The Crow — Cezarija Abartis

“My therapod ancestors go back two hundred thirty million years. And yours?” The bird’s voice was high and clear, oddly airy as it floated to my mind, not my ears. I found I could talk the same way to the crow.

I straightened my trousers and lab coat. Sheepishly, I replied that our civilization went back ten thousand years, and our species a few hundred thousand more, though primates went back fifty-five million.

Her black feathers gleamed blue. “No wonder you are so cruel, young as you are,” she said.  Overhead, the light flickered. I would need to change the light bulb.

We spoke about her ancestors—more than seven hundred dinosaur species, who walked over eight continents, some of whom were carnivores and some herbivores. I explained that mine descended from primates and the same eating habits applied. My species conversed and fought and hunted; we ate everything, including each other. She understood but did not approve. 

She raised and lowered her wings. “After the asteroid hit, my ancestors shrank, survived, evolved into birds. I can sleep standing up.” She preened. “I can fly to the roof of a barn, a cathedral, the moon.”

I told her I didn’t believe that last.

“That was hyperbole,” she said. “Just my aspiration at one time, when I was a chick. She cawed a laugh and whirred one wing against the cage. “My mother taught me to share my food with chicks. And yours?”

I said that mine died in giving birth to me.

“That’s sad,” she said. She blinked, and I thought I saw tears. “Mine did not leave me until I was grown.”

“I had a pet,” she said. “The human just before you. A happy lovely farmer. She wanted a pet for her child. But then she brought me here, left me. That’s how I’m here.” She hopped on the perch, took a step, stumbled.

Poems have been written about her folk—“Twa Corbies,” for example—but not poems of praise. They were closer to curses. She understood that too: “Tribes that do not know each other are likely to dislike one another.”

I joked that sometimes knowing someone accurately meant they deserved disapproval.

She took in my statement and remained quiet for a long moment, did not croak a laugh nor blink. I told her I was joking, and she said it was a child’s dumb joke. I agreed.

She rocked back and forth on her perch. “Let me tell you a joke. Why was the moron hitting his head against the wall?” I leaned in. The generator in the corner hummed. She stepped sideways. “Because it felt so good when he stopped.”

I said I had heard that in grade school.

She nodded. “Sometimes the old jokes are the best.”

I said that it’s not politically correct now.

“The protagonist could be changed to a lab researcher,” she said, pointing her beak at me. “Or a genius, or a bird in a cage.”

The light flickered. “I have another one,” she said. “How many birds does it take to screw in a light bulb in a lab?”

I shrugged.

“Just one to electrocute her. And the light is out forever.” She squawked. She hopped on her perch, flicked her wings against the cage. “I lied. There is no light bulb. No researcher. No bird.”

We were learning a lot about her: nutritional needs, visual acuity, auditory ability, memory, but not flight. I said I could free her.

She screeched a sad laugh. “I’m teaching you about humans. It’s my job. I cannot leave. You are my children. Besides, my wings were clipped. By the previous owner, a human. You know that.”

“I’m sorry.”

She clucked and whirred her wings, blinked and looked away. “That’s a start.”