He’d perch on mum’s shoulder and beak her hair gently, gurgling a throaty ‘kraaw’, nibbling her ear or poking her cross and chain. He liked shiny things as magpies are supposed to. We’d offer the silver coins from milk bottles and he’d find things we didn’t know we possessed: a ring pull in the flower bed, a metal pin in the yard, a sparkle of yarn from the dog kennel.
Sometimes he bought us gifts, left them on the bird table or window ledge or delivered them into our curious hands: a snail’s shell, a stone, a twig, a feather, and once a coin. We didn’t know what to do with his tokens, though never wished to offend. I hoarded the treasures like priceless gems.
This wild and magnificent creature visited us for months; for maybe as much as a year he brightened our lives. My mum loved him, I knew. I rarely saw her smile so much as when he landed heavy on her head or perched on her arm.
We assumed he was a ‘him’ although I’ve no idea how you’d tell. We never named him. We knew we could not claim him. He visited on a whim of his own choosing, sometimes every day, sometimes missing days here or there. And inevitably, one day, he didn’t come back. We looked for him, we searched the skies full of other birds. We listened for his call, but all we heard were the noisy crows and footballers in the rec’. Mum stared at the window every morning and seemed, for a long time, lost. I missed his shiny black coat, impenetrable and mesmerising. I missed his wily, knowing eye where wild intellect sat. And we were all sad for a time.
I blamed my mum. She’d found my treasure hoard and thrown it out, in flagrant disregard for his feelings – and mine. In summer when we turned the flower bed into a rockery we uncovered a cache of curios. I knew that he’d left them for us and I cried bitter tears of loss and rage.
I disremembered the raven soon enough. As I grew, teenage temptations drew me to other worlds less natural: dens of darkness and artificial light, thumpy music and the crush of bodies; the thrill of boys, and so I forgot.
It took the boy with the jet black hair, the pale skin and black knowing eyes, to remind me of such beauty and enchantment lost.
Picture from RSPB archives