Noise, constant yet changing, deafening yet not loud enough to drown out the horrible empty silence that sat in the heart of the pitch-black raven. She watched in mindless despair as the upper deck of the ark, cluttered and covered with birds of all shapes and sizes, moved and heaved in a continuous flow of landing and flying off. She had no interest in the need of the many to make room for the many more which flew in desperation to keep up with this final safe haven that was tossing and listing on the giant waves that had engulfed the world.
The others tried to get her to take her turn, they cajoled, pleaded, and threatened but she was locked away in her own private hell. If she had had the heart she would have flown off this moving island and gone further and further ‘til there was nowhere left to go than to ditch into the thrashing waters below. Instead she sat, huddled in her own tiny corner of a vast ship that echoed constantly with life settling down into some sense of normality.
The night times were the worst. She knew that if she had not chosen her spot carefully she would have been shunted to the edges, pushed or wedged into a corner where the sheer volume of the now resting flocks would have squeezed the life out of her. Instead she placed herself where no others would choose to stay, where she deserved to stay, where the dirt and the waste of the floating zoo was discarded. But it wasn’t the smell or the slime that made the nights so unbearable; it was the stories. Night after night was spent with each of the exiles taking their turn to explain how they too had felt a strange yearning in their hearts; how they somehow knew to travel, some of them endless days, to this strange desert ship, no water, no river, just a mighty construction on top of a small hill.
It wasn’t the stories that bothered her, or even the endless similarity, it was the story that she pushed back from her mind, the story that was too horrible, too painful to allow resurface. And yet, just as sleep finally managed to steal over her, her mind would betray her and the story began again.
It had not been easy for her to find a mate; in the way of her kind it was always a hit and miss thing. Mates were scatty, unreliable, easily distracted so when she saw him, she knew straight away that he was different, thoughtful, considered, focussed. It was clear he would one day lead the flock, clear to the other females too who would abandon their dignity and flirt outrageously in the hope of winning his heart. But his heart had already been won, suddenly, secretly by the quiet strong female who chose to ignore him, to seem indifferent to his vitality and strength. The raven was surprised one day when her hearts desire settled beside her, saying nothing, just sharing the moment. A look passed between them, a look that bored its way into their souls. As he lifted off to return to his duty, she felt his absence like a pain; so sharp, it threatened to tear her in two.
The leaders of the flock were surprised but pleased at the development. Both came from good breeds, both brought strength and vitality, together the future of the flock would be secured. But not in the ways they expected. Neither of them could say for definite when the yearning started, but they both felt it. Deep within their core they knew they had to go. They had tried to explain it to the others but the feeling was beyond words. Not everyone understood and there were many who argued, especially leaders. This was not how it should be, this was not how these things were done. With heavy hearts they agreed to wait. He thought he could convince them, she knew they would never listen and so a small tiny wall began to build between them, invisible at first but it grew quickly as she realised they had to go soon or miss the calling that was already weakening in him. That last night was awful, the rows, the pleading, the despair and as the dawn broke over looming rain clouds she took flight, her final words spat at him in hurt and confusion – I don’t ever want to see you again – and she hadn’t, even though she often slowed in flight and looked behind in desperate hope he was coming. And she wouldn’t, not now, not ever. She had watched in horror as those who couldn’t reach the Ark had been swept away. She screamed at the wind, the rain, at the surging waters from the deep, pleading for a little more time, a little more time.
As the Ark set off on its life saving journey she died inside. Her life was cut, incomplete. She would never be whole again.
In the morning she would waken, lost, empty, refusing to see the couples around her, refusing to see anything but that which wasn’t there.
And so the days lumbered on, the rains stopped, the waters eased. There were even times of silence as life settled into a routine of sorts. Soon whispers arose, the water was receding, the land would appear soon, the nightmare was nearly over, but not for her. She couldn’t hope because hope had died. It drowned many miles from here. She ignored the excitement of the community when the boat scraped to a stop, lodged on some underwater hilltop. She was so forlorn, so swallowed by self-pity that she nearly missed the moment. A simple action, a window opening, a human hand, old and pale, holding the rich black bird that was being released; she couldn’t take it in. It couldn’t be, he was left behind, he was gone and yet he was here, flying above her, flying away from her. She tried to call out, but the lack of practice and the roar of encouragement from all on board to her mate to find land drowned her out. She tried to take off, but the lack of practice, of taking her turn had taken its toll. And so she watched in deepening despair as her mate disappeared again.
All that day she paced, shoved and flew small bits as she constantly hoped he wouldn’t find land. The others learned to make way as she became obsessed by this prayer. “Not yet, not yet don’t let him find land yet.” It was late evening when he returned; exhausted, so tired he couldn’t fly further than the tip of the huge boat, the spot where only the dirt and the slime could be seen. As he landed beside her, their eyes locked in a look that bore down into their souls. The old man noticed, and smiled. Next time he would send a dove; these two had a lot of catching up to do.
The days that followed were wonderful, few words, just enough to explain how he had realised his mistake once she had left, how he tried one more time to urge the others to join them, how they had attacked him, beaten him and cast him out. How he had flown through thickening rain, limping on broken wings, falling towards the surging water and finding himself caught in the hands of an old man just as a huge door slammed behind him.
As the doves did their work, and brought back proof of their future, the two ravens rose silently together and neither of them looked back.