SHARING THE PAIN

One pleasant summer evening, I was leaning on a railing alongside the Thames River, watching ducks swimming in the sanctuary of Eel Pie Island. Then a swan came flapping down the river. Swans fly like heavy freight planes, and they seem to have poor eyesight. Anyway, this swan slammed into the side of the bridge to the island, and plummeted into the river.

“Drop the gun and raise your hands!” A police constable was running towards me.

“What are you talking about, I don’t have a gun?”

“Somebody just shot that swan, and you’re the only other person here.”

“Nobody shot anything. The swan hit the side of the bridge and knocked itself out.”

“If you shot that swan, you’re in big trouble because it’s a capital offense.”

“You’re crazy. First you say I shot the stupid swan without a gun, and then you say I can get hanged for that alleged crime.”

“You could have just thrown the gun into the river. Also, it is a capital offense. A law written centuries ago says all swans belong to the Queen. If you kill a swan, that is treason and you can get hanged for it.”

“Shouldn’t you be chasing terrorists instead of standing there making stupid accusations? Go ahead and arrest me. A judge will laugh you out of court.”

“Show some respect. I don’t write the laws, I just enforce them.”

While I was arguing with the cop, the swan had surfaced and was paddling to the shore. Though it had been merely stunned and not killed, it appeared to have a badly damaged wing. When it reached the shore, it hopped around and feebly flapped its wings, but was unable to launch itself into flight.

“Hey officer, looks like the swan has risen from the dead! That means you can’t arrest me for treason and swanicide.”

“That’s a different swan.”

“Oh, really? And your different swan just happens to have a broken wing from a recent accident.”

The swan made a supreme effort and started flying toward us. But the pain from the broken wing was too much, and the swan couldn’t climb any higher. It crash-landed on the head of the constable, and immediately crapped down the front of his face, shirt and tunic.

“I’ll kill that godamned bird!” The cop screamed, as he pulled out his baton and started bludgeoning the swan. It desperately tried to fly away, but the cop’s first savage blow had broken the swan’s other wing. So now it was helpless, and soon it was dead.

Meanwhile, a small crowd had gathered. One guy in the crowd was video recording the violent scene, while a woman was in tears as she phoned the police.

Two police cars and an Animal Control van arrived while the constable was still pounding on what was left of the swan. A policeman in the second car appeared to be the senior officer. He sported a gold badge and was giving orders to the other cops. Two cops escorted their crazed comrade to the second patrol car and pushed him into the back seat. This walk of shame was accompanied by abusive chants from the crowd of onlookers: “Put him in cuffs”, “Throw him in jail”, “And throw away the key”.

***

The police hoped that the incident would be forgotten. But repeated showings of the incriminating video on TV, plus numerous abusive letters to local newspapers, convinced the brass that stronger action was needed. So they dismissed the constable from the force, and charged him with treason and animal cruelty. The judge subsequently dismissed the treason charge, but delivered a suspended 90-day sentence for animal cruelty.

I felt some sympathy for the former constable who believed the swan had deliberately attacked him. Nevertheless, it seemed appropriate that he should share some of the pain that he wanted to inflict on other people—and swans.

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