There is pandemonium among the seagulls, great events seem to be taking place. Before my arrival a flock of them had come in from the sea and settled on the house, building their nests in the chimneys and the valley of the roof. Why they chose this spot I do not know; perhaps they liked the calm and quiet of our little square. They are anything but calm themselves. From earliest morning the sky is filled with their tumult. They clamour and shriek and make an angry rattling with beaks agape. Their favourite noise, however, is a staccato yacking, like a hyena’s laugh or baboon’s hoot, that decelerates gradually while simultaneously rising in pitch. Even at night they are restless, I hear them flopping about on the roof, grumbling and threatening each other. At dawn every day they set up a deafening racket. Why such uproar? Surely the mating season is well over—certainly there are young already being taught to fly, ugly, awkward, dun-coloured things that waddle to the edge of the roof and perch there, peering down at the drop and swallowing hard, or looking all about with a show of unconcern, before launching themselves out shakily on to the air currents. At certain times their elders all together will take to the sky and wheel and wheel in majestic slow circles above the house, screaming, whether in panic or wild exultation it is impossible to know.
Yesterday I looked up from where I was sitting and saw one of the adults standing outside on the window sill. I am always startled by the great size of these birds when seen up close. They are so menacingly graceful in flight, yet when they land they become sadly comical, perched on their spindly legs and ridiculous flat feet, like the botched prototype of some far more handsome, far more well-fashioned species. This one just stood there beyond the glass, doing nothing except opening wide its beak in what seemed a yawn or a soundless cry. Curious, I put down my book and went outside. The bird did not fly away at my approach, but held its place, shifting ponderously from foot to foot and regarding me with wary deprecation out of one large, pale, lustrous eye. I saw at once what the matter was: on the ground below the window sill a dead fledgeling lay. It must have fallen from the roof, or failed in flight and plummeted to earth and broken its neck. Its look was glazed already, its plumage dulled. The parent, for I have no doubt that is what it was, made its beak gape again in that odd way, with no sound. It might have been a threat, to warn me off, but I am inclined to believe it was a sign of distress. Even seagulls must have expressions of sorrow or of joy recognisable at least to their fellows. Probably they see our visages as just as blank and inexpressive as theirs seem to us. A man numb with inexplicable misery, for instance, I am sure to them would be merely another dead-eyed dullard gazing pitilessly upon a scene of incommensurable loss. The bird was male, I think; I think, yes, a father.