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Of pigeons and penguins

Mphoentle Mageza

The radio had reported it. There was a war. Penguin, excited and nervous, ran to his fellows in Penguin Palace and shouted breathlessly: “There is a war, it's on the radio.” Penguin Senior, an earnest sort of fellow with many worldly achievements under his daily, hand-tied, silk bow tie and chairperson of the World Penguins Trade Association, pressed his chest out and asked, “Where?”

The radio had reported it. There was a war. Penguin, excited and nervous, ran to his fellows in Penguin Palace and shouted breathlessly: ‘There is a war, it’s on the radio.” Penguin Senior, an earnest sort of fellow with many worldly achievements under his daily, hand-tied, silk bow tie and chairperson of the World Penguins Trade Association, pressed his chest out and asked, ‘Where?”

‘In the city centre,” Penguin responded, eyes wide, wondering what was to become of his beautiful black-and-white outfit, a source of pride and power, handed down by his ancestors since the beginning of Penguin time.

‘Which city centre?”

‘Johannesburg,” he responded.

‘Very well then,” said Penguin Senior. ‘For Johannesburg we depart. Penguin Junior, you have done well in reporting this news to us,” he said, patting Junior on the back. ‘When we return, you will be handed the Penguin Pledge of Honour.” Junior smiled, expectantly waiting to hear what role he was to be assigned in this historic moment. ‘When we arrive in Johannesburg, we are sure to meet our bird-brethren and win this war. Round up the troops,” ordered Penguin Senior. ‘And tell them to don their tailored black-and-white suits and hand-tied, silk bow ties as passed down to us by the great Penguin Warriors of the North Star.”

The buses departed and were scheduled to arrive at 6pm, Penguin time. Docked, the Penguins jumped out in orderly fashion and stood on the street, leaning forward to the left and then to the right. It was suggested that they should get directions to the war zone from passers-by. None of the humans knew anything and were going home to attend to their daily chores. ‘Good luck,” they wished the Penguins.

‘Let’s walk that way,” Senior ordered. ‘There is no sidewalk,” said a Penguin. Senior found it very strange for a city centre not to have sidewalks and become ghost-like at night. He asked one of the humans what city centre this was.

‘This is Sandton City Centre,” the human said. ‘The real city is further south. Just follow the tall tower way over there,” he said, pointing to the sky. The Penguin brigade filed back onto the bus in an orderly fashion, fazed but not defeated, and followed the tower in the south sky. On entering the city, they turned toward the old Library Square and found many a Pigeon dressed like a Penguin, with hand-tied bow ties replacing the more common clip-on variety. They were speaking in hushed tones and noting with great interest that the sparkling Penguins from Penguin Palace had arrived. The Pigeon Advance Team approached the Penguins, their smiles covering hateful smirks, stretched out their wings and greeted them. ‘Penguin folk, welcome! We declare that we, the New Penguin species, will be taking over Birdland’s most precious sites and sounds and will also move the Birdland Stock Exchange to Sandton, as per the request of our Patrons.”

‘So who is the war reported on the radio against?” Penguin Senior asked. ‘And why do you pretend to be Penguins?”

‘Honourable Penguin Senior, the war is against all of those who question whether we are Penguins or not. As you well know, Penguins run this world and, after a while, no one will be able to tell the difference between us and we will be afforded a life of respect and ease as you are,” the Pigeons replied.

Penguin Senior responded: ‘A life of privilege, my dear Pigeon, should not be confused with a life of ease. The privilege we enjoy is accompanied by rites of passage, ritualistically presented to us by the highest echelons of nations, the Penguin Andromeda Galaxy, and encoded in our DNA. Do you think that by mimicking our appearance and mannerisms you will be endowing yourself with a life of ease? You are mistaken if you believe you will not be identified as imposters.”         

‘You are wrong, Penguin Senior. With hard work and a lot of charm, we will rise in status while you remain isolated in Penguin Palace with no actual power — no one will be able to tell the difference and we will take over Birdland and not even have to declare the palace coup,” said Pigeon.

In the next moment, the Pigeons chopped off the heads of the Penguins and moved the headquarters of Birdland to the north, populating it with their own and ruling the new city centre for a decade, uninterrupted. Pigeon was right: no one could tell the difference.

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