As I was coming out of the subway today, a pair of pigeons were going in. They weren’t quite to the faregate yet, but I doubt any BART security would kick up much of a fuss over two small birds.

They were wandering, pecking and peeking around in that cautious, almost shy way that pigeons amble when they’re not surrounded by hundreds of other competitive pigeons. No doubt it’s a crumb of food or something that looks like food that first leads them down this path. Probably not left deliberately, but one never knows. Down the first staircase, around the corner, the next staircase, and then the long white-floored expanse of empty fluorescent glow.

It has to be two pigeons – it seems somehow unlikely that just one would make the venture underground. I’ve probably seen it before, but it was frantic, somehow incongruous and unsettling. The solo pigeon is well aware that there is something amiss in unfamiliar settings. The pigeon pair can reassure each other, make certain, give a gentle cooing signal that everything’s going to be all right. We don’t realize just how much animals communicate with each other, how everyone has a way of talking.

So they explore and wander. Pecking at the flat black specks of color in the long white hallways. Cocking their heads to pry their gaze into a passing human’s eye. Maybe, after a time, pausing to decorate the floor or starting away in fright at a lurching playful child.

This situation can’t end that well, though I didn’t stick around to observe conclusions. Eventually the pigeons will test their ability to fly, find themselves strangely hampered by the lid on the air. Thus limited, there may be a small amount of discomfort and even panic as they try to discern where they can take to their wings. Eventually the humans will tire of the scat and flapping, seeking to chase their source back to where they belong. But if you’ve ever watched someone trying to herd pigeons, they are almost perversely averse to such corralling. Even if someone has their best interests at heart. They will take just enough flight to get behind you. Duck around the sides. Go briefly in the right direction only to amble back to their initial interest point.

Gradually more disoriented, unable to reconcile their new location with any prior place, they will tire and weaken. Feeling threatened, they will continue to peck at any who approach too closely. No food, more scat, high stress. Eventually, exhaustion. And then either de facto escape or retirement.

Some pigeons carry messages. Tied to their leg. In their beak perhaps. Steadily seeking out humans. Waiting patiently for them to read. And perhaps reply.