The Pigeon Man sat on the cold metal seats inside the Bath bus station, and watched as the purple double-decker bus number 15 rolled into its bay. He looked up at the digital departures board which was mounted high up on the glass wall. It was precisely 8.06am. The 15 bus was due to leave in three minutes. The Pigeon Man had sat there, in the windy hallway of the bus station, since 5am that morning, when the first buses left their bays.
The thing about him which no one else knew - and if he tried telling anyone, they would laugh and think he was mad - but the thing about him was, that if he did not sit there, every morning, then the bus schedules would get all mixed up. If he wasn't there, the digital board would stop working and buses would leave at random times. He didn't know what it was about his presence that made them run on time, but he knew that it mattered, and he had to be there.
Of course, he couldn't be at the bus station every moment of his life, but he tried to be there as much as possible; in the mornings, at least, when people rushed to work, and their kids huddled onto the buses, despising their uniforms and rubbing sleep from their eyes.
The Pigeon Man didn't want anyone to be late. It wasn't good if they were; it wasn't good at all. He had seen people scream at their kids for no reason because their bus was late; or call their bosses, their voices growing thin and frightened, to tell them that they would be late. He didn't like to see what stress did to people. It changed them, made them act and sound like someone entirely different. He didn't mind sitting there in the mornings, and keeping the buses in order. He had nothing better to do anyhow, and if it helped others, then he was happy to sit there, and feed the pigeons that fought over the bread crumbs beneath his feet, until the last morning bus had left on time.
His real name wasn't The Pigeon Man, by the way. The funny thing was that he couldn't remember his real name at all. But he knew that it wasn't Pigeon Man. That name came from a little girl who walked past him one day, hand in hand with her mum.
He was in a park that day, a bright sunny day it was, feeding birds with the bread that had gone off in his cupboard because buying a whole loaf was cheaper than buying half-a-loaf; but because he lived by himself, a third of that loaf always went off before he could finish it. Rather than throw it away, he always gave it to the birds. And because pigeons were bigger than other birds, like sparrows or robins, and fought them off, it may have looked like he was giving the bread to pigeons alone.
He didn't live in Bath back then, he was sure of that, but the name of the city always escaped him, and he couldn't remember it now. But he remembered the little girl; he always remembered her. She had noticed him.
'Look, mummy,' she said. 'it's The Pigeon Man again,' she said to her mother, while pointing a finger at him, which is what he saw when he looked up. The girl's eyes were smiling at him, like she wanted to come over and talk to him. 'Again,' she had said. She had noticed him there; not just once but many times.
Her mother yanked the girl's hand, dragging her away. 'It's rude to point at strangers,' the mother said, although he didn't think it rude at all. The girl started crying, and soon she had disappeared from his life. Except she hadn't really - the name had stuck, and so had the memory of her.
He liked the name. The Pigeon Man. It had a kind of heoric sound to it, like he were a superhero. 'Pigeon Man,' he repeated the words to himself now, as he waited for Bus 15 to depart. The last passenger was just getting on. The bread crumbs eroded in The Pigeon Man's fingers, like they were tiny balls of earth, scorched in the heat of the sun. They fell onto the cold tiled floor where a pack of pigeons snatched them up eagerly with their sharp beaks, ruthlessly pecking at any smaller, weaker birds who tried to approach the spot.
Bread used to smell differently, he thought, back then, when he got his name. But what exactly it smelt of, he couldn't remember. But it was different, that was for sure. His life was probably different too, but in what way - he couldn't tell you.
He looked at the digital departures board, just as the bus driver of number 15 closed the sliding door for passengers. The bus pulled away from its bay, at exactly 8.09am. It had left on time. The Pigeon Man smiled.
He waited for the next one, as the pigeons fought over the bread crumbs, and people walked past him without noticing.