Tesla and the Pigeon by Ryan Davies

I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird – pure white with light grey tips on her wings. She was different. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.

I was always too afraid to marry. An inventor should have a wife, they told me, but they didn’t understand that I was already married to my work. I could never be worthy enough for a woman, who were superior to me in every single way. My heroes, Isaac Newton and Immanuel Kant also never married and their genius was a testament to that. My chastity was the key to my own scientific abilities, but as I near the end of my life, I sometimes doubt if the sacrifice was worth it.

Once, I had workshops all around New York City and was even employed by the millionaire J.P. Morgan. Now, my work has been taken from me; my Wardenclyffe Tower has been demolished and I have been abandoned and forgotten. Perhaps this was the fate I chose for myself. I never wanted to be rich or famous – only that my inventions would make the lives of everyday people a little bit easier. I am now in the winter of my life and I feel the bitter cold which comes before the eternal spring of the soul. It was in this state that she first found me.

My lab was the only place I felt truly happy and now it is a hotel room. Instead of mingling with the world’s greatest minds at lavish dinner parties, I kept company with a crowd of pigeons whom I fed every day in Central Park. I’m not entirely sure why I found solace with these little creatures. Perhaps it was because they too were looked down upon by society, a society I tried to help. These birds were the real inhabitants of the city, citizens of a grey new world, and they became a comfort for a lonely old man. I even named some of them after people I once knew. There was a black feathered brute who took scraps from the beaks of others – I named him Edison. A dusky orange one who flew more gracefully than the rest I called Vivekenanda after the saffron robed monk I befriended and discussed the relation between matter and energy with Vedantic cosmology. Mark Twain was a little white pigeon with fluff around his beak. But she had no name. How could she?

I remember when we first met. The crowd of pigeons swarmed around the breadcrumbs I threw at my feet. Their heads bobbed low to scoop it up in their beaks, and they fluttered on top of each other. There was one who stood out – lighter in colour and holding her delicate head held high enough to focus on me with a sideways glance. She was more interested in me than the food. After I noticed this beautiful creature once, I began to see her more and more. She was the first to arrive and the last to linger. Each time I sat on the bench, she crept closer and gazed at me for longer. It was as though we recognised each other from some far away world. There was a light in her eyes and I knew she saw the same light in mine. I began to coo to her and she cooed back. Eventually, she hopped next to me on the bench and I fed her from my hand, her beak lightly jabbing my skin and her eyes penetrating mine with each gulp. A bond was made between two lonely souls.

One day, she appeared to me with a broken wing. She wouldn’t tell me how it happened; only looked at me with an innocent sadness in her eyes. As she fluttered up onto the bench next to me, it was evident that she was in pain. Her wing stuck out awkwardly and she cooed to me in soft desperation. Her pain became my own. I couldn’t leave her in this state, so I smuggled her underneath my coat and took her back to my hotel room. There I cared for her, fed her and stroked her dazzling white feathers. She watched with silent reservation as I studied wing mechanics and constructed a contraption which extended and aligned the broken bones, keeping the wing comfortably in place as it healed. I let her hop about my room as I worked through the night. I stopped visiting the park as I was too worried to leave her on her own. As her wing grew stronger, she began to fly onto my bed and nestle next to me as I slept. It soothed me to feel her little heart beating next to mine. After a couple of weeks, she was fully healed. I carried her outside and she burst from my arms. I watched as she soared above the buildings, showing her grace and dexterity. Seeing her so happy brought a tear to my eye. Since then, she barely left my side. I had saved her, and in a way, she had saved me.

When I looked into her eyes, I saw the spirit of the divine feminine which I had rejected my whole life, come to forgive and nurture me. I had always thought the notion of love was an irrational self-destructive impulse disguised as joy, but having experienced it, I know now how wrong I was. I didn’t feel the need to invent a communication device as I once had for extra-terrestrials, for we had an unspoken bond. We both knew how our presence comforted each other and that was all we needed. I sometimes wondered what I had done to deserve such deep love and affection from another being.

As I walked through the city, she hovered above me, following my path through the urban maze as she swooped between the skyscrapers. I continued to feed her brothers and sisters at the park, but she alone had a special place by my side. The other pigeons were ambivalent to her special status and the people who passed by cast judgemental looks before disappearing from sight. She would follow me home and sit on my windowsill as I worked and kept me company at night. I left the window open for her, which sometimes attracted other pigeons whom I was happy to entertain. I once asked the hotel chef to prepare a special mix of seeds for my feathered friends. This led to some unpleasantness and after complaints about bird mess I was evicted.

I couldn’t afford to pay my bills, so I sold my latest invention to the manager who knew my name. I managed to convince him that one day it would become extremely valuable. I told him it was a death beam with the power to bring down airplanes and kill people instantly, but it could only be activated by the military. It was actually a multi-decade resistance box filled with some spare electrical components – I had hidden the real death beam in a secret location. So I was forced into a life of constantly jumping between hotels and racking up enormous debts, but wherever I went, she came too – my guardian angel. She was the shining light which kept me going. But that light couldn’t last forever.

One day, she was nowhere to be seen. I called to her from my window, but there was no reply. I walked to the park alone, like a man without a shadow. I sat on our bench, feeding Mark Twain and the others, but she never came. I ran out of breadcrumbs, but still I waited. The pigeons abandoned me to look elsewhere for food and still I waited. When the dim sun settled behind the haze of grey city smog, I wandered the city streets, haunting our favourite spots, looking for the pure white bird with grey-tipped wings. Eventually the cold night air extinguished the last ray of hope in my heart. She was gone.

A lifetime of loneliness crept slowly back into my sleepless nights and empty days with a newfound sting. I had grown so used to her presence that I was scared to face the world without her. There would never be another like her. Sometimes I wished I had never loved at all, but however I reasoned with myself, my heart bitterly disagreed.

One night I was lying in bed unable to sleep, trying to distract myself with unanswerable questions running through my mind. Suddenly she appeared to me, bright in the moonlight like a winged messenger of the divine. She flew in through my open window and landed on the bed beside me. It happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to express my disbelief and ecstatic happiness at her return. I knew she wanted to tell me something important, so I sat up and held her in my arms. I looked into her eyes and she communicated it clearly to me. I am dying.

A light burst from her more intense than any lamp I had produced in my laboratory and as heavenly as the sun. At that moment, she died. Her beady eyes glazed over and she fell limp in my hands, her little head lolling to one side. All the love I had ever lost in my life had returned to me in its purest form, only to say goodbye forever. At that moment, something went out of me, something which had always been there, but was now gone for good. I knew my purpose on this earth had come to an end. There was nothing left to live for. Nothing left to love.

On 7th January 1943 at the age of 86, Nikola Tesla died all alone in Room 3327 of the Hotel New Yorker. The official cause of death was coronary thrombosis, a blood clot in the heart. Unofficially, he died from a broken heart. Two days later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized Tesla’s belongings and John G. Trump was called in to analyse the items. Despite Tesla’s lonely end, two thousand people attended his state funeral and only today his name and reputation are becoming deservedly well known as the inventor of the 21st century.

Ryan Davies achieved his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Kent in 2018, after studying and living in Paris. He finds inspiration from all things mysterious, from ancient civilisations, other dimensional beings and cosmic occurrences. When not reading, writing and playing bass, he works as a cheesemonger.