The crow is there when I draw back my blind this morning. Perched atop the lamp-post outside my window, preening himself with all the same self-importance and conceit I remember.
“Hello, mate,” He cocks his head to catch me squarely in the eye, “Surprise, yeah?”
“Surprise? I thought you were dead!”
“Yeah? Dead? Oh, that’s nice, innit? Nah mate, I been down the coast for a coupl’a years. Got meself a bit of a taste for the old fishes, see? Never been fitter, me. See the shine on these?” He stretches his flight feathers for effect, “That’s what fishes does for yer!”
“So, what brought you back here?”
“Ah.” He shifts uneasily. “Watch this, look!” With a dive and a spread of his wings he is gone, finding himself some rising air to soar above the common which skirts the further side of our road. I watch him go. Larger than my recollection of him, his flight is masterful, as though he owns the air he rides upon. It is a freedom I always envied in him, yet I am glad for his return. Regretting the brevity of our renewed acquaintance, I settle down to work.
An hour later he is back, alighting on the streetlamp once again and bringing a piece of paper which he pins beneath his left foot. . “It was the gulls.” he says, staring down at it.
He is always gathering trophies of rubbish from one source or another, so I dismiss it as having some tasty morsel on it that he likes. “Gulls?” I query.
“On the coast. I was doin’ alright dahn there, new Missus, more kids. Them gulls, though… See, when they comes up ‘ere – inland, when it’s windy, like – they’re behavin’ theirselves, ‘cause there’s more of us than there are them, but dahn there, on the coast…”
“Were you getting bullied?”
He fluffs his feathers. “Nah, mate! Nah! Bullied? Me? No bleedin’ gull bullies me, no-how.”
“But?” I coax him.
“Well, it never stops, does it? Mob, mob, mob all the time. They got this leader, this Blackback called Herman. Nasty little bugger. He organises it all.”
“You offended Herman?”
“I might just of won an argument over a nice bit of ‘erring. It was nuffin, was it? He reckoned it were ‘is, but it never were…” Crow clacks his beak: “Don’t matter, anyway. Back here now. Even got me old nest back after a bit of argy-bargy. Pizza place has closed. though, ha’n’it?
“You’ll be missing those bins!”
“What, me? No chance! Good provider, me. I know me dustbins, don’t I? Yours is a good un.”
“Thanks for reminding me; I must remember to close the lid. The Pizza place has gone. Its owners couldn’t survive this Covid thing.” And I add quickly, in case he should misunderstand, “That’s Covid, not corvid.”
“I should fink so! I should fink so, mate! Us corvids gets accused of enough of it – this and that. So that’s why the pizza place is closed. Bat-poop.”
“Oh, you know about that!”
“Yeah!” He fluffs out his feathers; “I got internashun’l connections, I have. Larf, innit?”
“Well, personally I take it pretty seriously.”
“What? I mean….’ere, look, let’s get it straight. These bats, they’ve all got a touch of the Covids, right? So they poops on these Pango…whatsits.”
“That shouldn’t be so sensational. You and your mates are pretty expert in the excretia-targetting department. I’ve received a few direct hits myself.”
“Yeah, well. Once by me personally.”
“”You’ve got a big head. Anyway, don’ interrupt. Then these Chinese blokes from Wotan eat the Panga-whatits and they catch the virus, an’ then they spreads it all over the place? Like I said, larf, innit?”
Why is it funny?”
The crow begins to dance from foot to foot on the lamp-post top, in the way he always does when he has a point to make: “Well, first fing, see – first fing, these Pangy-whatsits is very scarce, right? Not many left ‘cause the Chinese eat them all the time, and they use their scales, an ‘at. So I’m guessin’ yer average bat don’t score many direct hits on many Panga-whatsits, see?”
“Yes,” I acknowledge cautiously, “I think I see.”
And second fing; there’s a lab’raratary…”
“One of those. There’s one of those half a mile up the flippin’ road from this Wotan place where they makes viruses all day, like? An’ no, you’re sayin, nobody slipped a few dishes o’ this Corvid stuff out o’ there? No, much more likely you caught it off a bat that pooped on a pangolin what somebody ate? Oh, my gawd! It’s a larf! They’re tuggin’ yer wire, mate!”
“That’s a terrible accusation!” I accuse him. “You’re saying these people are deliberately poisoning the rest of the world? Why?”
The crow lowers his head to stare at me with such intensity I almost imagine, for a moment, that he is wearing those rimless half-lenses my maths teacher so often used to pinion me in my junior year. “Now that’s a very good question, that is. That’s the best question you’ve asked me all morning. Yes.”
I recover myself. “And does it have an answer? Thousands of people have died.”
“That won’t matter to ‘im.” My friend cocks his head. “You didn’t expec’ me to say that, neither, did yer? I knows about ‘im, too ‘cause I’m an internashun’l crow, me. I got connections!”
“Yes, so you said. I don’t doubt it.” I stare at him interrogatively, doubting it. “Who’s ‘him’”
“This Chinese bloke, Xi Jinping – ‘im.”
The crow has always had the power to surprise, but this astounds me: “The Chinese leader – how the hell do you know about him?”
“Like I said, connections. Crows fly across seas, y’know, if there’s somefink good to eat on the uvver side. We chat a lot. Sven, he’s from the place wiv all the mosquitos…”
“Yeah, there. Well, he’s got a mate, Ivan, from the big land – Russia, I fink you calls it, an’ Ivan knows a crow from Mongolia. He was nestin’ wiv ‘er for years, an they still get on, an’…”
“Right! Alright, I get the picture!”
From what they’re tellin’ me, he’s ‘avin’ a bit of argy wiv this cockatoo feller, yeah?”
Amazed by my old friend’s apparent grasp of world politics, I decide to enlighten him further. “If you mean the American President, I suppose so, yes. He says China has been stealing American intellectual property and copying their technology for years, you see, and…”
“An’ this Pingy bloke, he says old Cockatoo’s lot ‘as been sendin’ work to them in China ‘cause they can produce it cheaper, then buyin’it back for a tax dodge.” The crow nods sagely and looks down at his feet. He seems to be looking at his feet a lot. “Yeah, I get it. I get it, mate!”
“So, go on then!”
“Give me your solution to the problem!” In my past experience the crow always comes up with a solution. Maybe this one is a little too complicated, even for his innate common sense to unravel. I shouldn’t have doubted.
“Well, I sees it like this;” The crow looks up to the sky as if in search of divine inspiration, but I realise almost immediately that his attention is being drawn by a seagull circling overhead. “Do you hear that? Do you ‘ear what that clam-shucker jus’ called me?
“Any’ow, your little difficulty. Let’s see.” He injects a scholarly pause. “The way I looks at it, this Pingy bloke an’ the Cockatoo, they don’t share the same tree, do they? They don’ get on. A bit like me an’ Herman, yeah? If we’d thought about it, we could ‘ave shared that bit of ‘erring, but we didn’t ‘cause we jus’ don’t like each uvver; an’ I has to back off ‘cause there’s more of ‘is lot than my lot down there, an’ Herman knows it.
“Which is not so true in this case,” I point out, “because both sides are about equal.”
“So there’s yer answer, then!” The crow sounds triumphant. “What do yer do? Nuffink! Nuffink! Hah!” I must be looking dense, because he amplifies this conclusion: “See, neither of ‘em can’t do nuffink ‘cause they needs to nest and feed, an’ Pingy’s lot won’t really want ter do that in Cockatoo’s tree, wiv all the mobbing an’ ‘at, an’ same goes for Cockatoo’s bunch. They jus’ sits in their own trees an’ peck at each uvver’s feathers for a bit.”
“And that’s your solution? They just go on skirmishing and hating each other forever?”
“Nah! Nah, ‘course not! This is all abaht time, see?” The crow stares at his feet again. “Cockatoo and Pingy, don’t they ‘ave mates?”
“Wives, you mean? Yes, I believe they do.”
“There you are, then!”
“Wives, mates, partners – while me an’ Herman’s struttin’ about, we’re getting a right earful from our uvver halves, ‘cause we’re fightin’ over ever’fing. I tell yer, mate, if I’d taken me missus from up ‘ere wiv me dahn the coast instead of pickin’ up a local bird I’d still be dahn there! She’d ‘ave sorted Herman aht, no trouble! See, us blokes don’ like losin’ face, but our missuses, they got more important stuff…”
“Like economics, and running charities, and so on.” I suggest, with barely concealed sarcasm.
He looks at me archly, “Yeah, alright – them. Any’ow, bit o’ pressure, bit o’ time, and Cockatoo an’ Pingy both work out it’d be better if they got along and agreed on same stuff as before, an’ there you are, sorted!” He flexes his wings. “Now, if there’s nuffin’ else, I got to catch up wiv me local knowledge. I’ve lost track of a farmyard or two, see? Would yer believe it, Farrer’s Bridge ‘as stopped keepin’ ‘is chickens. No quick lunches there, no more!”
I watch as he soars into the low grey cloud that gathers over both our mornings, regretful of the time we’ve missed in these conversations, but glad to have his patent wisdom to ground me once more. In his wake, the fragment of paper that he brought to the lamp-post in his claw flutters, discarded, to the grass below.
Consumed by curiosity, I descend the stairs and make my way out of doors to retrieve that fragment, which I probably see as litter. When I examine it, I see something more – newsprint with the heading ‘US-China Standoff’ and a small picture of Donald Trump. There is further text; beginning a characterisation of the major players in the trade war, and a few words of explanation of its causes. It is a mere scrap with room to accommodate only a little information, but it might be enough to explain my friend’s grasp of an issue outside his normal understanding and to present me with a fresh challenge to my unbelief:
Can it be that the crow has learned to read?
© Frederick Anderson 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.
Picture Credits: Milkovi on Unsplash, Casey Horner on Unsplash