Saturday, 21 March 2009 - 4:18 pm

A murder of hope

Today, I saw something that I haven’t latched my eyes onto in a long time. It took me a moment to realise what I was seeing, and why it was unusual.

It was Nugget who spotted them first, drawing our attention by stopping and staring at them. When asked what was wrong, she just pointed at the blur in the sky. Black bodies, living bodies, flapping and fluttering as they circled high above. There was nothing ‘wrong’ about them at all – it was a small flock of crows, spiralling around something some distance away. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight.

It has been a long time since we saw any birds – I haven’t seen any since the rain started. There has been no birdsong in the air, no wings swooping around, not even any birdshit marring buildings or statues, roadways or car windscreens. I thought that the rain must have taken them all, scoured the sky clean of their invasions. I’ve missed their presence, missed the motion above my head, hopping around in trees, on gutters and TV aerials. I’ve missed them calling to one another, screeching at the neighbour’s cat, even the mind-numbingly repetitive cooing of the pigeons.


We all broke into chatter as we walked on, wondering how they’ve survived this long. They’re scavengers, so they must be pillaging the dead that hasn’t been rubbed away by the rain. They must have found an indoor place to roost during the wet hours.

If crows can do that, then so can other creatures. We’ve seen so few animals since the bomb went off – a few cats (other than Jones), a snarl or two of dogs, and the unseen skitter of rats or mice, but that’s it. No butterflies, hardly any insects at all – the cockroaches that suicided in the rain were the only notable appearances made by our many-legged friends. There have been spiders, but they tend to keep to themselves. No horses or cows out in the fields, though we’ve passed few of those in our travels.

But the birds – they’re the most obvious wildlife that impinged on our lives in the time Before (before the bomb, that is). I hadn’t realised just how much I missed their presence until I saw those crows, stamped in indelible black against the strange orange sky. Even their raucous cries were welcome to my ears as we drifted nearer to them; it’s just so good to hear something alive here in this world that’s suffocating under a dead silence.

I am so glad that we are not the only creatures that have survived. After watching the cockroaches die, I had wondered if anything else could live in this After world. I know that we are a part of a huge cycle, a chain of life in which giants stand on the shoulders of ants, and I thought it was all broken. The damage that was done had seemed too great, irreparable, something we would never recover from. Nothing can grow in this soil that the rain falls on, there are no plants left to feed on, and nothing but ourselves to use for meat.

The supplies we pillage are finite – we all know this and plunge on towards the time when there’s nothing left to find any more. Once they’re gone, what will we do? I had thought there was no way to make more.

Now I know better. Now I know that there is a thin, fragile thread of life that exists beyond the grubby, selfish human gangs that have formed, hungry for survival. Now I know that we can hunt if we need to, that there’s more food in the world than is contained in cans and boxes and sealed plastic containers.


We chose not to see what the crows were circling around; it was most likely some dead thing and it was off our chosen course. We left them to their feeding with lighter steps, throwing ideas about what it means back and forth. I haven’t seen the group so bouyant in a while.

A flock of crows is called a ‘murder’, and today that is more ill-fitting than ever. This murder proves that life exists. It proves that hope is not dead. May there be many more such murders in this world.