••• The International Writers Magazine - 23 Years on-line - Dreamscapes Fiction
How a Young Crow Came to Love a Sunbird, a Green Parrot,
an Old Woman & Balls of Rice
Michael Chacko Daniels
Listen, Caterina, don’t be disheartened if you’re having trouble going meatless; it’s never easy not to eat dead animals after eating them for a long time. Believe me, I know. My good father, your good appachan, may eternal light shine on him, couldn’t stop eating meat even after he had his first heart attack in his late forties and his good doctor prescribed that he go meatless, not just on Fridays, but every day.
Recovering quickly, he was all set to resume his old eating habits, when my good mother, your ammachi, called the good doctor, a life-long vegetarian from Gujarat, to read appachan the riot act, which he did in his strongest Indo-British colonial accent: “Sir, you want to bust an artery in a week, a month, a year? Go on, eat dead animals. Make a widow of your good wife, orphans of your good children. What is life in India for widows and orphans? A trail of sorrow of sorrows and horror of horrors!”
Your appachan moaned and groaned: “You are a man of a different tradition, doctor. You don’t understand. I am a meat eater from a long line of meat eaters in the Christian heartland of Kerala. Every corpuscle of my body cries out for meat.”
But when the second heart attack almost killed your good appachan, he accepted the good doctor’s advice and went to an ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas to learn new ways of living and looking at the world.
When he returned, believe me, he was a hundred pounds lighter, a bona-fide vegetarian, and a dispenser of wisdom through stories. Like those of most tellers of tales, some of his stories were fascinating, some not.
My favorite was about how a young crow came to love: a sunbird, a green parrot, an old woman, and balls of rice and sesame seeds. He had me sitting still, all ears, with his tale’s sunbird, hooked with the green parrot and the old woman, and satiated with the balls of rice and sesame seeds. A tall tale it might be, but it helped me. Maybe it might help you:
Once upon a time, when birds of a different feather could still talk to each other, a young crow, who didn’t get enough to pick off the last dead dog, was hungry and tired of the crow-eat-dead-dog world. So it was, when he was sitting on a tree, waiting to swoop down and gobble up the food that the two-legged creatures down below were offering to stones and trees, that he spied a white-throated, yellow-breasted sunbird flying from red flower to red flower and poking her thin down-curved beak into them.
What a dumb bird, thought the young crow. Only a bird that has the brains of a mosquito would go into such an ecstasy trying to get to the invisible heart of flowers. Now, if I had such a yearning, I’d go after whole flowers, take it all in. A few pecks and that would be it—I’d have the whole flower.
Meanwhile, from one of his other thinking tracks, the perspicacious young crow—who felt he was smarter than the smartest bird in the corvid community—was reviewing the deliverance of a rice-ball offering to a big, immobile stone.
With immense contempt for this feeding of a lifeless object, the crow swooped down to liberate the food, only to have his beak strike earth after a crow with more days and feathers, the brawniest crow in the corvid community, beat him to the ball of rice.
Humiliated by the fall, which made him hungrier than before, upset with the dumb creatures who fed stones and trees, and despising the brawny older crow who took unfair advantage of his brainy young cousin, and contemptuous of the sunbird who got all worked up inserting her beak into red flowers, leaving the petals untouched, the young crow decided to demonstrate the proper way to feast on flowers.
After driving away the tireless little sunbird, he descended on the red flowers and gobbled, and gobbled, and gobbled.
He noticed, while he gagged, that there was a moment of extraordinary sweetness to each flower within a cloud of soft, feathery bitterness. Although the surfeit of bitter petals made him very sick, he couldn’t forget that moment of utter sweetness at the heart of each flower.
When the brawniest crow in the corvid community learned of what the young crow had done, he had a rollicking good laugh and decided junior was a good source for a lot more merriment. Tossing the young crow a small piece of found dead-rat innards, he said, “Kid, I’ve decided how you can earn a right to a share of the food I find.”
The young crow paused, wondering, What is this big, old trickster going to do to me this time?
“No, no,” said the older crow, “don’t stop, enjoy your little feast. It’s my gift to you.”
“Not until you tell me,” said the young crow, “what I have to do to earn the right to a share of the food you find.”
“You must pass a test,” said the brawny crow.
Thinking, Pass your test, you old phony? I certainly can, I am smarter than all of you put together, the young crow said, “How wonderful! I love tests, especially set by brawny crows. No time as good as the present.”
“Pull the tail of the fat two-legged meat eater’s mangy dog,” the brawny crow whispered, trying not to broadcast his words to birds of other feathers, especially not the sunbird, who, while flitting from flower to flower, was a regular busybody, not only with sunbirds but also green parrots. “After you distract the dog, I will steal his master’s meat and give you a proper share.”
“The simplest of tests,” said junior, while thinking: A new world opens. It’s all up, up, up from here for me! Dirty, mangy dog, here I come!
He watched. He planned. He waited.
When the dog raised his leg to pee on a banyan tree, the young crow grabbed his tail and squeezed.
The frightened dog dashed round and round the giant tree yelping frantically, dragging the crow through dust and gravel until the furious two-legged meat eater struck the bird with a large bamboo rod and freed his dog.
Unable to fly, wings dragging, the crow hopped and cawed, his caws filling the sky with such horrendous pain that it aroused the outrage of crows from far and near. Before long, the ominous shadow of thousands of wings spread across the land below. Ten thousand caws of “What happened here?” filled the air.
“I passed the test but see what misfortune has befallen me!” cried the crow as loud as he could, a sound no longer as loud as he once produced, which filled the hearts of ten thousand crows with monstrous sorrow and anger.
“You failed, kid,” the brawny one broadcast, whirling and laughing.
“Don’t add insult to injury; I want my reward . . . a deal is a deal,” screamed the young crow, his scream no longer what it once was.
“Man and dog bested you,” the brawny one crowed.
“Please, please! I must eat to regain my strength,” the young crow pleaded like he had never pleaded before.
The brawny one laughed.
By and by, the gathering of crows, learning all of what had happened, instead of laughing at the young crow, mobbed the meat eater and his dog, both of whom ran for their lives to a cave in which bats roosted.
Next, the gathering of crows drove the brawny crow out of their lands and skies, banishing him forever. Their justice done, the crows flew off on their daily rounds and routines, occasionally dropping a morsel or two for their wounded bro.
Meanwhile, her heart full of sorrow, the little sunbird watched the young crow hop around in pain. She could see he was growing weaker by the hour. She wanted to help him, but he was a bird of a feather who often raided the nests of sunbirds to eat their eggs, as certainly this crow would if nursed back to health. What should I do? prayed the little sunbird, as she flitted from flower to flower. Her friend, the green parrot, said from the mango tree: “My beautiful sister, you have a softer heart than me—”Yes, my friend is the answer to my prayer, thought the sunbird.
“I love you for your soft heart,” said the green parrot. “But don’t you know that naughty crow is a goner?”
“Surely,” said the little sunbird, “there’s still hope for one so young and brave.”
From his vantage point on a branch of the mango tree, the green parrot walked back and forth, examining the beautiful sunbird’s words from every angle. He was worried that his friend was going to get into trouble thinking with her heart and not her brain.
“If you must save him,” the green parrot said finally, “come over and I’ll tell you what to do.”
The green parrot led his little friend behind a curtain of mango leaves and whispered so that she and only she would be privy to his advice on how to help the wounded crow.
When the sunbird flew down to help, the wounded crow hopped frantically, thinking she was going to finish him for attacking her. The sunbird, aware that at any moment the corvid community might sense the wounded crow’s new distress and attack to protect him, whispered:
“Go to the lady sitting in the shade of the pipal tree. She can help you.”
Exhausted though he was from trying to avoid the smaller bird, he mocked her: “That old woman, mosquito brain? Go away. She can’t even help herself. She’s all skin and bones, her breasts droop all the way to the ground—”
The sunbird, not one to give up over a few hostile words, said, “Appearances can be—”
“You are one for insulting my intelligence because I’m down on my luck,” said the crow. “She’ll twist my neck and fill her sunken belly.”
“Don’t worry, friend, she eats no meat, whether dead or alive,” said the little sunbird in a whisper.
“I know I’m dying . . . my life shortened by that no-good dog . . . but for one, spectacular moment, I was the bravest crow in the community. I only wish I could go in a blaze of glory . . .”
“Maybe you still can, my young friend. She may appear to be skin and bones, her breasts appear to droop, her belly to be sunken, but believe me she’ll take care of you, now and forever. So promises my friend the green parrot. He should know—he has spoken to her often and seen what she can do. You’ll be as good as new under her protection. To gain her favor, all you have to say is: ‘I am yours and will remain yours forever.’ Above all else, she values fidelity. So, say it as if you mean it, even if you don’t.”
This little sunbird is so earnest, her demeanor so honest! thought the crow. Her small brain doesn’t have room for the trickery that has laid me so low. What do I have to lose anyway?
The wounded crow dragged himself to the woman of skin and bones, drooping breasts, and sunken belly, and said, his energy waning, his head almost touching the ground: “O most beautiful goddess, I am not much to look upon now, but for one spectacular moment I was the bravest crow in the community. With your help, I can be so again. And, above all, I’ll be yours forever.”
She ignored him. Because she made no move to twist his neck, the wounded crow said his piece a second time into her silence. And, then, a third time, his head and wings touching earth, his eyes closed. He felt he was dying. Out of her silence, the woman of skin and bones, drooping breasts, and sunken belly looked at him, and he heard her in his head: “Your words once given to me cannot be taken back.”
And he heard himself replying before he passed out: “Once given, I never take back my words.”
When he opened his eyes, he saw her appearance matched his salutation to her: she was a beautiful goddess with full breasts and adorned with a garland of gold flowers. But even more surprising—his wings were no longer limp, his breathing no longer faint, his belly no longer empty. He felt twice the size he was when he tangled with the mangy dog.
Just as he was wondering what magical food the goddess had fed him that had made him so big while he slept, she levitated and set her beautiful self on his back, softly like a flower petal.
And there they sat, as the two-legged devotees that the young crow had despised came to offer pinda—balls of cooked rice mixed with delicious ghee and black sesame seeds—day after day, year after year, age after age.
Generations of sunbirds and green parrots came and went, all as loved by the beautiful goddess and the crow, as they were loved by them.
“And that, my son,” your good appachan would say each time he told me this story, “is how the omnivorous young crow became an ageless vegetarian.”
You might be thinking, now, Caterina, that this is the story behind what convinced your good appachan to become a vegetarian. Not so. “I am an omnivore at heart,” he would say, “even now; but a vegetarian I’ve become only because I didn’t want to make a widow of my wife, orphans of my children.”
© Michael Chacko Daniels 2022
Michael lives and writes in San Francisco. He grew up in Bombay. His latest novel We Once Were Gazelles includes several stories that first appeared in Hackwriters.