I once knew a woman who loved a swan. She loved all swans, and geese and ducks and water hens too, but most of all she loved a swan she called Satin. On Sundays we went to the park to feed the birds that nested among the rushes beside the lake. They’d come running after us and pluck at our calves with their beaks. Satin would wait until she’d fed the rest, and then glide up to her with his mate. She would feed him pellets of bread she’d moistened in her mouth, and often he’d follow her like a pet, as his mate hopped along behind.
Maia – that was her name – and I lived on different sides of the park: she by the western gate, and I by the south. In summer the park was full of teenagers cavorting, boating, diving into the lake. Elderly couples strolled in the rose garden, the men with their bellies hanging out of their open shirts over their baggy shorts, their wives in thin shifts with their bare arms freckling and their faces flushed. There was a brass band, and a bandstand, and chairs for hire and people selling icecream.
Sometimes the boys on their roller skates would bully the birds. They’d tempt them with scraps of food; when the birds came over the boys would chase them with sticks and stones. Then the birds would show how strong they were. There was an urban legend about a goose that had attacked a boy with beak and claw and nearly plucked his eye out. But the swans kept to the water, their nests and their own company. Only Satin ever left the lake.