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torstai 7. lokakuuta 2021

Lord of the Crows

The old man sat on the bench in the park. Just like he sat every day, at the same time. His carefully trimmed beard had turned silver more than a decade ago, his bald head was protected by a cap. His impeccable clothes were pressed and clean, his loafers newly shined. He had an opened bottle of Coke Zero on the bench next to him, as he meticulously unwrapped a cigar, inspected it, inahled, and lit it as he slowly exhaled the crisp autumn air before taking the first drag of his cigar.

The man crossed his legs at the ankles as he leaned back, enjoying the taste of the cigar, closing his eyes for just a brief moment. When he opened them again, the first of the crows had landed on the ground in front of him, so softly that he hadn't even heard the slight thump of the bird's legs hitting the ground. 

As he watched, the next one arrived, then the next. All three birds were hopping about restlessly, cocking their heads, doing little flaps with their wings as if shrugging, watching the old man with piercingly black intelligent eyes. Finally the first arrival croaked impatiently and the man lifted his hand, palm up, as if to say: "Okay okay, a little patience never killed anyone."

The crows hopped closer as the man put his hand in his coat pocket and pulled out a red metal cigarillo case. It said Café Crème on the slightly scratched lid that had bent a bit once upon a time; when, where, and why, the man could no longer remember. He tried to open the case with his free hand, but failed, because of the bent lid. Sighing almost inaudibly, he carefully set the cigar on the edge of the bench and pried the case open using both hands.

When the case was successfully opened, the man set it on the bench next to him, on the other side from the Coke bottle. He lifted his cigar to his lips once again as his other hand reached to the case to pick up a few breadcrumbs with his thumb, index finger, and middle finger. The crows were silent, watching his every move with great interest and growing anticipation. Finally the breadcrumbs flew through the air and scattered on the ground, sending the crows skittering after the crumbs.

The man and the crows repeated the actions several times, like a well rehearsed play, until the man didn't throw crumbs anymore. Instead, he lifted his hand palm down, making a fly away motion with it. The crows gave a croak of a response, but the man repeated the gesture. One by one the crows spread their wings and rose to the air, and flew off to the little forest behind the bench. The man gave a little chuckle, for he could swear the crows were sulking as they flew away. 

For a moment everything was still around the man. He took a swig of his Coke, inspecetd his halfway smoked cigar, and waited. He didn't need to wait long before he heard the flap of wings behind him and a crow landed in front of him once more. It was a different one, he knew. As were the two others that followed. Again he let them hop around a bit, in anticipation, before he reached his fingers to the case and tosssed some crumbs for the birds. Once, twice, thrice, ten times. Always ten times.

The birds noticed their feeding was done as the man flipped the cigarillo case closed. One of them flew away, but the two others remained there, hopping aimlessly on the ground before the man, their keen black eyes always alert. 

A woman walking a small black dog emerged from the forest on the other side of the park. The old man had seen them, the woman and the dog, every day. He never looked straight at the woman, never acknowledged ther or the dog in any way. The woman always passed the man without turning her head to face the man. The man knew the dog's name, Frilly, because every day he heard the woman call the dog.

The woman and the dog approached the bench and the remaining two crows cocked their heads and took flight as the dog gave a short squeal followed by a bark. Just like every day, the little dog named Frilly tried to launch at the birds, only to find herself stopped by the leash. The woman pulled the dog back, saying what she always said: "Oh silly Frilly! You ain't gonna catch those birds! You think you can fly?"

Then they were already passing the old man, who was left sitting alone on the bench, all crows flown away. He didn't mind, though. He'd had their silent company for a time, he was quite happy being there alone, watching the back of the woman and her dog as they walked away until they disappeared behind the corner of a nearby building. 

Besides, he knew the crows would be back once the tiny beast was gone. Not just one on two crows, but usually all six of them. In ones and twos they flew back to peck at the ground by the old man's feet, to keep guard and company, to flutter around and watch over him as he finished his cigar and took the last swig from his Coke bottle before getting up and walking home with the same precise stride as always. 

The sun had dipped below the treeline but the streetlight had not turned on yet, as the old man walked towards his house with the surety and strength of a much younger man. Most of the crows had returned to the forest and the man could hear a distant cawing and croaking every now and then, but one crow followed him all the way to his front door. The man seemed oblivious of the bird folowing him, but he knew it was there. He didn't need to look, because he knew.

Only at his front steps did the man turn to look at the crow, who had sat on the porch railing, expectantly. "Well now, I'm going inside to make my evening tee. You be off and I'll see you tomorrow." With that, the man turned again, taking his key from his pocket. Without looking back he opened the door, stepped in and closed it on the crow who sat looking at the door for just a little while longer before he joined his pals in the forest. 

Once or twice the man had thuoght about naming the crow. He'd even thought about possible names like Caw or Talon or Eric. Then he had shook his head and decided that naming the being meant having feelings for it and he didn't want to be attatched to anyone, not even a crow. His was a solitary life, the crows his only companions, and he liked it like that. He didn't want to mix feelings and expectations into that.

He wasn't uncapable of love or other feelings. On the contrary! All his early life he had seemed to feel too strongly. Now he kept his life simple by excluding all feelings from it, after realizing how much easier it was to live without the pain of feeling. The pain of being disappointed. If you expect nothing, you won't be disappointed. So he lived his life alone, not even expecting the crows to be there every day. Still, he always took a cigarillo case of crumbs with him. 

While the old man was sipping his tea and reading an article about why the economy of Bolivia is dipping, the crows were having a hugely disorderly meeting back in the forest. "Listen to me! Listen to me! He's our friend, we should help him!" screamed the crow who every day accompanied the man on his otherwise solitary walk home.

"He's a human. What could we possibly do for him?" grunted an elderly crow, but no one even heard him through the ruckus of a couple younglings cackling and shouting: "Help him? Help him! Why should we? he gives us a few crumbs that he'd otherwise throw into the garbage. How does that make him our friend?"

"Have you all forgotten? Do you not remember?" cawed the first crow. "Remember what? That you once got your fat hind stuck in a bush and he cut the branches to set you free? How does that make him our friend?" sneered the stongest crow of the lot. He had so far remained unspoken, letting the unruly meeting unravel around him. Chaos erupted as the old and young laughed and shrieked in remebrance of that unfortunate event.

"Yes, yes, yes! That's what I mean! He's good to us! We must help him!" piped the first crow, who had almost been named Eric, trying to get his voice heard. He had lost his audience completely, though, and so he decided to do it alone, since no one else cared. He flew away emabarrassed by the memory of the day when he had become friends with the old man with the silver gray beard. Not embarrassed by the friendship - for he called it friendship - but by the circumstances that had preceeded.

The next day the man walked again to the park, with purposeful steps, like he was on his way to work or a meeting, not to sit on a park bench. He set down his bottle of Coke Zero on the bench and took a cigar from the pocket of his shiny black leather jacket before he sat down next to the Coke. 

The crow, whose name almost was Eric, had been in the shades, waiting, honing his plan. As soon as he saw the man light his cigar, he flew from his hiding spot and touched down at the man's feet. Soon his fellow crows followed, called by the faint smell of the cigar wafting through the tree branches gently swaying in the light autumn breeze.

The old man took out the cigarillo case, set down his cigar to open the box, with the same meticulously precise movements as every day, and started throwing crumbs to the sleek black birds. As always, after ten tosses, he dismissed the first three, and waited for the other trio to arrive. While the old man was feeding the others, Eric, for he had started to call himself that, stayed on a branch of a nearby tree.

"Whatcha up to?" asked one of his pals. "I'm gonna feign attack on the little black dog so that the old man needs to resque it and the woman will notice him," Eric responded, oddly proud of his little ploy. "You think datta work?" asked the third crow from the group. "Only one way to find out," cawed the first crow. "Here they come, the woman and the dog!" 

The three crows sat silently on their branches watching the woman and the dog as they approached the bench. They saw their friends take flight as the dog squealed and barked, and the woman pulled the dog back, telling her she was a silly Frilly for trying to catch a crow. When the dog was right in front of the old man, the crow called Eric screetched: "Now! But remember, no hurting the dog!" "What!" "Why?" "Uncool" screamed the other crows but followed their leader to the attack.

The three birds flew straight toward the dog and the woman gave a shriek as she scrambled to pick up the little dog who was yapping with all her might. "Shoo! Go away! Leave us alone!" screamed the woman, holding the dog in her arms, trying to shield her head. The crows cawed as they circled the woman and her dog, feigning attack but never touching either one.

The old man felt a jolt of alarm go through him when he saw the attack of the crows, his crows. He jumped up from his bench and in two long strides he was by the woman waving his arms in the air, joining in the chorus: "Shoo! Go away! What has gotten into you!" One by one the crows turned to fly back into the woods, Eric the last one to go. As he looked at the crow sternly, he could've sworn he saw the bird wink at him.

When the birds had disappeared into the darkening woods, the old man returned to his bench and picked up his now ruined cigar. He was busy inspecting the remains of his precious evening indulgence, when the woman, having set her dog down again, started screaming again, this time at the man. "It's all your fault! You and your bird feeding, day after day after day! Now those rotten birds think they own this place!" 

The man looked up at the woman, surprised, for the first time really looking at her. She wasn't exactly beautiful, nor was she exactly young, though a good many years younger than he was, the old man fathomed. She had an oval shaped face, framed with a mop of chestnut brown hair, that fell on her shoulder in unruly curls. Her piercing black eyes were full of fury, but he could see the crows feet at the corners of her eyes, a tell-tale sign of a life full of laughter. He took it all in, then bowed his head in chagrin. 

His crows. How could they! How could they attack this lovely lady and her little black Frilly like that! He felt devastated, so devastated that he could not utter a word. A single tear drop gathered at the corner of his eyes as he lifted them again, hoping the woman could see how utterly sorry he was. 

The woman stood there, panting, holding the leash tight with one hand, clutching her jacket front with the other. She wasn't crying, nor was she screaming anymore. Her eyes seemed to have glazed over. She's having a panic attack! the man realized suddenly and rose from his seat once more. A bit unsurely he approached the woman, asking her if he could help her to the bench. 

Once the woman was settled on the bench, the man sat down next to her. He didn't know what to do, so he just sat there, looking at his hands. The woman gave little gasps, swaying slightly back and forth. She lifted Frilly into her lap and the dog allowed her to bury her face into her soft black hair. The dog sat there unmoving, waiting patiently for her owner to start breathing again instead of gasping. For her heartbeat to slow down again. 

Finally: "Thank you." "For what?" the old man asked. "For shooing the birds away. For sitting me down on this bench. For just, for being there." "But I thought you were mad at me! For how the crows attacked your dog," the man asked, puzzled. "Yes, that, " the woman sighed, then continued with a wavering smile: "It's hardly your fault, really. They're wild beasts, after all." The old man wasn't sure he agreed, but said nothing. He was thinking about the wink he was more and more certain he saw as the crow flew off.

Well, I guess I'd better be going," the woman said, setting her dog down, stading up from her seat. "By the way, I'm Anne," she announced, turning to look at the man with a genuine smile that revealed a pair of endearing dimples. "Hello Anne, I'm Frank," the man replied, tipping his cap ever so slightly. "Hello Frank. Have a good day," Anne said before turning down the path throught the park with her dog. The old man, Frank, sat on the bench feeling just a tad lonely with the departure of Anne and her Frilly.


The old man - by the way, his name was Frank - sat on the bench in the park. Just like he sat every day, at the same time. His carefully trimmed beard had turned silver more than a decade ago, his bald head was protected by a cap. His impeccable clothes were pressed and clean, his loafers newly shined. He had a half-drunk bottle of Coke Zero on the bench next to him, a half-smoked cigar between his lean fingers, and an empty case of Café Crèmes in his other hand. 

He watched the three crows hopping and cawing on the ground before him as he absentmindedly dropped the cigarillo case to the pocked of his immaculate black leather jacket. He heard a distant yip and lifted his face expectantly in time to see the woman, Anne, emerge from the forest with her little black dog named Frilly bouncing happily in front of her. 

"The crows fled as the woman and her dog approached, Frilly giving a squeal and a bark, Anne, pulling her back, saying: "You silly Frilly! You think you can catch a crow? You can't fly girl!" right before they reached the man on the bench. "Good day, Anne!" exclaimed Frank from his seat. "Good day, Frank," returned the woman with a wide smile, aand then she sat on the bench, next to the man.

They chatted a bit, about the winds and the sun and the snows to come, about dogs and crows and how Frilly caught a mouse. They talked for a bit and then some more, but the woman needed to go, Frilly needed to be fed, house chores needed to be done. Regretfully she got up and promised herself that tomorrow she'd come earlier. She bid him goodby and was on her way, a color spot in her yellow rain coat, when the world around was black.

The old man sat on the bench and watched her go. He felt a strange pull in the his heart. He felt lonely like he did every day when Anne left. "I believe I'll invite her for tea one of these days," he muttered to himself. The crow called Eric heard him and hopped happily at his feet. 

Author's note

There is this old man in our neighborhood. Every day he sits on the same park bench with his cigar and Coke, feeding the crows. His attire is alwasys impeccable, and his beard is silver gray. That's as far as the truth behind this story goes. His presence on the park bench, day after day after day, inspired me, and I wrote a story. 

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