It started with a crumb. A tiny, minuscule thing, which one probably wouldn’t think anything of—other than to clean it up off of the ground beneath an unruly toddler at lunch time. Crumbs are not important to anyone but mothers and ants; both of whom clean them up in their own way. The mother by sweeping each little piece (with marked frustration, as this seems to be a never-ending task) into a pan to put into the garbage bin, and an ant by joyously carrying individual pieces off for a later feast.
Olivia Palmer was especially prone to dropping trails of crumbs behind her wherever she went. As a baby, it started when she was old enough to walk. She didn’t eat much, but loved to carry food with her and loved even more to break it down into bits. This drove her mother crazy, and she would try to put the snacks farther from Olivia’s reach. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, Olivia was always able to find something. Her mother would spot her black-haired daughter happily squawking in the living room as she shredded whatever impossible snack she found all over the carpet—which was so far gone that Olivia’s mother had abandoned any hope for cleaning it until her daughter was older and less destructive.
Years passed, and Olivia was still as destructive as ever, preferring to crumble cookies to bits instead of eating them. Her mother had given up any lingering hope she had for their carpet, setting her focus on getting Olivia to put her efforts into more worthwhile endeavors to aid her fidgeting—such as piano or sports. Her teachers also tried to help, though in vain.
One day, Olivia noticed as she was walking to school that a crow had picked up one of her crumbs and was following her—hopping along at the slow pace of an eight-year-old. It squawked and chirped beside her, nibbled at her sock, and bumped its head on her tiny leg.
“Go away,” she said with frustration, “You’re going to make me late.”
The bird squawked, and continued following her, biting her sock with more enthusiasm so as to slow her down—or perhaps stop her. It worked. She stared into the bird’s small black eyes, and knelt down to its level.
“What do you want, bird?”
It hopped to her side and pecked at Olivia’s pink coat pocket.
“You want some of my cookie?” she reached into her pocket, and took out a handful of what used to be a cookie—now broken into little bits (as always). The crow immediately started nibbling away at the crumbs in Olivia’s hand until they were all gone.
“That’s all I have,” she said, standing up. The bird bumped its head against her leg, squawked thankfully, and flew off.
Olivia was late to class that day.
The bird didn’t appear again until the next week. This time, it brought along a friend. They hopped behind her, and stopped whenever she turned around to look at them.
“Go away! I don’t have a cookie for you today,” she continued walking. The crows hopped faster, and nibbled at her sequined socks. Olivia walked faster. The crows squawked indignantly, and hopped as fast as they could to keep pace.
After a short while, one of the crows tripped, and let out a yelp as it fell. Olivia stopped, and turned to the bird, “Are you okay?”
It squawked back meekly in slight embarrassment. She reached down to the bird, which hopped back a little, in a stubborn manner so as to say Nope. Nevermind. I don’t need you anymore.
“Okay, fine. You win,” she reached into her backpack and took out a granola bar, “I wasn’t going to eat this anyway.” She crumbled the snack into tiny bits and held it out to the crow. The crow slowly inched its way toward her hand, and then started to peck gingerly away at the granola bar. The second was far less hesitant and much more gluttonous. The snack was gone in only a few seconds.
Both crows squawked appreciatively, and the second flew off. The first lingered for a minute, nibbled at Olivia’s shoe and sock one last time, and joined its friend.
And Olivia was late to school that day, too.
The crows came back the following day. This time, however, they were waiting on her front lawn. This time there were three. The first two squawked, ‘Good Morning!’ and the third followed suit.
The first crow hopped up to Olivia and dropped a shiny, red, pebble at her feet. Olivia thought that it looked like a ruby. “Is that for me?” She asked.
The crow squawked as she picked it up, and looked at it. “It’s beautiful! Thank you, bird!” She placed it in her pocket.
“And who are you?” she walked over to the new third crow, kneeling down to greet it. “Did they tell you that I have food for you guys?”
It squawked and nibbled the long strand of black hair falling in front of her face. She stood back up, and continued her walk to school—the crows following by her side. After about a block, she stopped and turned to them, “What are your names?”
The first bird squawked.
It repeated itself.
“Oh, Tom,” she knelt down and pat its head. “And you? She asked the remaining two crows, who squawked in reply.
“Lola and Stevie,” she patted their heads, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Olivia.”
The birds rubbed their heads against her hand, and then started squawking when she stood up.
“Oh, that’s right. You want my crumbs,” they hopped around in excitement as Olivia reached into her pockets, “I only brought enough for Tom and Lola—so you both need to share with Stevie.” The birds happily ate the crumbs, and like usual: squawked a thank you before flying off to do whatever it is crows do on a daily basis.
This continued for a couple of years until one day, when Olivia was much older, and still as destructive, the Crow appeared on her doorstep and tap, tap, tapped on the door. Being the only one home at the time, Olivia answered.
“Oh, hello, Tom! I haven’t seen you in a while.” She opened the door, and the bird immediately hopped inside. His hopping was slower that usual. In a brief moment, Tom collapsed by the girl’s feet, a pebble—most likely intended as a gift—fell out of the crow’s beak. Olivia picked up the bird, and cradled him in her arms, “Are you okay?” She started to cry.
Tom let out a half-hearted squawk, and nestled his head on Olivia’s chest, as she held him. Before taking his last breath, the crow nibbled on Olivia’s earring—maybe to say that it was okay. That he was old. This had to happen. And then, just like that, the world changed. Olivia held Tom longer and cried and cried tears of the utmost sorrow.
Just as she was starting to pull herself together, there was a knock on the door. The door squeaked open. Before her was a tall man dressed in black robes.
“Who are you?”
He didn’t speak. His presence eased Olivia’s sorrow, and for some reason, she didn’t feel afraid.
“Are you Death?”
The man nodded, and held out his hands. Olivia placed Tom gently in his hand. The man snatched back the bird, and blew on him. Olivia looked on with awe and uncertainty. After a few moments, the crow’s wing started to twitch. A few more, and they flapped. After about a minute, Tom was standing there in this man’s hand looking younger and happier than ever.
He squawked at Death, who nodded, and put him down on the floor. Tom hopped over to were Olivia sit in dismay, nuzzled his head against her knee, picked up the pebble that was meant as a gift, and dropped it in her lap. He nibbled at her jeans, squawked, and turned to hop back to the man in black. Death turned, and opened the door, letting Tom leave first. Olivia ran to the door to look outside—They were gone.