OF THE BLUE EVENING
Queen Long Beak Raven of the Corvidae went into labour. This blue evening her daughter stepped into the kingdom with her foot first. The king named her Dusky alluding to the time of birth, the short transition between the day and night. Just as well, the timing was as significant as the name had a magical ring to it. Dusky had no control over when she was born. But the King had a choice over the name. What’s in a name? The fact of the matter was, the fledgling had a strange premonition on a blue evening.
Princess Dusky looked the part too, regal. She wore a full moon bindi on her forehead like a jewelled crown of the night. The moon deity Selene anointed her with a prophecy of this glossy spell. A third eye shone the brightest in the aura of this charmed hour, Dusky soliloquised the origin and the force of her bindi to the wild grass and thorny wattle hedges from a high branch of a banyan tree.
The morning her father lay in state, the Corvids swore her in as the new Queen. Large Feather Rook stood by her as minister. The Queen chose the blue evenings to be the most auspicious hours to hold all her courts. In view of the interest of her subjects and the kingdom, she and her courtiers conceived a thick plot of expansion. Dark days were pickling. An infestation of crows scouring the skies, was spotted by the lighthouse on the edge of the North Sea. Each crow returned with a little something caught between the beaks; war booty gathered from the ravaged homes they ransacked, also some they scavenged. They dropped them off before Queen Dusky and Minister Rook—mango pickles, straw, wheat grains, whatever they found; her majesty’s loyal crows brought them all to her beak. In the waxing moon, Queen Dusky’s army of crows garnered strength in its shadow.
Across the North Sea lighthouse, nestled within a mango grove, a hut was situated on the far side of a beach. In the first light of the sun, an odd crow flew into this hut. It squatted on a mat of pickled mangoes spread out in the morning’s dust. The crow looked around and saw a woman sitting nearby ogling at it; the audacious crow ogled back at her while it protruded its feathery neck to peck her pickles. In the open yard, she kept an eye on her prized possession; the mangoes she had been drying and pickling for over a month now. She frowned at this rasping creature. Aghast, she stood up and took a broom she’d placed against a matted wall. After sweeping the front yard meticulously and rolling out a mat, she’d spread the pickled mangoes on it. Albeit, mangoes were in season; a summer of discontent was unfolding.
“You dirty crow, get off, get off my pickles. Do you think you can fly in with your dirty feet and trample all over them? Get off—get off my pickles.”
The crow moved only an inch as it continued to peck and prod. She shooed it off with the broom like a magic wand crying, “go—go—get away—get away, you shameless, spineless creature.” A few rough lashes on the crows back, cawing roughly it flew away. A neighbour was passing by. She heard her scream. She stopped at her entrance, and saw how the crow’s badness was driving her to madness. Brazen as it was, the crow swooped and sat on the branch of a mango tree overlooking her hut. Some of the tree’s longer twigs fell heavily on the shack’s fence, where she plucked her mangoes. Unfettered, the crow skipped over closer to her neighbour’s fence.
The neighbour had her threshing out in the sun. Without a blink, the crow apprehended her wheat. Unfair it sure was from the pickle woman’s perspective, however, the crow also had a point. It felt it had every right to be here, as many rights as those two women. ‘Whose land do they think this was? Was it theirs?’ The crow thought. Regardless of whose land it was, it decided to finish what it had come for. To rob whatever it could, and then make a clean egress. It had been scheming, and raiding in waves to take more until its little nest was cramming with people’s granaries that it needed a bigger nest in spite of its fledglings’ leaving home.
Unlike the hut-dwellers, the crow hadn’t acquired its nest through any monetary transactions, signed papers or stamped contracts. It also hadn’t acquired the taste of ownership, not in the same vein as these two women. It sure knew that it may have to fly away anytime if there was a storm, or some wanton earthling wrecked the nest with slingshots. Who knows? Anything was possible on this blue planet.
‘Unbeknowest to them,’ it thought. ‘Something much larger was brewing in Queen Dusky’s court with the advent of the first phase of the moon. Her soldiers were reckless. They could push out those two women and others like them from the neighbourhood as sure as this fair day. These were trying times. Caw, caw, caw. They couldn’t even fly. Where would they go if they lost everything and became homeless?’
The pickle woman looked over her shoulder and wondered what the wretched crow was on about. She picked up her broom again and hurled it over the fence to stop it cawing. The neighbour who was watching said. ‘Monowara Begum, you’re picking a fight with a crow? Why not cover the pickles with a sieve or something? When you leave them exposed, it’s an open invitation to them. It’s in their nature. Of course they would drop by, and even leave their droppings all over the pickle mat.’
‘Yeah yeah. Have you covered your threshing?’
‘No, I don’t have a sieve large enough to cover all my wheat.’
‘Exactly. That bloody crow is creating mayhem at your place, leaving its droppings on your grains as you said, and you know what? You don’t even know where it has been. Check your wheat now, Ayesha. Crows are there already and they couldn’t care less.’
This alerted Ayesha. She brisked up her pace sloppily down the path toward her own hut. Monowara Begum sat at her pickle mat and scanned it for any possible droppings. She found a few clusters of feces in one corner, and some in the middle. Grumbling, she took them out with a torn piece of newspaper and tossed it over the fence. ‘What’s with the crows hitting in like this? Do they think they own all this, that they can simply fly in and out as they wish? Rubbish.’
She thought of the newspaper as a possible cover. But the sunlight couldn’t even penetrate through it. While she was deciding and looking for a sieve, the crow crowd on her mat increased. She realised that her broom had been chucked over the fence. She quickly ran outside to pick it up from under the mango tree. When she came back, she saw more unsightly feces on the mat with some heavily pasted pickles like wet dye pasting on grey hair.
‘Why?’ Monowara Begum cried. ‘What horrible fate? Do I not have the same fate as my mother? She had become a homeless refugee because of the atrocities of the redtails. Now this—’ The crows cawed and excreted even larger amounts. They saw how she was cleaning up after them, and laughed at Monowara Begum who looked positively miserable while they had their little glow party on the mat. What was she going to do now, the crows conferred?
‘As long as crows rule, she needn’t do anything further. All we need is access to her food and straw, ’ Elder Jay cawed.
‘The passerines don’t think they own the earth, unlike the redtails. They kill, torture and steal land in the name of the crown. They call it crown property. But we wouldn’t engage in eye-gouging or bodily harm etc, etc. Because we are more discerning. Life is short. Sentiments of ownership, and materialism are trifles. Our loot is not the Queen’s either. Although we may offer her some,’ Nutcracker cawed.
‘Humans mock and trivialise us.’
‘Not anymore, they won’t. They shall see the errors of their ways soon. We shall shed fascinating insights, far better.’
‘They hunt us for pleasure. Shoot us down because we are a nuisance to them. Our voices are too loud, harsh and brash. How do we get them to understand our worth, our value as scavengers?’
‘They need a reality check.’
They heard the pickle woman wailing over her spoiled pickles. She would starve tonight and many nights. She may have to beg, and only God knows what else she would have to do. Crows have taken everything. They have also pulled down her home. She looked at the thatched roof where the straws had been taken out of place. They poked and beaked the matted walls until the hut had shaken to its core; a bare mango tree stood outside the fence. The next morning, Monowara went out in search of food. She saw her neighbour. Her wheat was gone too.
‘What should we do?’ Monowara asked.
‘I don’t know. Crows have taken everything we ever had.’
‘What about your crop fields?’ Monowara asked.
‘Crows have destroyed those, too,’ Ayesha responded.
‘Yeah,’ Ayesha said.
‘Well, I’m going to see Queen Dusky and Minister Rook. Do you want to come?’ Monowara asked.
‘No, you go on. I’ve heard this new Crow Queen isn’t any better. Let me know what they say.’
At dusk Monowara set off, rowing a boat across the great North Sea. The Ministry of Crows was housed on top of a knotty banyan tree by an algae-filled pond and crested wheatgrass. Queen Dusky and Minister Rook were perched up on two hanger ledges, enthroned at the top of the aerial roots. Monowara thought the Queen looked tranced. No matter, what would she know about royalty and her sedated expressions? She only chased crows who fed on her pickles.
Queen Dusky and Minister Rook’s hangers were made of sugarcane straw. Monowara recognised them. These were the very straws which the crows had removed from her hut. Monowara approached them with her serious complaint. She bowed. Flapping her large wings, Queen Dusky made an expansive gesture for her to speak.
‘An army of crooked crows have attacked us and have taken everything my neighbour and I had,’ she said.
‘What have they taken? Pickles? Wheat?’ Minister Rook asked in Monowara’s language.
Yes, pickles, wheat, and more,” she said.
‘How do you mean?’ Minister Rook asked.
‘They picked out straws from my sugarcane roof and poked holes in it. I got no roof over my head.’
‘My crows did that and left you two out of joint.’
Minister Rook and Queen Dusky laughed.
‘Yes, they did. Do you not believe me?’
Monowara looked around and pointed at their perching hangers, and all the nibble-sized pickles dribbling through the wheatgrass at the crowfoot’s nimble play.
‘Look, look, my pickles which your army took. I eat them for dinner every day, and sell pickle mango jars. Do you not see them right here?’ she asked. ‘Your thrones are also sugarcane straw-made, which had kept my roof together until they were beaked out.’
‘Where is your proof, woman?’ Rook asked. ‘These are royal thrones, are you accusing us of robbery and chasing my crows?’
‘What more proof do you need? These are mine, my signature pickles, and my straws. I have a signed and stamped contract from the state which says the land and the hut belong to me.’
‘Let me ask, when you say it is yours—your pickle, your land and hut, and straws. Do you see your name written anywhere in all these?’
‘No, of course not. The contract does. It’s from the high court.’
‘Ah! The high court of the redtails per se not from the court of Goddess Selene?’ Queen Dusky asked.
‘Goddess Selene? What do you mean?’
‘Surely, land belongs only to Her. Pickles too, no rains—no pickles, right? What rights do you have to make any claim?’
The crow courtiers cawed in unison. The Queen continued. ‘Since the deity hasn’t put your name down on anything. Do you really own what you tout? Her land, Her bequeath to us because She willed it. If She wants, She can take it back and us too, anytime,’ Queen Dusky’s voice, becoming husky.
‘Crows can’t do this. Did the deity give them the right to fly in and out of our land as they please and grab whatever they please? Why, this is utter madness!’
‘The land is no more yours than it is the crows. They have misappropriated nothing from you. You, on the other hand, have claimed Her land, Her dirt, Her rocks as yours. It was the crow’s ploy to put you out of misery. It is you who have stolen, robbed, and kept it as yours. Confess.’
‘Rubbish! Crows have looted. It’s criminal. If any, they have put us into misery more than you know. Are you any different from the redtails?’ Monowara snapped, it was exhausting.
‘Moving forward, our rule of law is not to own private property. Land belongs to the Almighty Selene. We don’t do bodily harm. Nothing is carried out in my name, either. Unlike the greedy redtails, victors such as us do not ‘steal,’ ’tout,’ or ‘loot,’ —a fair bit of difference, no? My crows aren’t the bandit villains you take them to be.’
‘You also steal,’ Monowara argued.
‘The sun also rises,’ Queen taunted.
‘Means?’ Monowara asked.
‘You’ll see. Join us, become a crow. You’ll find it liberating,’ Queen said.
‘I’m not a crow,’ Monowara said.
Monowara inclined her head and noted a bunch of crows coming toward her. She left the court. She retraced her steps and sat down by the algae-filled pond outside the banyan hedge. The crows followed her there and performed circles of flying ritual around her head. ‘What did they say? Was my name written on the rocks? They are trying to put you out of misery. Become a crow.’
The world was Selene’s giveaway. But the redtails had a different view—possession of the land and draconian rules. The Queen’s insightful, lofty words were lost on Monowara. A kaleidoscope patterns of layered realities were reflected in the pond. It mirrored an endgame. The Covids weaponised their vision to free Monowara from the redtails. In the rising sun a new order was born; a utopian Crowland spearheaded by a buck naked Queen of Crows. In the mango grove crow’s rebuilt Monowara’s hut again. It was on a debt free, no man’s land where an aged Monowara crowed with delight while she chewed her pickles; her scavengers’ impatience grew, nature of the beast.
However, the heavenly bodies also moved. In this interplay, the moon was in the earth’s shadow as it progressed into its last phase. Queen Dusky’s bindi darkened in the total eclipse. Boasting her velvet feathery cape, she trotted down to a corner of her rather large hanger. Within the short span of the dusk, Dusky flew away with a murder of crows into the depths of the blue evening. Only a glib westerly blew over the bleak, and timeless rocks of a borrowed land.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Mehreen Ahmed is a novelist. Her historical fiction novel, The Pacifist published in Canada by Cosmic Teapot was a Drunken Druid Editor’s Choice in 2017. Her collection of short stories, Gatherings published in the UK by Bridge House Publishing, was nominated for James Tait Award, 2020. Her recent novel, Incandescence has been published in the UK by Impspired. She has published with Cambridge University Press, Litro, UK, EllipsisZine, RogueAgent Journal: Sundress Publication and others. Her full bio is available on Amazon and Goodreads.
Image created on Stable Diffusion 2- 1
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