‘M is for Magpie’

Most of all, he liked custard. He drank it like water, wiped his beak clean on the roof moss. Roast potatoes came a close second. But he wasn’t fussy. Anything I could stuff into my pockets, really.

I’d been leaving food out on the windowsill for a month. One day, he came so close I decided to see if he’d take it from my hand. Immediately, he did, without any sign of hesitation. From that moment, I loved him. A few weeks later, I came to realise that he loved me too – or perhaps he was trying to tell me something I should have known all along.

The first gift; I almost missed it. A brass screw, upended on the flat roof. From then, each day there was something new. A scrap of screwed up aluminium foil. Three pearls, knotted on a string. A twist of metallic thread. The purple cellophane wrapper of a Hazelnut Swirl.

In return, I gave him my treasures: three quarters of a slice of Bakewell Tart, sweetcorn in gravy, cold Christmas pudding, the fluff from the tumble dryer…

He didn’t visit for a couple of days. It was January, and the frost was bitter. I worried about him. Then one morning, when was almost light, I heard a sharp tapping at the window. There he was. He had something in his beak. He placed it on the sill and cocked his head, staring straight at me. I examined it: a small, rounded mosaic tile, mirrored on one side. In it, I saw my gaunt face, the point of his eager beak and both of our generous, selfish spirits in the cold dawn air.

‘I will,’ I whispered. I knew exactly what it meant.

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