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Ornithology

We’re moving house. Crow said he’d fly over and give us a hand.

‘Really, if you had a system this whole ordeal would be a lot simpler. It’s an absolute shambles.’ Crow pecked at papers and jaunty souvenirs from a box I still hadn’t got round to unpacking from the last move. ‘I thought you were over your hoarding phase.’

‘It comes and goes.’ I said.

‘Well you might have warned me. This dust is going to play havoc in my plumage.’ Crow spread his wings and flapped erratically. ‘Here, I’ve got together all your silverware, the clean stuff anyway.’

‘You should have been a magpie Crow.’ I joked.

‘Pica pica’ Crow muttered under with his breath with disdain. ‘Bind it together with tape’ he ordered, ‘to stop it from rattling.’

‘Won’t that leave behind a sticky residue?’ I asked.

‘Don’t worry about that, Hannah can scrub it off.’ He paused for thought. ‘Although she’ll probably leave behind remnants.’ I was inclined to agree with him but refrained so as not to encourage the recent dislike he had seemed to take to her. He had told me earlier in the month that he found teachers collectively condescending and inappropriately fruity.

‘How is the rest of the band?’ Crow asked with an air of fabled nonchalance as he alphabetised a pile of utility bills. ‘Good.’ I said.

‘And morale? How’s morale?’

‘Jovial’. I said. ‘You know, Nathan’s not been on the last few dates either. They’ve been small affairs; out of the way places. We didn’t want to trouble you with the triviality.’

‘Please,’ he said, ‘it’s always more trouble than it’s worth.’ He forced a pathetic laugh. I did too.

‘How’s the Halle? Have you had many dates recently?’

‘Oh, they have a new conductor. I don’t care for him. Eastern European. Pompous old card. No I don’t travel much with them these days.’

There was silence, languid over the rummaging of boxes and papers. ‘We have three days in Helsinki next month. Perhaps you could fly over and meet us. It’s a big show. I’m sure the guys would love to see you.’

‘I don’t want to trouble you.’ He said.

‘No,’ I said, ‘it’d be great; you’ll keep our spirits up. Like in the old days.’ We continued packing in the silence.

‘Where’s the box marked Kitchenware?’ Crowd asked eventually. ‘I have some more spoons.’

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We got to the venue in York and were cordially greeted by the promoter – Joe.

“Hi,” he said.  “Is that all of you now then?”                                                                                                “Yep, that’s us all” Nathan said.                                                                                                                        “Ah good” Joe said. “He said you wouldn’t be far behind.”                                                                      “Who said?” Nathan said.                                                                                                                                “The other member of your party.” Joe said.                                                                                              “There is no-one else.” Nathan said.                                                                                                          “Hey?” Joe said.  “That’s funny, he said he was with the band that were playing tonight.”                “Who said?” Nathan said.                                                                                                                               “Well come on inside, he’s just in there waiting.” Joe said.  “He did seem a little odd,” Joe added for measure as we walked down the corridor leading to the performance space. “A little” he paused. “Punctuated.”

Opening the doors at the rear of the venue we stepped into a large room fitted out with wooden chairs and tables.  The room was bordered by old, cosy looking settees.  Red brick pillars absorbed the dim yellow lights and the bar shimmered its brass fittings through shadows at the back of the room.  The place had warm memories of a bygone workingman’s club.  The Duchess it was called.  The stage rested beyond the pillars soaked in a frosty blue light.

“There he is.”  said Joe cheerfully.  “He asked if we would not disturb him till the artists got here.”

There, perched high on the blue spotlight and majestically silhouetted was Crow.

“Crow!” we all cried.  He turned around nonchalantly and greeted us with a bow, lifting a single wing into the air.  He used formality with poise.                                                                                                   “How do you do?” he said.                                                                                                                                “Oh good Crow, really good. How about you?” Nathan said.                                                                         “I have been well, very well, despite my course.” he said looking about him in disdain.                   “Crow,” said Liz. “This is Phil ‘Owley, he plays drums.  Phil this is Crow, he toured Germany with us.” “Hi” said Phil                                                                                                                                            “Delighted, I’m sure,” He turned to Liz. “Have you been breeding again Liz?”

I have to explain here that Crow does not fully grasp the concept of mammals or infact social interaction outside of the family unit.  Despite his upright education he is actually of the impression that Liz laid and hatched each member of the band.  To correct him would be to repulse him on all possible fronts.

“Well I suppose he’ll aid the time keeping.” He turned to me with a look of hopeless incorrectability. “What brings you here Crow?” I said, “I thought you’d flown back to Frankfurt.”                                       “I did,” he said “but then I discovered that you’d forgotten your waistcoat so I thought I’d better bring it to you.”                                                                                                                                                             “But I don’t have a waistcoat” I said.                                                                                                                    “I know you don’t” he said, “which is exactly why I bought you one.”                                                       “Oh well thanks Crow” I said.                                                                                                                            “It’s the least I can do to help with your stage presence.  We can work on your posture another time.” “Are you sticking around Crow?” Liz asked.                                                                                                      “I don’t think I can dear,” he said with a deep remorse. “Concert season is coming up, besides I wouldn’t know where to start in this climate.”                                                                                   “Nonsense Crow, you’d enjoy it here and we’d love to have you.”  Liz replied.

“Well if you still need me I suppose it would be wrong to neglect my duties.  Where’s my dressing room?”

“Ah Paris!”

Crow commands a deep breath as if consuming in it, the city’s pregnant history and implanted future all at once.

“This is the place for me.  My kind of city, my kind of people. ‘Fuller of wonders and wickedness than all the cities of the earth!’ Dickens.”

“Ah” I say

“Of course narratively speaking the comment was for London but in his heart I think he referred to that great city of love.”

“Oh” I say

 “I lived here once you know?”

“Really Crow”

“But of course.  I thought you might have noticed that in my stance.” A slight pause carries undecided quiet.  ” Agh! You couldn’t sense something like that.  You lack a universal comprehension yet.”

“What took you to Paris” I ask trying to keep the conversation focused on his story.  It is always a more genial experience for everybody that way.

“I spent some time at the Sorbonne.”

“Wow, what did you study?”

“I’m a crow, I didn’t study anything.  Good grief!  No no, I spent time with the faculty there.  Instilling the prerequisite of excellence and scholarly perfection through image.”

“A bit like what you do for us?”

“I suppose so,” says Crow with patience.

Crow sees himself as our Ambassador.  ‘The integral representative of our easy disposition and good nature as we travel from city to city.’  That’s how he puts it.  He always reminds us about the weight of responsibility he carries and pleads with us not to ruin his good work with rudeness or bad manners.

“It would be nice if you acknowledged the job I do of keeping up morale also.” Says crow, looking over my shoulder as I write this.  He flies out of the room leaving behind a stony silence…

“I think pleasantries childish and improper” says Crow as he vacillates portentously on his perch.           He addresses Nathan but I know the comment is for me.  The night before I had asked him why he never conversed with the staff at venues or ever thanked them for their hospitality.

“Firstly” says Crow, with a piercing eye pitched right at mine, which I am released from only when he closes his eyes, slowly turns his head toward the mirror and flashes a murderous glare at my reflection instead.   “I reserve conversation for dignities sake.  For the people who share my brow of existence.”

It’s actually the integral belief Crow has in his own opinions that makes me feel that he cannot really be a bad soul.

“Secondly one should be able to do ones job without praise.”  He averts his eyes back to mine still with the same, piercing glare. “It is a matter of duty, of métier.  The wage taken home by a worker should be thanks enough.”

“But what about good nature?” I ask him naively.

“No.” Demands Crow.  He pauses for reflection.  “But perhaps if one were to provide addendum. Tickets to the theatre or the facilities of a spa for example, then it may be proper to acknowledge such a gesture.  With tact of course.”  Crow has a weakness for spas.  He says that if cleanliness is next to godliness then the spa is a Pantheon of the immortal spirit.

“A workers role is to make us feel settled and welcome in these strange, foreign places and an attitude of crude recognition on our part could only cause future complacency in their subservience.”

Crows eyes soften and his tone changes to one of blasé erudition. “Take the colonial period.” He offers  “The last truly great advancement in civilization, and all accomplished by our own, now tragically recumbent monarchy.  Now, how far do you think the Empire would have progressed if we had gone around obliging the savages with compliments on their strong limbs and keen work effort?”

Crow sees nothing wrong with his use of the word savage here.

“I mean, you do not see me asking for thanks or praise for keeping you fellows in a light and spunky mood throughout your little tour do you?  My Jocular spirit and humility are all part of my duty as much as is my personable attitude with the crew and other ones further down the line.”

“Your doing a very humble job Crow and we really appreciate it.” I say

“Thank you” he says.  His eyes close again.  This time with contented pride.