Welcome Guest  
A Crow Named Black
by Debasri Mukherjee (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 15-Dec-2017

Aww! Sweet! That’s my boy. Kill. Kill. Kill…No, no, no… Its pecking his eyes out…Yess! He’s grabbed it by the neck. Now one snap of the head and the head’s off, rainbow neck and plumage an’ all. I think it’s time to land on the nearest branch. A few of my brothers might be on the lookout, too. Best be the first off the block! 

I dip down, circling the top most branches, looking for a lower, sturdier branch to land while keeping one hawk eye on the prey, or, to be honest, the severed head of the prey which the dog has very obligingly thrown aside while starting on the body.

There! There’s a likely looking branch. I land, silent as a shadow. I have always prided myself on my landings. Even when I was an ugly cawing irritating little chick learning to fly on my mother’s insistence (accompanied by a lot of hard, painful pecking by the way). Anyway, more to the point; even then, my landings were my specialty. While my brothers and sisters made fools of themselves trying to land on their feet after their first attempts at flying, I, was sublime. I may not have been able to stay afloat for more than a few minutes, but I always landed on my two feet. And always silently. Nary a twig or leaf was disturbed when I landed. My mother was so proud. She showed me off to her friends, puffing her dark chest in pride every time I executed a perfect land. Boy, was everybody jealous? I remember our neighbour the crow-pheasant. A big beast of a bird as she seemed to me then. Her chicks weren’t much older than me but were more well built and had strong brown wings. You should have seen the way the mother cavaliered them through the day trying to make them learn to land like me. Oh, the antics they pulled. If I were a human I’m sure I’d laugh myself to tears; but that not being the case, all I could do was caw myself hoarse, trying to express my amusement at their desperate attempts to outshine me. I, was the king of the block… No one, not even the kites or the occasional hawk that visited our tree could outdo me in executing the perfect landing. Those were happy days.

A sudden movement on the left of my peripheral vision jerks me out of my happy musings of bygone days. Oh no! Its a kite. He has seen my prize, too and has just landed on the topmost branch of the adjoining tree, biding his time. If it came down to a race for the peacock head I knew I didn’t stand a chance. The kite’s young and healthy; way stronger than I am and much faster. I wouldn’t be off the block before he is off with the head. I must think fast. He maybe faster and stronger than me, but he’s also dumber. He’ll never make his move before the dog finishes his meal and saunters away because that’s the rule of the jungle. You respect those stronger and higher than you in the hierarchy or you pay the price. But I was never one for rules anyway.

I decide fast. Desperate times require desperate measures. Besides, the harder and more dangerous the game, the sweeter will be the reward. I glance once at the kite, gauging its distance from the target. If I take it by surprise I might just gain those crucial few seconds to reach the finishing line. Alright then, here goes nothing. I give a muffled caw to draw the kite’s attention, spread my wings and dive. Straight towards the peacock carcass. High above me I can hear the kite spreading its wings to follow. My subterfuge seems to have worked. I fly as fast as I can but I can feel him gaining ground. Below me the half-eaten peacock carcass and the feeding dog are coming nearer and nearer. I feel a faint pull down my slip stream; the kite is at my heels. I’m almost eye to eye with the dog. I’ll barge right into him. Focus. Sharp twist of the left wing. A tearing pain through my side as I turn against the wind pressure without slowing down. I almost hit the ground as I stretch my feet to grab the head. With a burst of speed, I’m rising again. Faster than I’ve ever flown in my life. Through the screaming air in my ears I hear the screech and growl as the kite barges into the dog. That would have been an encounter worth watching. But by now I’m high above the trees, their canopy hiding everything on ground level. Not that I’m much concerned. I have my prize. This’ll be the best meal I’ve had in three months. So, presently, I don’t care if the world breaks apart so long as it does so after my meal. Oh, sweet life. I can’t wait.

I circle around the roofs of the buildings below me looking for potential landing ground. It must be a secluded spot or else I’ll never know a moment’s peace. My fellow crows may not be very visionary in exerting themselves to improve their lot, but if someone among them by some lucky chance and a lot of effort, like I put in today, does manage something good, the others seem to feel they have a divine right to a share just by virtue of being from the same species and social order. Bunch of crap I say. I earned this prize and I’ll enjoy it in solitude. I see a prospective tin shade and head towards it.

Its late afternoon and the sun is on it's return journey, it's day’s work done. The soft slanting rays reflect off the jungle of concrete rooftops below me. A decade old memory fleetingly passes before my eyes. I’m flying high in the sky, looking down at a dark green stretch interspersed with a few rooftops. My vision clears and the present looms up before my searching eyes. An impersonal grey mass interspersed by a few lone green trees, the last remaining survivors of a dying era. It fills me with a strange sadness as I circle down. Like a well drying up. Like a living body decaying part by interminable part. I’ve never been anywhere other than this city in my fifteen years of life, yet I learn about the world beyond from my migrating friends. Every year they come with new terrifying stories of dead seas, burnt forests, molten glaciers and barren lands. So many of them are vanishing. Each time I see fewer of them. I don’t know where the missing ones have gone. I never get a straight answer from the ones that do come back. It is as if they fear even thinking about it. I don’t pester them. I hate those who prod and pry.  

I land safely on my tin shade and skip to a comfortable spot. It’s not easy while holding the head in my talons but I manage well enough. I let go of the head finally and settle myself down to enjoy my hard-earned feast.

Bang! The sound is like a gun shot startling me so badly I almost fall off the shade. Correcting my position, I peer upwards. No, it’s not a gunshot. From what I can see, it’s a door banging off the wall. Oh bother! That’s a human woman coming this way. She has the entire roof to herself and she chooses to head my way. How bad can one’s luck get! I consider ignoring her and continuing with my meal, but even I, who can risk getting eaten by a big bad dog, am wary of humans. That’s because these strange two-legged creatures do not exhibit any rational behaviour at all. A dog, or any other creature for that matter, you can trust to behave in a certain predictable pattern. If you are prey your predator will attack you when they are hungry or leave you alone. I have taught myself to recognize signs of aggression in all the other creatures with whom I co-exist. But, not humans. You can never tell what they’ll do or why. They don’t eat us, yet for no apparent reason they often try to hurt us. We could have lived with that and adjusted ourselves accordingly if that was the established behaviour of their species against ours. But it’s not. There is this whole other bunch of them who try to be so sweet and feed and shelter us and there are still others who ignore us completely so that, we are left totally confused. How do you behave with creatures who are perpetually unsure as to how to live in harmony with the other occupants of their planet? That’s why I’m wary of this approaching woman. I do not know which faction she belongs to.

She’s coming too close for comfort. I give an irritated caw and take off from the shade leaving behind the peacock head, praying it wouldn’t be noticed. As the woman walks towards the edge of the roof I circle above her head hoping desperately she’ll leave soon. She has reached the edge. I think she’s talking but I don’t see anyone else around. That is another strange thing about these humans. We crows are talkative creatures. We are always conversing or rather arguing amongst ourselves about something or the other; never coming to a consensus. But that’s not really the point of the exercise. We talk to hear each other’s voices. To remind ourselves that we are not alone. But I see these humans often in cheerful conversation with empty space. They have built these big machines to help them do what we do with our talons and eyes and wings and beaks. But they seem to have forgotten about each other. Each seem like an island. Existing all alone with no connection with each other. That’s why they are so unpredictable. You cannot predict what you might find on an unknown island.

The woman is leaning over the parapet. She seems to be looking at something keenly. Oh crap!! She’s seen the peacock head. I don’t think she realizes what she is seeing. I see her leaning fart