I first became aware of the vast conspiracy against us when I was walking home from the supermarket, spring onions and grape soda bumping against my legs with each step.
There was a duck.
A mallard, specifically.
The lone sentry stood resolute in the barren field, just beyond the chain-link fence, never once quacking. His head slowly swiveled to watch me as I walked past, laden with spoils.
I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen a duck around these parts, and I stopped to stare back at him for a moment before slowly inching towards home.
He was still watching.
Rattled, I hurried away.
The next day, I’d forgotten my feathered stalker entirely, until I went to fetch the mail.
The duck had sent friends. Enforcers, rather.
I eyeballed the crows as I edged towards the mailboxes outside my apartment. They were cool customers, one calmly tearing into a garbage bag while his friends gave me side-eye, as if to say “What? Move it sister, nothing to see here. Keep walking.”
There was a swagger to them that the gimlet-eyed duck had lacked, and I knew who had sent them.
I just had no idea what they wanted from me.
Flustered, I snagged the handful of junk mail and assorted bills, ready to bolt past them, but a small envelope fluttered out and landed at the talon-tipped toes of the smallest one, who hopped sideways reflexively.
His friends eyed me, clearly deciding whether or not they should be offended by my clumsiness, and I found myself apologizing.
“Sorry … sorry about that.”
The smallest cocked his head at me, but his friends continued to eyeball me, their yakisoba score momentarily forgotten. Retrieving the letter seemed like the quickest route to cement shoes and a one-way trip to the nearest body of water, so I apologized again and left it.
I could feel them staring after me all the way inside.
The next day, I went to check the mail again, in the hopes someone had been brave enough to rescue my missing letter and shove it back in my mailbox, but the letter still lay where I’d abandoned it.
This time, only one crow remained, and I wondered if I’d passed some sort of critical test the day before. It was the smallest one, with soft, raven feathers and sharp, inquisitive eyes, and he looked up from his attempts to foil the garbage netting. My neighbors had been more careful after yesterday’s feasting had spilled all over the front sidewalk, and the crow eyed the green netting sadly.
“No luck, huh?”
He bobbed upright at my sympathy, clearly surprised, then hopped over to my letter, pecking it once or twice. He didn’t swagger the way his friends had when they walked, he bounced, as though he didn’t have a care in the world.
I admired his optimism, even if I didn’t share it.
“Yeah, sorry again about that.”
He bounced a few steps back, like a black-feathered balloon, then cocked his head at me welcomingly.
“Do you mind?”
Another happy bounce. An enforcer he might have been, but he seemed quite approachable.
I crept over and slowly retrieved my letter, my new acquaintance moving a respectful distance away as I approached. To my surprise, they hadn’t bothered to screen my mail: the letter seemed unopened.
Perhaps I could befriend this one.
A quiet, almost inquisitive cawing interrupted my thoughts, and I glanced up from the envelope. The crow was eyeing the netting again, uninterested in my correspondence.
“It’s because they’re scared,” I said, gently. “Everyone knows who really runs Tokyo. There’s so many of you, and you’re always watching.”
My new friend blinked, surprised by my honesty. Not my fault, he seemed to be saying.
I debated the risks of giving in to his polite demands versus the inevitable wrath of my neighbors if I started encouraging this sort of attention. We didn’t want organizations like his in our neighborhood, constantly terrorizing children and old aunties alike while they chattered endlessly, loudly.
Bounce, bounce. He pecked the netting fruitlessly.
“I can’t,” I said, apologetic. “If someone sees me talking to you, it could be trouble for me.”
The crow fixed me with a quick, understanding look before sidling closer and pecking the sidewalk, demanding yet reasonable.
Maybe if I give in to this one’s demands, I’ll have some protection from the others extorting me.
“I’ll come by tomorrow,” I said, trying to keep my voice down. “I owe you that much for not reading my mail.”
He looked satisfied as he bounced back towards the garbage netting that swathed our dumpsters, and I smiled in spite of myself.
He’s really too adorable when he’s happy. Doesn’t seem scary at all.
Maybe that was what made him such an effective tool against weak-willed people like me. I knew once I’d been ensnared by them, there was no going back on our arrangement. Payments would have to be made regularly, or there would be trouble.
Still, the least I could do was make him a sandwich.