Every morning when I come into my office to work the first thing I do (after booting up the infernal machine) is draw back the window curtains. He (quite a familiar figure in my life – I might even call him a friend) has more often than not already arrived, comfortably perched atop the streetlamp in front of my house with the dawn, as yet still a bushfire line of muted orange behind the eastern hill, at his back.
“Morning.” He eyes me through my window – warily at first; trying to judge my mood, I suppose.
“Good morning! How are you?”
“Alright. Mustn’t grumble.”
“Can’t be easy for you, this cold weather.”
He resents being patronized. “What, being a corvid, you mean?”
“I didn’t say that! I just meant….”
“I know what you meant! Racist, that is! I’m a crow, mate, gettit? Don’t judge me by the color of my feathers!”
“I didn’t – I mean I don’t. Don’t be so sensitive.”
He bends his head, nibbling at breast feathers with a powerful black beak. “We’re not all lamb’s eye pluckers, you know. Some of us have taste.” A big, lazy wing stretches. “Well, mustn’t hang around: places to be.”
He leaves his perch in an effortless movement, something between a fall and a glide, floating away on a dawn breeze as supportive to him as an ocean swell.
It is later and I am working, I am lost in thought. My monitor stares back at me, contemplating as deeply as I, though we neither of us seem to be able to come up with anything.
I look up. Outside, that red strip of expectation has grown into the bright sun of morning. A blackbird is announcing his presence, loudly, to anyone who cares to listen. My friend is back on his lamp.
“See what?” I ask.
“You blind or something? This!” He points with his beak to a sheet of bread beneath his feet. “Breakfast, this is.”
I hadn’t noticed. “Do you always stand on your breakfast?”
“Funny! We’re not going to get into another argument, are we?”
“Of course not!” I say. “Look I’m sorry I called you a…. That looks like a great start to the day.” What is the matter with me? “I’m trying to work;” I tell him, “but the inspiration’s lacking.”
He nods sagely. “It’ll be last night’s dinner sitting on your stomach.”
“Oh, really? I think souvlaki’s a decent, light meal. Brain food!”
“Greasy. Foreign muck. You can’t beat a good shepherd’s pie.”
“That ‘grease’ was the best quality olive oil. Anyway, how do you know what I ate last night?”
I get an old-fashioned look. “What, you think if you wrap your left-overs in newspaper when you throw them away I can’t get to them?”
“You’ve been through my bins!”
“Well, sort of. It’s the fox goes through the bins. I just follow him around. He leaves more than he eats.” He points at the sheet of bread with his beak. “Where’d’you think this came from?”
I sigh my resignation, ready to consign my morning’s efforts to the recycle bin. “I think I’ll switch off for now;” I tell him. “The old muse isn’t working at all well today.”
“Technology!” His sniff of disgust is almost – almost – audible. “Flickering images jumping around. No wonder you can’t work!”
I give him an indulgent smile. “You wouldn’t have much of a grasp of electronics, would you?”
“Me? No, no use for it. Watch this!” My friend shuffles his morning feast, repositioning it on the long- extinguished street light. There is a pause. The light comes on.
Honestly, I’m amazed. “That’s brilliant. How did you do that?”
“Simple. There’s this little button thing on the top of the support. Cover it over and it thinks it’s night-time. There’s a special one down the end. Cover that and every light in the road comes on. Technology, see?”
The blackbird’s set is drawing to its climactic finale, its ample throat somehow managing harmony and a sort of descant screech at the same time.
“That blackbird!” I lament. “Surely he doesn’t have to be that loud?”
“Who, Des? Dunno. You better ask him. Not this morning though; he’s in a right tiz. Someone’s only been and cut his bush down!”
My thoughts flit guiltily back to yesterday’s gardening. “What, the laurel? I pruned it. There wasn’t a nest or anything in there.” What had I done?
“Ah, you, was it? Might have known.” The crow shakes his head, makes a stab at his breakfast.
“It needed cutting back!” I protest.
“Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. There’s less cover over the garden now, so I can sit and watch the whole place. Des, he doesn’t see it the way we do, though. That top branch! I was up there myself early on. You might as well hang a sign on it: ‘Sparrow hawks perch here’. Poor old Des, he’s spitting feathers!”
“Des doesn’t like sparrow hawks.” I deduce absently. My head is still getting around calling a blackbird by a familiar name.
“Not when they’ve got a penthouse view of his family billet in the blackthorn bush he doesn’t. Five little chirpies squeaking away in there, beaks up like tiny trumpets.” My friend lapses into what I can best describe as a hungry silence. A faraway look has come into his eye.
In the pause thus provided I reflect upon the ancient enmity between sparrow hawks and blackbirds and realize at once the true consequences of my rashness with the secateurs! But what can I do? The prunings are in the garden refuse, and what is done cannot be undone.
My friend is dexterously folding his sheet of bread with his beak while pinning it beneath one foot – first into half, then into quarters. “Easier to fly, see – when it’s small like this? Anyway, can’t sit here talking all day. There’s a field being ploughed up Wolsingham way, and time and tractors don’t wait. I’ll just flap this back to my place for the memsahib (she gets really feisty when she’s on the eggs) then – dunno – think I might drop back to Des’s.”
He stretches for the sky. “I fancy something hot.”