There is a common superstition that to see a single magpie will bring sorrow. It is especially bad if the magpie appears at a window. In this case, it as said to be an omen of death for one of the occupants of the house. So perhaps some people would be less excited to be laying in bed with a potentially deadly virus, and be awakened my a magpie tapping at the window, but I don't believe superstitions, and to me, it was like a visit from an old friend.
I wasn't always a bird person. I didn't dislike them, they were animals and I liked animals in general , but I didn't go out of my way to spend time with them either. That all changed when I met Frank. Frank had contracted polio as a child but he hadn't been seriously ill. He recovered, got a good job, married, bought a house and had a child. Then the virus took back everything he had worked for. They called it lost polio syndrome. He lost his job, his family , his home. He lost the ability to walk more than a few awkward steps. He ended up spending years , just sitting in flat, watching out the window. He never got to know any one, and some people made some pretty harsh assumptions about him staring out a window all the time. Every one thought he was just an old and bad tempered man with some bad habits.
Frank didn't like people. He really didn't like me. Both are an understatement. Frank was the type of old man who shouted if the children kicked a ball over the fence. That was the only time you heard him speak. His voice was harsh and raccous. Perhaps too much time with the whisky and cigarettes , Or perhaps it was just hoarse from lack of use. He never spoke to any one. He was always at that window, but he would just scowl of you waived A cheery hello. His hands were twisted and gnarled, stained yellow from the tobacco. He seemed to always have about two days worth of stubble on his chin. Never A proper beard ,but never clean shaven either. His clothes were wrinkled and stained. And he always looked angry. All the children were afraid of him. I suspect A few adults were as well.
A neighbour of ours had asked me to take over when she moved away, saying he would pay me to run to the shops and get whatever he needed. His legs were too bad, he couldn't make it around The shops himself. He wasn't very nice she told me, but he paid well. She laughed at my terrified look, don't worry she said, he couldn't catch you if he did want to do you any harm , his legs are too weak. Just go over an ask what he needs, he will give you a note and the money to get whatever he wants, and pay you when you return.
The problem was, my grandfather had taught me I shouldn't take money to do the right thing. So I told Frank no payment was required. He wasn't happy about that, said he didn't want to be owing any one a damned thing. I suggested he might offer me a cup of tea in return for my running errands and he looks like he had swallowed a lemon. But he threw some stuff off a chair , wiped a filthy cup out with his fingers and poured me a cup of tea. I just hoped the hot water would kill any germs, and I think he expected me to take money the next time, but again, I insisted the only payment I could accept was a cup of tea.
Over time though, I like to think Frank came to like me. He kept a clean cup for me and often asked me to stay for a second cup of tea. We would sit near a window and watch the birds, and Frank would tell me all about them. His favourites were corvids. There are several types of corvids. Ravens, crows, Jacdaws, Magpies, they are all related. Frank knew all of them, and everything about them. He told me they were as smart as people...maybe smarter, and more decent as well. He told me how they loved their mates and their families, how they remembered who people who were good then to them, and those who were not.
It wasn't a one way friendship by any means. Frank didn't let people in easily, but once he did, he genuinely cared . He had every bit as much loyalty As those birds he watched all day. They knew him As well. After several months he must have decided I had earned an invite to get to know them As well and asked me hold to my hand out the window with a peanut. I was overly thrilled with the idea but it seemed to mean a lot to him. So I did and moments later a bird snatched the peanut, thankfully leaving my fingers intact. Frank smiled, it seems I had passed a test. He told me the birds knew good people from bad. And I smiled. It was not like Frank to call any human good.
As the months wore on he told me about his family as well, about a younger sister he never to spoke with and in time , he decided to break the ice and wish her Happy Christmas. One thing led to another, and he moved away to live with her so I never saw him again. He was an elderly man then, and I was younh so he must have crossed over long ago.
But for some reason when I saw a sad and scruffy looking magpie, I didn't think of the superstitions. I thought of an old friend. I smiled despite the pain and decided to leave him fresh water and food in case he called back the next day.
He did come back, and has been back every day since, bringing his friends now.
He brought me some cheer and company in a very difficult time, and reminded me of an old friend. Each day as he came to visit, I remembered how much Frank had struggled to sirvive, to do any little thing with post polio syndrome. Every step was painful for him , every movement he made So as I battled long covid, I remembered his courage and I took comfort in the visits from the birds.
I named the Magpie Loki. I chose this name because according to folklore the magpie was the only bird who refused to mourn the death of christ. This sounds very much like another myth in which Loki refused to mourn the death of Baldur. Like Loki, magpies are often hated, and like my old friend many people judge them harshly without ever getting to know what they are really like.
They kill songbirds people say, and they do at times. They are omnivores and need meat in their diet...Or eggs. Some people think they have an evil stare. They used to say that about my old friend too. They have a harsh and raucous voice, and that reminds me of my old friend as well, his voice hoarse and dry. But they can sing as well. Few people know it because it is so soft. I hear them at my window shouting at each other as they eat and flapping their great black wings. But some times after they have eaten one stays behind and it chirps in the sweetest little voice. You would never dream it was magpie of you didn't already know.
Most people never got to know Frank. They didn't realise that his crippled legs and twisted fingers made it difficult for him to do things like iron his clothes. They didn't realise that he was never watching people, people didn't interest him, he was just watching the birds. They didn't realise his angry exterior covered the fact that he lost everything and was all alone. And I wouldn't have thought any differently than any one else if I hadn't had to offer to help with the shopping.
He left me a gift when he moved away. A gift of seeing the birds as friends, and people as well. Every time I hear the birds at the window I think of him. And I hope he has not only found peace but has found heaven filled with birds.