I see its shadow first. The shadow of the one with the big humped shoulders. The misshapen, distorted shadow flits across my open newspaper like a dark breath.
Then comes the cawing – a raucous cacophony. The sky is full of crows.
While the other crows circle and shriek, the hump-shouldered crow sits in the tree beside my chair, silent. Its eyes are blank and dull, its feathers mangy and moth-eaten, showing bald patches on its stomach and head. We stare at each other. I’m the first to look away.
The flock of crows takes off into the woods. Only the hump-shouldered crow remains. I turn to the sudoku which I usually leave until after lunch. Twice – three times – I make stupid errors.
In the middle of the night I peek outside. The tree beside the patio bends beneath the weight of crows. Some are even perched on top of others.
I pad downstairs, push two chairs against the front door, jam the bar across the sliding doors. I return to bed but can’t sleep.
Dawn gives way to full daylight.
The hump-shouldered crow, perched on the bottom right bedpost, winks at me. I heave myself out of bed and slide my feet into my slippers. A softness on my shoulder, against my cheek. He rests there silently, weightlessly. I would have expected sharp claws, but no.
After breakfast I get out the chainsaw, unused for years. I put on my metal-tipped boots, padded pants, protective gloves, goggles. Already I’m sweating.
The tree’s natural tilt inclines it toward the cottage. I rope it up so it will fall into the garden. It will smash and ruin this year’s lilies but that can’t be helped.
The crows fly from branch to branch, a shifting, restless mass. The chainsaw coughs, splutters, then launches into a long whine. There’s no way I can, at my age, get up the tree to lop off branches first. I set to work, cutting the wedge deeper on one side on the trunk, then the other. I brush the feather-softness from my left cheek.
I collapse onto my chair beside the tree. The desire to cut down the tree has suddenly left me. So what if thousands of crows have decided to make it their home? Why should I care? I love this tree. I think of its beauty through the seasons, the skeletal shape of winter, the hopeful green shoots bursting out in spring, the thick green foliage of summer, the fiery flaming red-gold leaves of fall. The tree must stay.
The tree creaks – it seems to me in gratitude. I put the chainsaw away, pull my feet out of the heavy boots and drag off the thick protective pants. Out of the cumbersome work clothes my body floats airy and weightless as though I could easily drift up into the sky.
That night I sleep soundly, sinking into the softness, now longing for it, searching for it panic-stricken whenever I wake up and think I have lost it.
The following morning as I awake, my hunch-shouldered crow sings to me. Not the hard-edged, nerve-scraping caw that you would expect. No, a sweet, lighthearted melody. There’s a glint to his eyes, a new sheen to his feathers. Even the bald patches aren’t as noticeable.
Through the window the sky glows. The crow-covered tree glistens black, a seething jet black.
What a beautiful day.
I make a huge breakfast like in the old days when I was young and take it outside to my chair beside the tree.
The tree groans. Ah yes, I must fasten it more securely to make sure it doesn’t fall. But first another sip of tea. The hump-shouldered crow nestles close and warbles delicately in my ear.
A mighty groan. The constraining rope snaps and the tree gives in to gravity. Leaves and twigs and bark fill my eyes, my ears, my mouth. The melodious crow-song grows to a glorious crescendo.
I open my pearly-black wings and wheel around the fallen tree. A brother crow-soul calls out a message – it’s passed along. We burst into delighted rusty caws. Word is, there’s fun to be had on the other side of the mountain. We shriek and flit through the trees. What teasing, mischievous spirits! There’ll never be a dull moment now, I’m sure of that. I swoop and rise again lightly with the strength and swiftness and carefree spirit of my youth.
I follow my fellow crow-souls. As we wend our way through the woodlands a moment’s regret for my unfinished sudoku, but then I catch sight of my shadow rippling over the ground, a misshapen, hump-shouldered shadow. Aieee, my dears, this is the life.