The beautiful, terrible crow

Dear Damir,

There’s been a crow outside my window for days. He won’t leave. I’ve tried everything; I even threw my pencil at it, and he barely flinched! What a silly bird, isn’t it? So dark and so grim in complexion. Mama says to shut my eyes or to simply ignore it. “Focus on the beauty behind and around the unsightly animal, Mila,” she’ll say to me. And, what’s even crazier is that Tata tells me to admire the crow and to not penalize it for being different. I’m not sure why, but I just can’t get myself to do either one. Its eyes are too ominous. There’s absolutely no happiness in that strange creature. How could I possibly enjoy its company?

Anyway, how is the army? Tata says he’s proud that his only son has the courage to fight for his country, and I’m equally proud. Sometimes I walk by your room, though, and realize how much I miss you. I just have to remember you’re doing good things. Can you tell me what Bosnia is like when you come home? Belgrade is just too far away from it, and Mama says it’s too dangerous to visit, now.


I sighed as I set down my pen and notebook on my bed. Half of its pages have been ripped out because I’ve already sent a handful of letters to Damir, and all of that ripping has caused some damage to its binding. The tattered book looked sad against my bold, flagrant bed sheets. The bright surrounding emphasized the grim binding—how worn it was, how each corner slightly peeled up.

I’ve always wanted a new notebook, but when I mention it, Tata always responds by telling me that it holds my words just as well as one with a shiny cover would. Every time he tells me, I know what he means, but the broken cover sometimes just makes me feel as if my words have less worth. I don’t think he understands.

My eyes left the book and skated across my room until they finally landed on the crow. It sat on a tree branch, centered with my wide window. Everything surrounding nature’s distinct insult flaunted its beauty. The trees outstretched their arms, unafraid, while each leaf, vibrant and extraordinary, danced in the wind. The sky contrasted peacefully with the land below it; I admired how remarkably bright it was. Each speck underneath the billowy, blue sky grasped my attention. Almost nothing could distract me from the stunning view, except the bleak pile of feathers sitting blatantly in front of me.

I shook my head. The crow had the nerve to sit among that beauty—what a fool! It was a clear offense to nature.

I walked up to my open window, pleasantly greeted by a warm rush of air, and stared into its beady eyes. I wanted to yell at it like an old lady shoo-ing children off of her lawn. Too afraid to say it out loud, I internally scolded the bird. Leave, you despicable pest.

“Mila, staring at the bird isn’t going to change anything.” I flinched in response to the unexpected voice. Tata stood in my doorway, hands crossed with one leg jutted out as if he was waiting for me to accept defeat. I loved and hated that about him, how he was always ready to point out the truth.

“But, it’s just so irritating. I can’t seem to get my mind off of it,” I defended myself.

“Maybe dinner will get your mind off of it. Come downstairs,” he said, motioning his hand to the stairs while casually walking away.

You and me? We’re not done. I said it in my head, ignoring the fact that the bird couldn’t read my thoughts.

When I reached the round dining table that was centered in my kitchen, I almost set it up for four people instead of three. Lately, I’ve been wanting to disregard the truth and just go ahead and set it up for four people, pretending that Damir is simply late to dinner. Each night, the fourth, empty seat emphasizes the fact that he left after his eighteenth birthday. I sometimes thought of the chair as my second crow—bold and unpleasant.

“You know he had to leave, but he’s not really gone,” Mama said, prodding my mind while I longingly stared at the barren chair. “His love for our family is still here, and he’ll be home before you know. Don’t worry.” She walked over to me and delicately tucked my hair behind my ear, looked me in the eyes, and went to get the food.

Her pale hands gracefully set down dinner for the night: just a vegetable broth and a few pieces of bread.

“That’s it?” I blurted out, immediately regretting the slip after seeing Tata frown in the corner of my sight. “I’m sorry, okay. I’m sorry. It’s just that first, we can’t eat lunch, and now, all we have is soup. Do we not have money? What’s the issue?”

“Mila, you need to calm down and stop badgering your mother.” I knew he wasn’t telling me everything.

“I’m sixteen now, Tata. You can tell me what’s really going on.” I responded, almost pleading for information.

But instead of hearing Tata’s voice, Slobodan Milošević spoke, his voice coming from the aged radio that was planted on the kitchen counter. When he began speaking, all conversation halted, out breaths froze, and the room was filled with an inexplicable denseness.

All the man ever talked about was war and tragedy. He never presented any good news, so I began drowning out his voice so that all I heard is an indistinguishable murmur of words.

“Mila, you say you want to know more, but you never listen to the news,” Tata said with a conspicuous harshness in his voice.

“They’re not telling the whole truth, don’t you understand?” I looked up from my bowl, which I’ve only taken one sip from. “They only tell us what they want us to hear, so what if that isn’t even real?”

Tata smacked the table, and I jumped slightly off of my chair, thrown off by his unusual burst of anger. He didn’t look like himself when a surge of impatient rage overwhelmed him. His face appeared unnaturally crunched, and his cheeks almost kindly blushed in an attempt to become a deep wine red. He always looked extremely uncomfortable, off-balance, and crooked in composure. Sometimes, I think it’s as if the universe never intended for such a warm man to be filled with animosity.

“Milena, who told you this?” He persecuted while using my real name, which he almost never did. Mama proceeded to place her hands on his arm, signaling him to calm down.

“No one.” I couldn’t keep my eyes locked with his when I lied. Instead, I stared off into the distance, somewhere between the fourth chair and the floor as I moved my soup around with my spoon in lieu of actually eating it.

“No one? So you’re saying you just know what’s going on with the government? Come on, Mila, we’re not this dumb.”

“See!” I jumped up a little too eagerly. “That’s the thing. Nobody knows what’s going on.”

“Mila, who’s putting these ideas in your head?” Now Mama spoke, her voice soft yet indignant.

I gave in, too tired to put up a fight. “Damir. He told me these things before he left.”

Neither one of my parents responded. I stared into my bowl, mixing its contents around, afraid to look up at my parents, afraid they’ll continue to scold me. So, I allowed the radio’s unwanted stream of words to pierce the surrounding air.

“If you’re not going to eat anything, you might as well go to your room.” Tata still looked tense but no longer was candidly angry.

When I reached my bedroom, the previous brightness that was once overwhelming subsided. The small area around me was composed of a dull arrangement of colors. The sky’s complexity no longer astonished me, the trees’ waltz no longer was enchanting, and I wish I could say the crow was no longer there. I blamed the bird for the dampened wonder. It plagued nature, infecting its surroundings with its nefarious way of life like an undesirable disease.

Seeking comfort, I opened my ragged notebook.

Dear Damir,

I’m tired of hearing the trivials of war. How do you live your life solely surrounded by it? Is it better up-close and in person, fully being immersed in it? Or do I have the higher end of the deal?

All Milošević seems to comment on is the atrocities of other nations. All I hear is who is anti-Yugoslav and who are the revolutionaries and who is a threat to the Serb nation, but no one ever mentions who we are.

Is everything you told me true? Mama and Tata were furious with me at the dinner table because of it, but I don’t blame you. I just sometimes wonder.

I set my pen down mid-sentence after hearing a pounding on the door downstairs. I wanted to dismiss it because my first thought was that it was just the neighbors, but the knocking sounded more cruel than usual. So, I waited with my ears open, listening from my room.

For a moment, a silence burdened the room. Then, I heard Mama weeping from below, sputtering out an inaudible stream of words.

Reflexively, I ran to the top of the stairs but didn’t take any steps to go down them. From the top, I could clearly see the front door, and unexpectedly standing there, comforting Mama, was a man who was dressed as a soldier.

“And you didn’t even bring any of his belongings home? Do you even have his body?” Mama asked through a fit of despair.

“That is—” she lamented as her body fell to the floor.

“That is simply—” she wept as her voice cracked.

“That is simply inhumane.”

Tata stood next to her, trying to lift my poor mother off of the floor, and while doing so, his eyes caught mine. They were no longer consumed by anger, rather he stared at me earnestly. His eyes curved, almost sinking down his face like they too were frowning. His gaze, beseeching rest, laid upon me.

His mouth began to move, but I ran back to my room, tears streaming down my face. This can’t be happening, I thought. No. No. No. Damir is fine. Mama said he’ll be home soon. Everything’s fine. Everything will be fine. It has to be.

I collapsed onto my bed, shaken with anguish. Rubbing my eyes to clear my vision, I looked up, but the crow was no longer in the tree.

Instead, it had the audacity to sit perched on my window sill, pecking at what seemed to be my notebook, now ruined beyond repair. I wept even harder as my eyes gleaned across the wicked bird.

Torn pieces of paper fluttered in the wind; such beauty and promise danced around my melancholic adversary.

What a shame it was. What a shame it was for such a bird to exist.

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