I was up early this morning, standing shivering at the window in an oversize T-shirt, warming my fingers on my coffee mug and watching a sea that has been tormented into white froth and pea green waves by the wind during the past week. It is calm and blue now for the first time in days.
We don’t really have birds in Brighton other than the ubiquitous seagulls and mangy pigeons. The seagulls like to gallop up and down on the roof above my bed in the summer when they have their babies, shrieking and bullying each other. The pigeons are just pigeons.
But then there are the starlings. Huge clouds of black, shiny, twittering things that haunt the shell of the ruined West Pier like a great ghost. They seem to love the sea and we never see them in town. But as I was standing there this morning, shivering like I said, because apparently a T-shirt and bare bum are no match for chilly ocean air, a dense black fog rose above the roofs of the houses opposite. It climbed quickly, swirling and shifting and coming closer. The starlings! I’ve never seen a flock so near. They moved together like a great inky shoal of fish, twisting and darting amongst the chimney pots, as synchronised as if they were joined by invisible threads of wire. I held my breath and watched them.
It always feels like pure joy to me, that swooping flight of a throng of birds, their bursts of ecstatic movement impelled by some unknown communication, and for a few moments I was moving with them, my heart lifted on the currents of their wings, soaring and wheeling about the sky. For a few moments I was as carefree as the birds seemed to be. For a few moments I was happy.
Then, at some unseen signal they dropped as one and disappeared down the road towards the sea. I watched them go. Goodbye, little guys. Thanks for stopping by.
I finished my coffee, pondered clothing, stood at the window for a few moments more. A council truck drove slowly down the hill, emptying the black recycling boxes that lined the pavements. It stopped outside my building briefly then lumbered on, but not before I had time to read the words along its side. This is what it said:
Happiness is a full box.
Ha, I thought. It sure is.