|This rather humorous
story took place on my second visit to Russia in November 1992. I wrote
it for a writing contest in an English-speaking newspaper in Japan, but
it didn't win first prize. Then I lost the manuscript, and only
recently discovered it again. If you have ever spent time in either
Russia or Japan, this will bring a smile to your face. Enjoy!
SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT by Noel Morris
It was freezing. The snow drifts along the roadside were half melted and covered with grime. This was a run-down suburb of Khabarovsk in Eastern Russia.
We were walking down the lanes between snow-capped houses and across a small park. Way up in the top branches of a tall tree I saw a pile of straw. and I asked my companions what kind of bird would build such a large nest. My interpreter, Natasha, explained that she thought is was a crow, but I discovered later that it was more probably a magpie. Her answer, though, was enough to get me started.
“Would you like to hear my story about a crow in Japan?” I asked. Russians love to listen to stories, and so I soon had a willing audience. The other two were old Russian ladies. One was my friend Andrew’s mother, Mrs Y, and I never did learn the other lady’s name.
We were on our way back to Mrs Y’s place to use the telephone. Finding a telephone, let alone one that works, is not an easy thing in Russia. There wasn’t one in the church were we had been teaching and so we had to walk about a kilometre, catch a bus, then a streetcar, and then another walk to get to her apartment.
As we walked to the bus stop I couldn’t help wondering how ludicrous it was to compare this environment with the neat suburb where I lived in Itami City, Japan. The contrast between our meticulously kept streets and this scruffy, almost rustic neighbourhood was nearly as stark as black and white.
I began to tell my story as we trudged along, Natasha faithfully translating for the two old ladies. At least it was one way to fill in the time.
It all started one Thursday morning. I was trying to work in my office which is in a spare room in our home, but I kept hearing this crowing sound. It was irritating at first. I made funny jokes to my wife about stoning crows. But after several hours I became more and more annoyed. The noise continued until after lunch, and so finally in utter frustration I went out the front door to see what there was to crow about.
There up on the cross-bar of a power pole was the noisy bird. Only then did I discover that the noise was actually grief. The cross-bar projected out over our lawn, and there on the grass below lay another crow. This one was dead. I suspected it had been pecking the insulators and had bitten off more that it could chew.
I felt really bad about my angry attitude, and sorry for the bereaved bird up on the power pole. Now that it had attracted someone’s attention it had stopped cawing and was just sitting there, mourning quietly and watching what would happen next.
Now came the quandary. Although we have a large lawn and garden, it is all reasonably well manicured, and there really isn’t any place to dig up and bury a dead crow. Also the garbage truck had just come that very morning, and wouldn’t be back again until the following week. Our street is neat and tidy, and neither we nor the neighbours would dream of leaving a dead body lying around. What should I do with a dead crow?
Ah, I know. I’ll phone my friend Megumi. She knows everything. We always called her when we have an unusual problem like this.
No answer. What next? Let’s ask the lady next door. Maybe she will know.
As I went out the gate, I spotted a local policeman coming along the road on his little motorbike. Saved! Maybe he will know what to do. So I waved him down.
“Excuse me, but can you tell me what I should do with a dead crow?” I asked.
“Crow? Crow? You mean a bird?” He was incredulous. I could understand that. Just imagine how bewildered you would be if a tall gaijin flagged you down and asked you the same question.
“Yes, come and see.” He propped up his motorbike and unfastened his helmet. I led him through the gate and out to where the cadaver lay.
“Yes,” he chuckled, “you really do have a dead crow. As we walked back to the front door of the house, we began to discuss the problem. “Why don’t we ask the City Office if they can handle it?”
I was glad it was his suggestion, and I handed him my cordless telephone as he sat down on the step in our genkan. I didn’t want to call the City Office myself, because only a few weeks before I had been there asking how to get rid of the itachi* that was running around in our attic. “Itachi? You have an itachi? In Itami City?” They already thought I was a crazy foreigner, and I wasn’t about to give them another excuse without a witness to prove I was telling the truth. (* An itachi is a Japanese weasel)
The obliging policeman finally got through to the Cat-and-Dog Department, but, “Sorry, we don’t handle birds. The Rat Catcher’s Department might have able to help you but they are closed for the summer.”
The department that handles Irregular Garbage was much more helpful. “Sure we can dispose of it for you, but it’s too late today. We will send someone around in the morning. Is that all right?”
Yes that would be fine. I thanked our friendly policeman as he donned his helmet and climbed back on his motorcycle. He rode away, grinning to himself about the extraordinary predicaments that gaijins get themselves into.
I didn’t think much of the dead crow’s chances of having an undisturbed night on our lawn, and I also suspected that the distraught mate might start up crowing again. So I scooped the offending corpse into a supermarket plastic bag, tied the top, and hung it on the rails of the front gate, hopefully out of reach of the neighbourhood feline population.
By this time my companions on the road in Russia were laughing much louder than the policeman had been. It was hard for them to imagine that getting rid of a dead crow could be such a difficult problem. Who knows that under the dirty snow where we were walking there wasn’t a dead something-else much bigger than my crow! I tried hard to explain to them how really different our respective neighbourhoods were. I don’t know if they completely comprehended the comparison, but at least they understood my predicament to laugh with me.
The next morning (back in Japan, I mean) we were startled by a roar of truck engines as we finished breakfast. There out on the street were two blue trucks. Our City’s Special Garbage Detail had arrived. The leading one was a large “dump truck” with three men in the cab. Parked behind that was a “gomi truck,” you know the kind with the hydraulic compression loading system at the back. Another two men alighted from it.
As I went outside to meet them, the five men trooped through the front gate in single file. The leader had one of those large-size paper multiwall garbage bags held open in front of him. He marched right past me toward the back lawn, saying “So where is this dead crow, anyway?”
“You just walked past him,” I replied. “He’s back there hanging on the gate in that plastic bag.”
He muttered his thanks as between the five of them they loaded our small bundle into their huge paper garbage bag, and with grins from ear to ear, they marched in single file back to the trucks. We peeped out the gap in the curtain to watch them as the trucks roared away. They were trying to keep straight faces, but we were doubled up with laughter at the overwhelming service we were getting from our local City Office for such a small problem as the carcass of a dead crow!
Andrew’s mum, her friend and Natasha were all laughing too as we arrived at the bus stop just as the bus was pulling in. We certainly hadn’t noticed the time or the cold as we had walked along. As far as entertainment goes, even a dead crow has its uses.