Peacock Island

The bus that took us to the Pfaueninsel was not like the others. It had driven straight from the 1970s. My dress matched the seats, we were both red, orange and yellow. I was flowers, it was a thick weave. The walls were covered with wood-look linoleum. The signs were faded. I noticed that we were sitting in the seat reserved for the elderly, as the sign next to it was a seat with a fat, square cross over it. I looked behind me and saw that all of the seats in the front half of the bus had this sign.
So important was this trip to me that I had run over the particulars of the journey in my mind many times. Crucial was this bus, the 218, which only came every two hours. There was some greater truth in the moment when the 218 drove up to the stop at Wannsee and became reality. When the anticipated becomes real, I feel like all my preconceptions are suitcases that I throw out the window. There go my anticipations (that it was going to be an ornate sled, hung with bells; or a snub-nosed mini-bus, disappointingly modern) as I scramble to take it all the real details.
The bus took us through a forest.
“This will be glorious in summer,” Steph said, and she was right, but there was something I liked about it in winter, the way the light came through the empty branches, the way it looked forlorn. I find myself continually going to describe the trees as dead, and then having to correct myself. It is hard to adjust to a place full of deciduous trees when one comes from the land of evergreens. We were only on the bus for ten minutes before being dropped off at the end of the line, the ferry stop. The ferry was on the other side, about 100 metres away. We laughed when we got on, about taking out one’s thick novel, shifting to get comfortable, reading the words “Chapter One” and then, toot toot! – you have arrived.
The idea of an island populated by peacocks and architectural follies sounded like a dream, but here we were, strolling around the paths, looking over the rippling river, looking out for peacocks. I had of course imagined the island to be swarming with them, but after half an hour we were still waiting to see one. Other birds twittered in the trees around us, and we decided we could be birdwatchers. We listed the paraphernalia, the books, the binoculars, the dungarees, “the infa-red,” Steph said, and I did the wide-legged stance that we’d adopt to use our high-tech birdwatching machinery.
We were sitting for a moment, watching the lake, when I heard a loud knocking. My suspicions were confirmed when I looked up and saw a kind of woodpecker, ramming its beak into the trunk of the tree behind us. I had never seen a woodpecker, and it struck me how violent it was, slamming its beak hard enough to make such a noise. It is foolish of course to expect that I could imagine “what it felt like”, but I could not help thinking of headaches. We watched it for a while, and as we walked onwards, we could still hear it tapping. Why was it tapping? I suggested “mites, borers”, but Steph was sure there was another reason.
We didn’t know. I have come to enjoy the feeling of not knowing, of being unconnected to information sources like the very one on which you are reading this. This is where imagination swims, in the not-knowing. Not knowing, I observed it very keenly, as I observed the other woodpeckers we encountered in the nearby trees. Closing my eyes, I could hear knocking from all directions.
The first peacock was a shock. It was too big, too bright. It perched on the edge of the Vogelhaus and regarded us with disinterest. His tail hung down, many green eyes hiding among the tassels, as we approached, he moved as if it were a terrible chore. I imagined the blue of his body to get brighter as we approached, until it was the bluest blue either of us had ever seen.
The Vogelhaus was an octagonal building with eight enclosures radiating off it. In one huddled the female peacocks.
“I’m not taking a photo that’s the kind of photo an eight year old would take,” Steph said, and I laughed because I knew exactly what she meant. Any photo of an animal taken through a wire mesh, or a fence, has this quality about it. We peered in at the peacocks, the peacocks peered out at us.
At the top of the path, a lot was going on. One of the male peacocks had his tail fanned out and was shaking it, to impress the lady peacocks (peahens? I am not sure). We got in his way to take photographs. I stood just behind his fan, it shook with a sound like rattling brass bedheads. I felt like this was a bit unfair to the peacocks; they were trying to go about nature’s business as I used them for background! Humans have no idea what this is like. There is no equivalent for us, when we are going about our mating rituals. Nothing buzzes around us and points weird machines at us. To the peacocks’ credit, they did not pay much attention. Some of them went over to investigate my coat, which I had cast onto the ground in excitement. They peered down at it, and this made me giggle. Peacocks are an animal that you can easily fill in speech bubbles for. They say: “What is this?” and “Aren’t I beautiful?” They can only ever look surprised or smug.
We finished taking photos and let the peacocks go on with their business. They walked over towards the water, and towards an enclosure where we saw the heads of two white peacocks peering over the wire mesh that covered the door. Their exclamation point heads said: “Hey! Let me out of here! I want to parade!”


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