CROW BOWING, by Lucius Appaloosius AS THE CROW FLIES
by Regina Glei
Test ©2008 Regina Glei; illustration ©2008 Lucius Appaloosius

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   Humans tried to kill us all. So no wonder I don’t like them. But at the same time I pity them. Even though they have hands and can build wonderful things, what do they do with their intelligence and their hands? They hurt and destroy. Like they wanted to destroy us. They said there were too many of us and constructed a disease to kill us. Thousands died a slow and painful death. So no wonder I don’t trust humans and stay away from them as much as possible. And it fills me with great pleasure that the humans got more than they wanted. The irony was that a few of us survived the virus and changed. We got smart, and I mean real smart. Smarter than humans? That’s up for debate. Humans are cowards; they avoid us and the test for who’s smarter.
   But then a day came that brought crows and humans closer together, though not voluntarily.
   I was sitting in a tree when it happened. I felt my perch swaying strangely and I rose into the air. A terrible sight stretched out before me. The invisible hand of a giant rattled the whole town. More and more buildings collapsed, as if they were made of cardboard, not steel and concrete.
   Humans aren’t smarter than us. If they were, they wouldn’t build a big town like Tokyo into a spot they knew would be flattened to the ground again. It had even been completely destroyed before, in 1923. And yet they had rebuilt everything in the same spot. How stupid is that? A big quake would come about every seventy years, humans said. They had been lucky; it had taken double that time to crumble the city to dust once again. The year was 2066 when it happened.
   The falling buildings smashed everything beneath them. Soon dust filled the air, along with screams and chaos.
   My first thought was they deserve it. It’s good for humans to get their wings clipped from time to time. But some of the screams sounded just like crows dying from that virus. The screams made me shudder. What if those were the cries of my friends and siblings?
   Yes, I didn’t like humans, but what happened to them that day chilled my bones like winter frost. So much pain and death…
   Shattered and depressed, I flew to our sanctuary at one end of Yoyogi Park and settled back down into a tree. Even our sanctuary was damaged, there was a deep crevasse going right through it now. Fresh earth that formerly hadn’t been exposed to sunlight lay open now, like a wound. One tree greatly unsettled me. It had been split in half; one half stood on one side of the new rift, one half on the other, and the inside of the ripped-apart tree was strangely white.

   Shortly after the quake ended, many of the ‘sleeping’ crows who had never caught the disease, came to our sanctuary, irritated and afraid. We Awakened ones—the humans like to call us ‘mutated’—moved closer together, giving half of the sanctuary over to our frightened, ‘sleeping’ brothers and sisters.
   We waited out the night. The sky above Tokyo was red; many fires had broken out.
   Our Elders, the first Awakened crows who had actually lived through the attempted genocide, discussed how we should respond to the disaster. Someone suggested we should take advantage of all the fresh new meat. But Elder Dakko pointed out that humans had weird ideas about how their carcasses should be treated. Humans held all the power. Tokyo’s city-officials had threatened to release another, even deadlier virus if we Awakened crows ‘caused trouble of any sort’. Therefore, she said, it would be better not to anger them for just a few days’ worth of food.
   “The best way to stop them from trying to kill us is to discourage them from wanting to kill us. So tomorrow morning we will offer our assistance to the humans. We can help them finding people buried under rubble and in many other ways too.”
   I agreed with the plan. If we proved ourselves useful, maybe the humans would finally leave us alone. And so I volunteered to help.

   Early the next morning, a delegation of humans visited us in the sanctuary. They had had the same idea, had come to ask us for help, and were delighted to find us ready and cooperative.
   Elder Dakko dispatched two thousand of us; the humans seemed very grateful. I was told to report in with a group of volunteers in Jinbocho.
   The short flight there was terrible. At least half of all of the buildings had collapsed and many roads were blocked and countless columns of smoke stood high in the sky. Between the fires and piled-up debris all sorts of unnatural air currents made it hard to navigate.
   Yasukuni Road, which cuts through Jinbocho, was a major escape route. I could see many humans working feverishly to clear it of rubble, for fire brigades and ambulances to be able to get through.
   The quake had hit on a Tuesday, around four in the afternoon, and many people had been working in the surrounding stores and offices. This meant many people were now buried under Jinbocho’s rubble.
   I flew down, gliding towards a group who were removing debris with their bare hands and landed close to them. I cawed loudly to make them notice me and then addressed the nearest person.
   “Crow volunteer reporting in. Who is in charge here?”
   “Oh, that’s Jo-san over there.” The man pointed down the street to another one who was just helping to carry a wounded woman towards the side of the road. I flew towards him. He looked up, saw me, asked someone else to help with the woman, stepped away from her and held one of his arms out. I was surprised: He wanted me to land on his arm? “Well, human, I bet you can’t hold still.”
   I landed on his lower arm and he turned his face away from me to avoid my wings. Admirably, he managed to stand still and not withdraw his arm. I folded my wings and he turned his eyes towards me.
   “My name is Gyara,” I told him, “I came to help.”
   “And your help is highly appreciated, Gyara, I’m Jo. Rumors say your Elders have dispatched about two thousand Awakened crows. That many extra pairs of eyes is really great, thank you very much.”
   I was astonished. He called us ‘Awakened’ and not ‘mutated’? I must have blinked, because he jerked a bit.
   “Well, it’s an emergency. What do you want me to do, Jo?”
   “Alright, Gyara. Do you see that house over there?” he pointed at a pile of rubble and I nodded.
   “It smells like gas around the house, but we haven’t been able to find the leak yet. Can you fly over it and take a look? We’ll then try to locate its respective distribution net and shut it down.”
   “Sure I can, see you later,” I said, and spread my wings. He turned his face away again and even gave me a little push to make it easier for me to lift off, which I did. A gas leak was bad news for crows too. All it needed was a spark, and there would be another fire to set feathers alight and make flying that much more difficult.
   I found the broken valve soon and directed a group of humans through the rubble to it. They managed to stop the gas and thus avoided the danger of explosion and more fire.

   During the following three days, we rescued 35 people alive and unearthed dozens of bodies.
   Our rescue team lived on what we looted from a destroyed, but still accessible, convenience store nearby. The humans slept on the street on the naked asphalt during the first night, until someone got the idea to use books from a bookstore for beds. The night after that, the humans organized themselves with camping gear from the sports stores down Yasukuni Road.
   Luckily, it was summer and thus very warm. Well, I don’t know if it was lucky for the humans, many of them collapsed, even died of dehydration and sunstroke. But then again, winter might not have been any better. Instead of frying in the heat, the humans would have frozen to death.
    On the morning of the fourth day, I stared at Jo as he rose from his makeshift bed. He looked terrible, decimated, exhausted and, like everyone else, he was pretty dirty. He was maybe 35 and wore a now-torn business suit. He had worked in one of the nearby offices.
   He wanted to get up.
   “Jo, you have to rest a little more, you’re too exhausted,” I said and nodded towards the convenience store loot. “Get yourself a bottle of water and something to eat.”
   “No time for rest. We have to continue.”
   “Jo, it’s too hot! No human can survive in this heat for long without water.”
   “That’s why we have to keep looking, Gyara.”
   “Stupid, stubborn human! Let the others look for a moment!” I hissed.
   He looked at me with raised eyebrows, then sighed and got himself a bottle of water and a bag of chips.
   He sat in the shade and munched chips and drank water for a while, then he poured some water into a paper cup and gave it to me to drink as well. He also shared the chips.
   “You don’t like humans too much, do you, Gyara?”
   “You don’t like crows too much, do you, Jo?”
   “Me? I have nothing against crows.”
   “Too bad you can’t speak for the humans who tried to kill us all.”
   “There were too many of you. Your population had exploded. You were attacking people.”
   “Because you came too close to our nests.”
   “Yes, I suppose so, but there just wasn’t enough space in town for both of us.”
   “So you designed that virus. That’s mean and wicked—and by the way, I think there are far too many humans.”
   Jo smiled at my words and I didn’t know why. Smiling is the one human reaction I understand the least. Their smiling often seems so inappropriate.
   “It’s always like that, Gyara,” Jo said. “It’s the survival of the fittest, and apparently you were, and are, fitter than us. You survived the virus and, in the end, it even Awakened you.”
   “I appreciate that you are trying to be nice to me and say ‘Awakened’ and not ‘mutated’.”
   “Well, I still remember though how freaked-out my mother was when she found out that some crows were suddenly smart and could even talk,” he said, with a mischievous, but also friendly tone that made me blink. Then his face turned sad suddenly, as he looked into the chip bag.
   “Do you know if she’s all right?” I asked politely, though I cannot say that I gave a damn.
   “She is. She died a few years ago of asthma.”
   “Oh, I’m sorry.”
   He nodded.
   “You worked around here, didn’t you?”
   “Yes, over there, in that building… ”
   He pointed at it. It still stood, that was why he was still alive.
   “Are you married?” I asked him next.
   “Yes, but luckily, luckily my wife is in Sapporo at her mother’s place, together with our son and daughter. Mother-in-law complained about back pain, and bitched and begged my wife into coming up to Sapporo to pamper her. I’ve never been so grateful for having such a bitchy mother-in-law as I am now,” he said and smiled warmly.
   “Yes, lucky you and lucky them. Do they know you’re still alive?”
   “No, I haven’t been able to reach them yet—no cell phone works. I guess they’re going nuts with worry, but what can I do?” he said, sighed, drank more water and had some more chips.
   “Maybe I’m one of the luckiest persons in this quake,” he suddenly continued. “I’m unhurt and my family is safe in Sapporo. That’s more than 99 percent of all of the people in Tokyo can say, isn’t it?”
   “So that’s why you’re working like a madman. You feel guilty because you’ve been so lucky.”
   He let the chip bag fall and stared at me. “What?”
   I blinked at him. “Quite a natural reaction for a human.”
   He frowned at me. “You are a pretty wise-ass crow, Gyara.”
   Somehow that made me chuckle.
   When we do that, it comes out like a queer ke-ke-ke-ke and Jo had to laugh at that.
   “Hey, it’s the first time I heard you laughing,” I said.
   “Well, there ain’t much around to laugh about, you, big, black, ugly bird!”
   I chuckled again and he laughed some more.

   Another day later, the army that had been dispatched to help managed to get through to us at Jinbocho. They had a powerful wireless with them and allowed Jo to contact his family in Sapporo. I sat nearby as he talked to his wife and I will spare you the tearful and overwhelmingly happy conversation. I could hear his wife bellowing into the phone, even from five human lengths away. With tears smearing through the dirt on his face, he looked even worse than he had already, but I couldn’t deny, it pleased me to see something happy amidst all the death and destruction. I scolded myself. What was I doing? Feeling affection for this Mr. Average turned hero in the quake?

   It was the fifth day after the quake now. Jo, his group and I, as well as many others, were still looking feverishly for survivors.
   All of them risked their lives climbing through the rubble without protection or proper gear. The convenience store we’d looted was emptied, but the army used the more or less accessible Yasukuni Road to get supplies and gear through the city. Help came in from overseas too, mostly in form of disaster supply donations and medical teams.
   The hunt for survivors got more and more desperate, though. It was too hot. I was sure those buried alive weren’t alive anymore without food and, most of all, water.
   Nevertheless, the humans worked and worked and searched and searched frantically. I couldn’t help admiring that. It was the first time I saw humans standing in for each other like that. And Jo, he did enough work for ten men. He hardly slept and kept on searching and searching for survivors.
   Jo climbed over rubble again, while I flew in circles above his head and tried to direct him. I had seen a hand sticking out from the debris. Probably he would only find a corpse.
   In the heat, the rotting bodies were a big problem. The stench over the city got more intense day by day, and with it, the danger of diseases spread. Well, ‘stench’ is how humans described it; to me it smelled like the biggest banquet ever and the scent got sweeter every day. I didn’t tell Jo that, however. He was human—he’d never have understood.
   Suddenly Jo swayed. No, it wasn’t Jo, it was the earth! Aftershock! A strong one, too! The rubble below Jo collapsed, and he with it. He fell and I shrieked as I saw him getting buried under debris.
   It felt so weird. He had phoned his wife and told her he was all right only yesterday. He had two kids. He had worked himself to almost total exhaustion over the past days trying to save other people. He wasn’t like the nasty humans who had tried to kill us crows. I didn’t want to admit it yet, but I had started to like him, and I just didn’t want him to die.
   The aftershock ebbed away, screams of panic and fear in the air. I flew down to the rubble and landed on it.
   “Jo! Jo, can you hear me?”
   No answer. I was very worried.
   “Jo! Can you hear me?”
   There came a coughing from below.
   “Jo! Is that you?”
   That ‘yes’ had sounded rather weak—but at least he was still alive.
   “Are you hurt?”
   “Yes, my foot hurts pretty bad.”
   “Anything else but your foot?”
   “No… I don’t think so.”
   “Do you see light?”
   “Yes. A little.”
   Good. That meant he wasn’t too far down and that he could breathe.
   “Don’t move. I’ll get help.”
   He coughed for an answer.

   I flew away, to the army unit that had allowed him to phone his wife. When they heard that Jo had been buried under rubble, they left the blocks that had fallen onto the road alone and a group of four hurried with me right away.
   I think they only did that because they knew how much he had helped around there and because they had heard him talking to his wife. I felt quite pleased that he had managed not only to impress me, but them as well. That meant it wasn’t my fault that I liked him.

   They got him out of the rubble three hours later. He had a broken left foot and a few bruises, but was otherwise all right. Since his injuries were relatively light, they brought him to a street hospital a few blocks south. I was happier than I wanted to admit that he would make it.
   Someone else took command of the civilian rescue unit and I kept on helping them and had no time to visit Jo. When I finally did find the time, he was gone from the street hospital and nobody could tell me where he was. To my surprise I was very sad about that. What was wrong with me? Why did I want to stay in touch with a human?

   When I finally returned to the Awakened crow sanctuary, I was shocked that humans had invaded our space there too. The Elders said it was hopefully only temporary. There were tents everywhere. The humans had built a sort of military hospital for the hopeless cases in our sanctuary. We crows had to retreat into a tiny corner of our land; we had to hear people screaming and dying every day. And everywhere the sweet smell of decay in the air. The humans had done that on purpose, to test us, whether we could behave ourselves. Without letting the humans notice, we sometimes stole food from the garbage piles the humans dumped next to their tent-town. One night we stole an amputated foot. I couldn’t really enjoy it, though—I kept thinking of Jo’s broken foot and caught myself wondering how he was doing and hoping he was maybe in Sapporo now with his wife and kids and the complaining mother-in-law.

   A few weeks after the earthquake, they dismantled the tent-hospital in the Awakened crow sanctuary and we were finally left alone. City-officials came and thanked our Elders, reassuring them that they’d never use that new virus they had threatened us with. We can only hope they’ll keep their word.
   After so much exposure to humans, I was happy not to see a human face for a few days and stayed deep inside the sanctuary to relax.
   Around us, the city tried to get back to normal, but we all knew it would never be the same again.

   Four months after the quake, one of the go-between crows; our Elder’s ambassadors to the human society; suddenly flew to where I was looking for insects for lunch, and told me a human named Jo was at the entrance to the sanctuary asking for me.
   I was so happy about the news that I almost felt ashamed. Ridiculously excited, I flew directly to the entrance. Jo hadn’t come alone, his wife and two kids were with him. The kids were four and six years old and the younger one, a boy, was pretty afraid of me and clung to his mother’s pants, but the girl looked openly and almost cockily at me as I landed on Jo’s outstretched arm.
   “Jo! So nice to see you, how are you?”
   “Hello, Gyara!”
   His wife bowed to me. “Thank you so much for saving my husband,” she said and I chuckled with embarrassment.

   Jo and his family lived in a small house a half-hour train-ride from Shinjuku, and it hadn’t been completely destroyed. They decided to repair it with the help of mother-in-law’s money.
   I have decided to live there instead of at the sanctuary. I currently sleep on Jo’s roof, but the kids are building a crow house for me in a tree close by. I’m not very confident about that crow house; it looks pretty shaky and insecure. Jo promised me, though, to make it stable in secret, once the kids declared it finished.
   All things considered, I believe that the earthquake, as terrible as it had been, also created some good. Many of us Awakened crows who helped humans after the quake have found human friends, just as I did. Some humans learned that we are respectable creatures and vice versa.
   It’s a good arrangement, humans like it too. It seems that they think it’s the first step towards domesticating us Awakened crows. But when I think of the good food that Jo’s family is giving me, and the house the kids are building for me, I ask myself whether they are taming us or we are taming them. Ke-ke-ke-ke.

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