Believing in your own superiority does not legitimize it. And so, do yourself a favor and acknowledge your own subjectivity by acting accordingly: don’t make too much noise, don’t stand out too much in the crowd, or whatever other necessary slang to get itself into your fat, self-aggrandizing head.
This is what people like to believe about me–and, regardless of its fallacy or truth, this is what I tell myself as I slowly turn a dark red. The shivers jumping along my body gradually subside, so that I feel less like the icy winter is jarring me and instead has dissipated into a tiny prickling. I know that in two minutes or so I will seem completely blood-red to the outside world, invisible to all but myself as I blend in with the red marigold I am lying on.
In two minutes or so, the dark shade of the red will warm me, and I will be able to sleep on the soft blanket of its petals. I have learned that in this part of Madagascar a marigold’s petals are significantly less leathery than most typical petals; it gives the illusion of luxury. I wasn’t born to build a nest, nor a dam, nor burrow myself into a hole for a couple months, but I was born to survive without the aid of my environment, to self-obliterate and become the great everything-nothing around me. But at least I can say that I have always been independent.
Before I close my eyes, I see a bulky, black figure zooming across the faded evening sky. The angle of Mr. Crowley’s feet, slightly more dented than other crows due to the fall he had upon his first flight, immediately gives me calming clarity.
Most crows would stomp on me; had he met me earlier, Mr. Crowley probably would have too. But when Mr. Crowe and Mr. Crowne started pecking at Mr. Crowley’s legs as he was napping on the jungle floor, mocking him for his deformity, I blended into the black of his body and slithered up their backs to bite them repeatedly. They flew away quickly, having forgotten all ego in the midst of pain.
When they left, I immediately tried to hide behind the tall grass blades that stood before me like whipping eyelashes, futile bodyguards. I thought my identity remained hidden–my survival philosophy had easily taught me about the irrelevance of receiving credit–but ever since then, Mr. Crowley has bid me a forlorn “good night” every time he passes me.
His straightened shoulders and slightly bared chest as he talks easily reveal he does not think we’re friends; I am a duty, a reluctant thanking for having saved his life. And though I am the scum of the jungle, he is the scum of his kind, and he can tell himself that his self-respect is maintained so long as his sense of honor is as well. Then the injustices against him are merely validating, martyrization, because through all the maltreatment he remains a good person, and has been kind to those less fortunate than him.
Trust me, I want to tell him, I see through you more than you would like. But then again, if he knew how much I really understood him, he would most definitely stop visiting me. And though I have learned that everyone is, by nature, fickle, I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I like his gestures. Someday, it will be friendship, our own revolution against the world: I already notice how Mr. Crowley sometimes leans in towards me if I smile at him the right way, my eyes crinkling to a degree of delicacy that offers only mutual understanding.
Mr. Crowley’s black feathers sheen into my eyes menacingly before he notices me lounging and slows to a sudden stop, as if it is effortless. I avert my gaze so he won’t see the longing teeming within it.
“Good night, Ms. Camille.”
“Good night!” Just because I expect us to become friends doesn’t mean I have to act like it. I glance at him quickly, as if our interaction isn’t the highlight of my day.
Mr. Crowley nods solemnly. I want to laugh at the tone in his eyes simply as a counteraction. I play with the strands of grass underneath my feet instead.
Mr. Crowley sucks in his wings, about to take leave, before settling them down again reluctantly. “Well, hey- why don’t you? You just, at night, you always wear that same dark red color. You look like someone carved a chameleon out of a pomegranate, quite frankly. But all others of your… kind… keep changing it, brandishing their changing of colors like it’s some sort of accessory.” He did not bother to hide the dripping disgust from his voice, characteristic to him and everyone else in Madagascar. I took deep breaths to prevent from turning blood-orange. I may have been programmed to show my emotions on my scales, but I had learned to outsmart my pesky mind and genetics.
“I like to be stationary.” I respond curtly, my words clipping at the edges. I can’t expect him to ask for details on something that was already unconventional, radical–even dangerous–not that I still cared about my own well-being at this point.
“Stationary?” For once, the black in his eyes seemed animated, as if the moon had sunk down to illuminate them.
“Stationary. Stability. Whatever.” I tested him one more time, just for good measure, and smiled to myself when he remained silent as he waited for me to elaborate. “My kind is supposed to be always changing, disloyal to its very essence, to be without essence, without any actual distinguishing traits–to be nothing–well, I like being one color.” I did not have to say what I really meant as the confession behind my words hung languidly in the air, dripping from my mouth to his like necessary wildfire.
“That’s–not what I was expecting.” He said it with a softness in his eyes that reminded me of those gentle leaves I liked, swaying in April’s breeze like lilies on a pond. He took a deep breath. “I’m’ sorry.”
I scoffed. “Sorry for what?” I refused to look him in the eyes.
“Sorry for treating you… like less. Because your mind isn’t. And I’m sorry that you’re stuck in that species.” He held his beak down, in the traditional gesture of crows to indicate friendly compassion between peers. I flicked at the air with my claws as if removing the gesture from his presence, letting my mockery show my gratitude.
“It’s fine. I get my routine here and there–sleep on the same leaves, designated sleep times, interaction with crows–crow, actually, you! And I try to stay the same color, of course, make it mine.” I sighed. “There’s not much to do when your genetics program you for rapid change.”
“That’s okay. Crows are very routine-based: living patterns, the age we first fly, food, everything. I mean, if anything… it’s been my theory that they dislike you so because you represent what they will never obtain–don’t even know how to.”
I could feel my tail twitching behind me at the prospect, trying to prevent myself from absorbing a false sense of leverage. “That doesn’t change anything.”
“I know, but…” suddenly he glanced up at the moon. I could see times swiveling through his head as his bird’s brain pondered when he had to be home based on the moon’s position. “I’m sorry, I had to actually be home ten minutes ago.”
I nodded lightly, motioning towards my bed as if I had plans anyway. I could already feel how my generally awaited night routine would become an ache tonight, an empty reminder of the costs of my individualism, a show for ghosts. My whole life was a fight intended for an audience that would never understand it anyhow.
But I hated it when the realization sunk within me, when I felt as if it were just me and the moon as everything else shifted into grayness, when my chest felt like deep inside my heart was profusely bleeding. The worst part was that there was no near foreseeable end to my lifestyle; in my nightmares, there wasn’t one, as it was just a defining characteristic of my life. In rare moments of bliss, it felt like a noble struggle, a pain I bore no one else could see, a scar of dead martyrs. But nothing was noble about my own self-eradication and detest.
Mr. Crowley sucked in a breath, his beak puckering in edged anticipation. “You know what… I’ll be back tomorrow. We can talk.” Without waiting for my reaction, he flew into the moon within seconds.
Okay, I thought to myself blandly, excitement entering all parts of my body like little sparks of rosy glass. Okay. Tomorrow night. Okay.
I began to love the very word, and my revolution had begun.