“So, what d’you fink?” The crow is back on the lamp post outside my window. It is his third visit this morning, but the air outside is still cold so I have been pretending to ignore him.
“About what?” I ask, through my grudgingly opened casement.
“This, mate. This!”
I stare cluelessly at him for a moment while he turns to face me, then away, and finally perches on one leg with his shoulders hunched and his head lowered. At last I comprehend. He is posing. “Very nice!” I try to sound enthusiastic.
“Nice? Nice? Do you know how long this took me? Look at them fevvers! Look at that shine! Sex on wings, mate, that’s me. Irresistible, in’ I?”
“You look very…” I grope for a word…”personable.”
“Personable?” I have ruffled those magnificent feathers. “No, mate, I ain’t like no person. Not like a person at all.”
I have neglected to remember the world outside is heavily engaged in the machinations of Spring. Cherry blossom is on the bough, clouds are white and fluffy, and there is romance in the air.
“So, you’re going courting?” I say. “I thought you guys were supposed to be monogamous?”
Crow fixes me with a reproachful eye. “You ‘ave to do that, don’t yer?”
“Remind me! Listen, mate. One lot of kids – out the way. They’re gone. Me, I been workin’ me beak off fetchin’ an’ carryin’, stuffin’ the little buggers wiv’ anything I can find just to keep their crops full. Now they’re big enough to do their own stuffing, and I got four days – five if I’m lucky – ‘fore it’s all twigs and mud again; know what I mean?” He refers to the next clutch of eggs, of course. I nod my understanding.
“See, it’s not jus’ me, is it? You should see ‘er! She’s down the playing fields hoppin’ around wiv that chuffin’ chough from Number Three Elm, makin’ out like she’s just two again. She’s been comin’ home wiv ‘er tail fevvers in a ruck for a week! It’s disgustin’, that’s what it is!”
This drift in our conversation is making my crow agitated. He is stamping his feet on the top of his lamp-post perch and pecking the plastic cover repeatedly. “How do I know whose chicks I’m goin’ to be slavin’ over next month? Do you know what chough eggs look like?”
I admit that I don’t. “You’re concerning yourself unnecessarily. I’m not sure what you’re suggesting is even possible.” I stop myself from chuckling, because my friend is obviously a soul in torment, caught in a very human dilemma.
“Maybe you do need some recreation.” I say, more to placate him than anything else. “What will you do with your four days? Do you have a seduction plan?”
Again I am treated to that askance look. “If yer mean am I goin’ to pull – too right! I’m off down Carter’s Farm this very mornin’, I am. They’re sowin’ the twelve acre, aren’t they? Twelve acres of hedge to hedge talent, mate – you wouldn’t believe!”
“Mind you don’t get your beak caught in the drill.” I warn him sardonically. “Aren’t you getting a little mature for this?”
“Are you talkin’ about my age again? Here, watch this.” Crow launches himself from the top of the lamppost, executes a near vertical climb, then an immaculate stall turn, which he recovers with vigorous wing flapping. Just as suddenly, he turns the ascent into a nose dive, wings near-folded, only to convert into a banked turn a few inches from the ground. To complete this curious demonstration of corvid aerobatics, he does an upward swoop, landing back on the lamp-post with elegant precision. “Does that look ‘old’ to yer? Does it?” His wing is dragging a little and clearly hurts him. He stabs it with his beak in annoyance. “In me prime, mate. In me prime.”
I give him a twisted smile, with as much of my face as remains unfrozen by that inclement morning breeze. “You’re not really going to cheat on your wife.” I tell him. “You’re dreaming. Those young birds would laugh at you.”
“Nah. Alright? Nah, I’m not goin’ to cheat on ‘er! She’d peck me ‘ead in, she would. I’d lose me tree rights. I’m a territorial, I am! I got a nest site, I have – and a good one, too! I’m respected! See what I mean?”
I do see. The winter has been mild, leaving a sky full of spring survivors, and only a few of those young birds will be able to breed because there is simply insufficient space. The older ‘territorial’ birds will monopolise the breeding as they always do. But there will be squabbling and fights.
“So you intend to seduce some poor young innocent into thinking you’ll settle down and have chicks with her, when all you really want to do is ruffle her feathers?”
The crow pauses to consider my euphemism for a second. “Fink so, that’s about it.”
“If that isn’t cheating, I don’t know what is. I’m ashamed of you!”
“Yeah, but….” He looks at me uneasily. “What do we do it for, eh? I mean, what do us males get out of it?”
I am flattered by this inclusion. I find myself briefly checking to make sure I am displaying no feathers of my own. “Us?” I try to answer truthfully. “What does anybody get out of it? Nothing, I guess – maybe a kindred spirit to cleave to when the wind blows; maybe another voice in the silence. Perhaps that isn’t the way to think of it. We don’t do it for ourselves, do we? We do it for our children. It’s what they get out of it that counts.” Trying a smile, I add: “And a few precious moments following the seed drill on Carter’s Farm.”
My crow is suddenly still. “But then yer chicks grow up, don’t they? And that’s us left chasing dreams. An’ every summer is a summer less, and suddenly there’s no chicks anymore, and we can’t fly as high as we did, or as fast. An’ sometime we have to stop, and ask ourselves really, what was it all about?”
I find I cannot answer. To try to do so would be to confront my own broken dreams, and in my own defence I must close that portal or it will consume me; so, with sadness, I reach up to the window sash, to gently pull it closed. As I do so, I catch the eye of my crow watching me, sharing my thoughts, exposing my innermost dread. I might almost imagine his sigh, but of course, that is impossible. With a graceful shift of balance the bird takes flight, away into the grey morning, and away from me.
In my heart I know I will never see him again.