It is cold on the quay and I am the only person there. I pull my coat collar up around and lean against the railings. The water is rough, rocking the few boats left out there on their buoys. The water sprays me, and I wipe it away. The taste of salt lingers on my lips. I always forget, no matter how many times I return there to the coast just how potent the fresh sea air and the salt is.
Previously, I have been there in the summer, when the quay is crowded with people, and the hum of noise and excitement throngs through the air. Then, there are boats, crowded in the water, people waiting to get on ferries and boat tours.
Today, it is empty and I am the only person brave enough to risk the elements like this. A lone fisherman heads out to sea, a flock of gulls trailing his boat, squawking, attracted by the fish smell. I watch them go. It’s a scene that reminds me of du Maurier’s The Birds and I shudder.
In my hands I clutch a warm iced sticky bun, chosen in the baker’s minutes earlier, unable to resist the sweet smells that had drifted out. It’s the middle of the winter and everything else is shut. The town is bleak and empty, and I feel like I am the only person there. The bakers is the only beacon of warmth in a place that is otherwise closed down, and it was there that I gravitated minutes earlier.
The fishing boat disappears from view and I peel back the paper that has stuck to the icing of the bun. My hands become sticky, and I wrinkle my nose, already regretting the choice of bun. But it is too good to resist, and I bring it up to my mouth.
It’s then that I notice two beady amber eyes watching me.
A seagull is sitting on top of a bin, watching me, its eyes following the progress of the bun.
I lower it and consider the bird.
He looks away, as if to say, who me? I’m not interested in your donut.
I narrow my eyes.
I have encountered pesky seagulls before, seen sandwiches and ice creams ripped out of hands, heard the corresponding wails of sadness from kids who have lost their hard won treat.
The gull sidles away from me, and I return my attention to the bun.
I have taken a bite when I realise that those eyes are on me again. I look up, locking eyes with the gull who is staring at me, his head cocked to one side, his eyes gleaming.
‘What?’ I ask, and then feel stupid for talking out loud to a bird. It’s a seagull for goodness sake. I glance around, but I am still alone. ‘Go away. It’s mine,’ I tell him, holding the bun a little tighter in my hands.
The gull doesn’t move. He isn’t threatened by me. I glance back at my bun – one bite taken out of it and consider backing away, leaving the quay, finding somewhere else – taking the bun back to my warm hotel room. But that would be conceding defeat. I will not let myself be beaten by a seagull.
I hear a squawk above me and I see another seagull swooping down, tired of searching the boats and river for a snack. Instead, it has settled on me. It joins its friend, sliding along the railings that I am standing by.
I take another bite of the bun, but I feel both their eyes on me.
It is no good.
I can’t eat with such an audience, and so reluctantly I start to pull the paper bag back over the bun, my stomach rumbling miserably.
I am just about to put it away in my bag, when something swoops down and grabs it out my hand. I stumble back in shock and the two gulls who had been watching me, take off, following the thief, squawking loudly. I feel as if I have been mugged, attacked, and I am unnerved. I hadn’t even seen the gull approach. I watch it now, soaring above the water, my bun clutched in its claws.
I hunch my shoulders, glad that no one was around to watch my humiliation. The birds disappear out of view. It is quiet again now, and I am once again the only living thing there. A boat comes into view, and I watch it as it chugs into the harbour. I push my hands into my pockets, keeping my eyes peeled for any signs of birds.
That night, I wake, a squawking sound in my ear. I start with a jolt – I am now being visited by gulls in my sleep, I cannot get away from them. Since that moment on the quay, they have haunted me and I have been more aware of them than ever. And they are everywhere.
I get up to push my window open, letting the cool night air hit me. Up here, in my hotel room, I feel that I am safe from the seagulls – from the birds that plague my thoughts and my dreams.
But really, nowhere is safe. The birds are everywhere and I am not alone. As I push my window open, I see that on the other side of the glass a pair of amber eyes are staring back at me.