It is a relatively quiet weekday morning. I judge such relativity by a simple yardstick: Whether I can hear the birds singing. This morning, I can, indeed, hear their choruses clearly. Most days, the bird sounds are layered over by a persistent human buzz. Today, however, that is not the case. In fact, looking out of the window of the coffee cafe, I can see a glossy black raven strutting along the paved kerb, up and down. He is majestically groomed, not one of those unkempt ones that look like they’ve flown straight out of the nest after a good night’s sleep, feathers askew. This one’s feathers are not just glossy, they appear well brushed, not a plume out of place. He is, to put it plainly, a healthy-looking bird and when he passes my window I espy that he has an impressive beard — a loose collection of feathers hanging away from his throat but nicely combed. It’s as if this bird has been to the bird barber before showing up on the sidewalk.
He is there, obviously, for one purpose: To woo the lady raven sitting somewhere midpoint on the sidewalk, giving him her undivided attention. He is singing for her as he walks about. A raven’s song. And here, let me say that the ravens of Australia sing with a lot more accomplishment than their Indian counterparts. These birds somehow have mastery over more than one raucous note and this jet black, shiny fellow is using it to his benefit.
Up and down he goes cawing his plaintive melody in a deep baritone and I notice that as he sings he’s edging closer to the seemingly-hypnotised female.
She, for her part, hasn’t moved a muscle, hasn’t interrupted with a single wing flap as if to say, ‘Cut it, I’ve heard enough.’ No, her head follows him up and down as though she were at a tennis match and he was the mesmeric tennis ball. Suddenly, this intimate serenade is interrupted by a rush of wings and down from the eucalyptus tree nearby swoops a magpie, introducing briefly its own tune. It startles the poor singing maestro so badly that he loses his tune completely. His caw rises a couple of octaves and he, for all his macho strut, gives up his act, or at least puts it on hold, and takes off to the skies leaving behind his falsetto, ‘Farewell for now, my sweet’.
The magpie sits and watches the raven’s departing form as though to say, ‘Job well done. I can’t have that tune ringing in my head all day.’
And suddenly, in the cafe it is quiet again. So quiet that my attention is drawn inward from the world outside. My eyes fall on a young couple sipping coffee with separate rhythms. They are deep in conversation. No, let me amend that. She is in deep conversation with him. He, it appears, is content to nod. It is like the roles of the two ravens in reverse. The young woman cannot stop talking. Had my mate Barney been around he’d have opined that she has a spring under her tongue.
I wonder, amusedly, whether she might be serenading him. But the more my ears get attuned the easier it is to conclude that this is not a casual, ‘How are you doing today’ dialogue. The woman’s voice has too much urgency about it and the urgency appears to be building.
They are, I realise, in the midst of an argument — at least she is.
If he is arguing he is doing so silently, with a scalding hot cup of coffee in one hand. He looks stressed, tight as a guitar string about to snap. She looks like she’s happy to bring it all to a crescendo when suddenly the door beside them opens and in walks another young woman who joins them. She greets them sunnily, and just like that, like the flown-away raven, the atmosphere at their table too changes.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.