When the boy saw the bird, he shouted ‘Look, it’s a blackbird, mum, can I have one as a pet, can I?’ It wasn’t a blackbird, although it was a black bird, and as the boy had been loud and the afternoon whisper-quiet, the bird had flown off, its great jet wings flapping through the still air, followed by a protesting squawk. It was a crow.
The boy loved birds and he didn’t discriminate. He loved cute red-breasted robins and their inquisitive nature. He loved seagulls – not the chip-stealing ones, really, but the ones that whirled above his town, their yellow beaks flashing against the bleached sky. But mainly he loved black birds, and not just the ones that laid powder-blue eggs in his garden’s bushes, but the bigger ones, too, with oily feathers, with mysterious marble eyes and scarlet maws, on the rare occasions he got close enough to see past beaks.
Further along the path, a group of crows, perhaps a clique of siblings, were pecking at the grass, looking for scraps, or worms – something the boy didn’t question. ‘Do you know what a group of crows is called?’ his mum asked. She was walking ahead, slightly, and paused to look at her son, but not long enough for him to answer. ‘A murder is what – a murder of crows!’ With that, she pretended to be a witch, waving her arms at the boy and making hooting noises. The boy shrieked with laughter and tossed his head back, and the murder took off. This time, the squawks were more discordant, less clear, as each black creature competed to be the most disgruntled. They landed a short distance away, on a hummock of brown grass. It was quiet again, save for the far-off noise of a train. The boy and his mum walked on but the boy couldn’t take his eyes off the murder of crows, the five perching birds with their silk-smooth heads and razor-sharp beaks.
Later, at bed time, the trees had come to life. A breeze shook the leaves on the overgrown silver birch outside the boy’s window. He lay propped on his elbows, the dimming light making it harder to read his book of choice. ‘British Birds’ was emblazoned across the tatty cover, in emerald green, and there, centre stage, was a magnificent bird, its beak pointing towards the ‘t’ and its wing tip nudging the ‘d’. ‘I want you’, the boy whispered. He caressed the book’s cover, leaving a moist finger trail from the crow’s gnarled claw and up the length of its stick-thin leg. Outside, birds were settling for the night, making their roosts cosy and warm.
As the boy drifted off, his arm draped over the well-thumbed book, images of crows flashed through his mind. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I will get one and it will be mine forever.
To read more by Matthew please visit @CountryBoyWales