by Martin Westlake
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
They were at it again, on the flat roof above the room where Griffyth slept. He could hear them hopping about, cawing. The noise woke him up. It was as though they were having a meeting. Thank God they didn’t do it every morning. Bloody crows. Griffyth looked at his watch. Seven. He got out of bed and went for a piss. Their din was even louder in the toilet because of the ventilation grille that opened onto a duct leading to the roof.
‘Shut up!’ Griffyth shouted.
The noise temporarily diminished, but then started up again, even louder. Why were they so agitated this morning, he wondered. He pushed the flush handle down and was about to turn back into the bedroom when he saw bird shit splattered on the floor under the grille. Could it be? He carefully climbed onto the toilet lid and stared up. Something moved. He looked closer. Sure enough, through the grille he could make out a claw.
‘You stupid bugger,’ he said. ‘You’ve gone and fallen down the duct, haven’t you?’
He heard the bird flapping.
‘That won’t do you any good,’ he said. ‘You’re stuck, aren’t you?’
‘Well, you’re just going to have to wait. I’m having a cup of tea and a slice of toast and then I’ll come back and get you out of there.’
He could see the bird’s scaly toes as it hopped from one bar to another on top of the grille. He’d have to unscrew it all. But that could wait.
* * *
When Griffyth came back, the crows on the roof were making even more of a din.
‘Shut up!’ he shouted. He positioned his foot ladder under the grille then stuck several screwdrivers in his back pocket and slowly climbed up.
‘Now, don’t you go shitting on me!’ he admonished the bird.
It flapped around for a while. He leaned back and waited, in case it didn’t follow his instructions. But it seemed it had heard. He climbed up to the top step, inspected the screws, then selected a screwdriver.
‘I’ll soon have you out of there,’ he said. He started to undo the screws in the corners of the grille. When he had loosened all four, he began to wonder how he was going to get the crow out without damaging it or him.
The crow, sensing that freedom might be near, started to flap vigorously. The screws came out of their holes, and the grille and the crow fell into the tiny room.
Griffyth managed to bat both away from his head as they fell to the floor. The crow immediately righted itself, hopped into the corner between the lavatory and the wall and adopted a defensive position.
Griffyth felt a vague sense of privilege, to be sharing such a small space with another living being. ‘Be logical,’ he said to the bird. ‘Why would I do you harm when I have just gone to all the trouble of rescuing you?’
He climbed back down the ladder, folded it and leaned it against the wall. He studied the crow. It had a distinctive white bar in its tail.
‘Was it the fear?’ he asked the bird. ‘Did the shock turn your feathers white?’
The crow’s thick black beak seemed large and threatening. Griffyth considered his options. He could get a towel and throw it over the bird before grabbing it. But he was afraid he might inadvertently hurt the bird under the cloth, especially if it struggled. The alternative was to brave that beak and just pick the bird up with his hands.
‘Now you listen here,’ he said to the crow, which had shrunk back into its corner, ‘I have just saved your life. I hope you realise that. Now, I am going to pick you up and carry you into the garden and, given what I have done for you, I don’t think you should try and peck me. Do you understand? Show a bit of gratitude.’
The crow, hearing the sound of Griffyth’s voice, put its head to one side, as if trying to understand him, and made a small cracking noise.
‘Crack, crack,’ Griffyth said. ‘Here I come.’
He bent forward slowly, his hands outstretched on either side of the bird, and gradually reached down. The bird stayed still. He moved his hands a little closer. The crow opened its beak, as if to caw, but made no sound. Griffyth moved his hands until they were parallel with the bird. Still it made no attempt to escape.
‘Have you understood?’ he asked the bird. ‘Is that it?’
Again, the crow put its head on one side and made a small cracking noise.
‘Now, you be good,’ said Griffyth.
Slowly, he placed his hands around the crow’s wings and then picked it up. The bird was strangely lighter than its size had given him to expect and its feathers felt like a coarse fabric. It didn’t flap its wings or caw or try to peck him but just stayed there, in his hands, gazing at him.
‘I wonder what’s going through that little brain of yours,’ said Griffyth. ‘Do you understand how lucky you are?’
Again, that curious movement of the head to one side and the small cracking noise.
‘I am going to give you a name,’ said Griffyth. ‘From now on, you are Cracker, understood? Cracker. Now then, Cracker, there’s no point in struggling. Do you understand? You’ll be free soon enough.’
When he reached the garden door, he could see a large number of crows congregating on the fence posts and in the mole-acned patch of grass he called the lawn. It was as though they were expecting him. It was probably sheer coincidence, but there was something uncanny about the sight nevertheless. He managed to push down far enough on the handle with his elbow to get the door open, then stepped out into the garden. The crows immediately started to caw excitedly and Cracker cawed back.
‘Now then,’ said Griffyth, ‘I just want a quick word with you before I let you go, do you understand?’ The bird fell quiet. ‘What I want to tell you is this; I have saved your life, so now you owe me one, okay? Understood?’
The crow’s black eyes stared back at him. Was there a flicker of understanding there? Griffyth carefully placed the bird on the ground and stepped back. The other crows were making a racket, but Cracker remained silent and still, watching Griffyth. He put his head to one side and made his cracking noise.
‘That’s my Cracker,’ said Griffyth.
Two crows flew down to the lawn and landed, cawing loudly.
‘Would that be Mum and Dad?’ Griffyth wondered.
Cracker turned and cawed back. He hopped forward, and then the three flew into the trees and out of sight. That was that, then, thought Griffyth. Adventure over.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Martin Westlake