Stretching his neck, he surveyed his territory. The beach was awash with colour: blue and white striped deck chairs; buckets and spades, red, yellow and green; inflatables shaped to resemble oversized ducks, undersized dolphins, and imaginary mermaids; windbreaks straining at their stakes from the onshore wind; kayaks and canoes; beribboned kites soaring high in the sky; paddle boards and pedaloes; picnic baskets and backpacks, filled with the detritus from spent lunches and teas; beach towels and blankets, and holiday makers. Cheek to jowl, they lay back and bared their bodies to the sun.
Eyes scanning the throng of humanity, he searched near and far. In the distance, he spotted her. Long blond hair streaming over her shoulders, she sat on a step, her feet shuffling in the sand below. She wore a white T-shirt and pink shorts, her arms, and legs the colour of golden syrup. He could not see the colour of her eyes but imagined them to be blue, framed by long, curly eyelashes. Alone and vulnerable, she made the perfect victim.
Taught at his mother’s knee, he had learned the importance of catching the victim unawares; success depended upon stealth and speed. The younger the victim, the greater chance of the prize, the less chance that the quarry would escape. This one would be his, and his alone.
Scanning the sky, he flapped his wings, soared high in the air, hovered momentarily, and made a controlled landing on the step right beside his victim.
Straining his neck, his beak no more than an inch from her hand, he hesitated just a second too long; she had felt the change in the air, his presence. The girl jerked her hand away, the quarry suddenly out of reach. Greedily he stared at it and took another step forward. It was his favourite treat – none other than a Mr Whippy. Flapping his wings, he moved in for the kill.
“Manners,” she shouted at him. “Can’t you read? Do you see that signpost over there?” The child pointed with her free arm. “Do not feed the seagulls, it says, in capital letters. I am right in thinking that you are a seagull?”
Surprised by her outburst, he flapped his wings again and jumped back.
“I thought so. You’re a Herring Gull, aren’t you? We had a lesson about seagulls at school last week. My teacher said that all you do is scavenge all day long. I can’t believe that is really true – even seagulls have to rest sometimes.”
Salivating, he eyed Mr Whippy and watched as the creamy-white spiral unwound as it started to melt in the warmth of the afternoon sunshine.
“You’ll have to tell me your name before I share any of my ice cream with you,” she said, pointing to Mr Whippy. “You don’t know? Surely your mummy must have given you a name. Never mind. I think you are a boy gull because you are huge, so I shall call you Simon. My name is Daisy and my mummy has just gone across to the café to buy herself a burger. She’ll be back in a minute.”
Simon strained his neck, stamped up and down on his webbed feet, and gently fluttered his wings.
“I’ll put some ice cream on my spade and then you can lick it off from there. You do have a tongue, don’t you? We’ll have to make sure that nobody sees us or we’ll both be in big trouble.”
He watched with bated breath as she dipped her finger in Mr Whippy and smeared a large dollop of ice cream on the spade, and set it down in front of him.
“Lovely isn’t it? Would you like some more?”
Simon hopped from one foot to the other in eager anticipation.
“I shall tell my teachers next week that she was wrong. Not all gulls are scavengers. You have very nice manners, Simon,” she said as she placed the remainder of her cone on the spade and once more set it down in front of him. Simon devoured it hungrily.
“Daisy!” a voice shrieked from behind her, “Mind that gull, it’s right beside you. It’s stealing your ice cream. Nasty, dirty things.”
Daisy started and turned to face her mother. “This is Simon, mummy. He’s a very well-behaved seagull. I’ve been sharing my ice cream with him.”
Simon started, flapped his wings, and performed a vertical takeoff, his eyes fixed firmly on his quarry. Much as he liked a Mr Whippy, there was nothing that could beat a big juicy burger.