by Neil Campbell
The crows came together and landed on the rooftop: comic-walked over puddles, drank from puddles, dipped bread crust into puddles. The black span of wings came floating in over the overpass, through the blue sky. Sometimes they crashed into the top branches of the surrounding oak trees. Their calls brought a man to the window to watch. He threw bread crust out, watched the birds come: magpies, seagulls, blackbirds, thrushes, robins, nightingales. But the crows were what he waited for, always in pairs. And then he wondered if it was always the same pair and decided it was.
He was looking from the window. The silence was unaccustomed because the road had been closed for repair. He saw no birds, heard no birds, looked into the blue sky waiting. Then the balloons came, so high he couldn’t hear the flames. He watched their floating beguilement and the different colours other than blue. Something of their silent float reminded him of the float of birds, the crows especially, when they rested their wings mid flight and simply glided lower to land on the rooftops.
At work he spent most of the time checking emails. A vast digital clock told him the time in blinking red. There was a clock on the computer screen. He had five minute eye breaks and sat with a cardboard cup of coffee watching Sky News on a long plasma screen big as the side of a stalled bus. There was a Scottish girl who sat near him. She had bleached blonde hair and fake tan and wore a lot of gold jewellery. When he walked past she often leaned back to reveal her nicely soft, slightly flabby tanned stomach, bejewelled in the bellybutton like a sunrise over a sand dune.
When one time the two of them happened to be alone together in the lift he thought to ask her out for a drink, but missed the moment before a batch of call centre workers got in and stood around without talking. He tried day after day to be in the lift with her at the same time, but she began to sense this, stopped leaning back in her chair when he passed.
One day he started to shoot the birds. Stealing magpies first, then the shitting seagulls, the tweeting black birds and the throaty thrushes and, hardest to hit of all, the singing nightingales who he made sure would sing no more. He shot one crow and the other one returned alone to flick through the mayhem of feathers. Listening to its croaking from the rooftop, its head looking from side to side through the immensity of the surrounding sky, he felt something for it, shot it last, waited for the bang on the door.
The neighbours began to abuse him, most often in the middle of the night when they must have known he was trying to sleep. They started to put the dead birds through his letterbox.
Almost a year to the day the balloons came back. And those in the balloons held boxes, and began to shake them out, and from the boxes came the birds, boxes full of birds. They fell vertically like waves turned sideways, and then like waves hitting rocks they unfurled in explosions of light. They weren’t like birds he’d seen before. They were yellow, blue, scarlet, green, and when they landed on the rooftops some of them began elaborate dances, bobbing and shaking, moving and twisting, wings flapping or tucking back in while the others just sat there, on the edge of the precipice, watching as the people in the balloons kept emptying more and more boxes of birds out into the sky.
He watched as the sky turned to a rainbow of birds, an aurora borealis of birds, a shooting star sky of birds, a sunset and sunrise of birds, and he opened his windows wide so there was room enough to leap through, then turned round and went to the kitchen, and he started running from the kitchen to the opened window and halfway there thought himself stupid.
Back in work he spent one morning looking on the internet at all the species of birds. He thought they were magnificent but then realized they weren’t in the room with him. He ordered some binoculars and found out the places where he could go and see birds from hides. And one day she was waiting for him by the lift. He listened and looked at her as she spoke. At first he struggled with her accent but then he got used to it, and after that, every time he walked past, she always leaned back in her chair to show him her bejewelled midriff.
Neil Campbell studied novel writing at Manchester Met. He had a collection of stories, ‘Broken Doll’, published by Salt in 2007. Recent stories in Orbis, Staple and elsewhere in The Pygmy Giant.