Alexander loved horses. Jony was standing beside a very nice little horse. Jony was Hugo Alexander’s best friend in Jericho. Jony knew everything about horses. The little horse looked at Hugo and turned to ask Jony,

‘Is that Hugo Alexander from Medellín?’

Hugo patted the horse and said,

‘I’m not from Medellín. I come from Bogota.’

‘Well, what are you doing here, then?’ the little horse asked, swishing its tail and pawing the ground with its front hooves.

‘I’m here with Mama and Mama Socco and Uncle John. We’re staying at the Casona Hotel, right on this square, and we’ve come to visit Jony and his sisters, and also our friends Milton and Luis. Plus,’ said Hugo, his eyes opening very wide, ‘we’ve come to see the horses.’

‘Oh good,’ said the horse, ‘I’m a horse.’

‘I can see that,’ said Hugo Alexander, ‘but you’re just one horse. You’re a horse in the singular. There’s only one of you. You’re only one of your kind, aren’t you? I mean, one isn’t very many, is it? You’re a singular horse and I am talking about lots of horses, horses in the plural, do you see?’ The little horse looked at Jony, then asked Barney,

‘Is this guy for real? Where does a kid of less than two years old get words like ‘singular’ and ‘plural?’ Has he swallowed a dictionary?’ Jony quietly said,

‘I know he can say “galletita” and that’s a big word.’

But the pigeon shook his head sadly,

‘I blame his Uncle John,’ he said, ‘always with the words: big words, little words, English words, Spanish words. He’s going to ruin this kid in the end. I mean, pigeons don’t need all these words, do they?’

There was a thunderous noise from the other side of the square as the pigeon said this. They all looked around and saw a band of riders, perhaps forty or fifty horses, galloping into the square from the road where the stables were, on the southern side of the cathedral. These were the greatest riders in Jericho, and their horses were the greatest experts in “paso fino” in all of Antioquia.

Barney hopped up on Hugo’s shoulder because the drumming of so many horses’ feet on the ground made his own feet sore. He leant over and looked straight into Hugo Alexander’s eyes,

‘You like horses, kid? OK, just watch this!’

And Hugo Alexander watched, as the great tribe of men and horses, sweating and heaving, pushing and gasping for breath, gathered in front of him in Jericho square.