I was raised in roofless houses of the holy. I was born among splintered slats, the taint of resin on the air, a teeming rectangle of stars conversing brightly over my bloody, screaming, crumpled face. My first breath was of air dusted and spiderwebbed with sawdust. My first faltering steps were taken to the rhythmic counterpoint of hammers beating crude nails into pine so fresh it still wept sap from its boles and knots. My father was always a resourceful man. When other people were out here panning for gold, fighting over land, settling, chasing out settlers, squabbling over anything they could find to squabble over, he rode in, with his rustic caravan of thriftily accrued supplies and, largely unnoticed, he did one thing: he built churches. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression; he was not a religious man. Maybe in his own way, but not according to any certifiable standards. In fact, I might have been born in a butcher’s shop, under a wooden slab dyed pink with bull’s blood, the umbilical cord cut by the razor edge of a sterilised cleaver. Or in the wings of a makeshift country theatre, in the thin velvet-covered plywood of the trick box which my father used to slice my mother in half then reassemble her nightly during his brief time as a magician. Or, God forbid, in the ground floor of that miserable, crumpled tenement building, its walls thinner even than the magician’s box, at least two dozen sweating, aching, shouting, restless souls between me and the distant, dimmed stars. But no, I was born in a roofless house of god. And now I stand before you in this gleaming capital, the richest city in the world, beamed to others by satellite connection, projected on large hi-definition screens globally, or so I’ve been assured, to tell you something which I feel is important. To tell you something which I believe you will want to hear. Something the seeds of which were planted in that roofless temple, its only ceiling the unadorned stars. And that is this.
It’s Sean. Again. I reach to pick it up, but…there on the window sill is that little scruffy, tinkering, scrabbling mucker of a bird. Blackbird. Turdus merula. With its compact, sleek little black body and its bright yellow wink of beak. What’s he doing there on the sill, staring in at me? Shouldn’t he be out there in the shifting shadows, scavenging in a patch of streetlight, pecking worms from the tawdry hedgerows of this cheap back corner of suburbia? I reach to bang on the window with the end of my chewed brush handle, but stop myself. The brush is poised in mid air like a dart. The bird cocks his head, questioningly, but apart from that, shows no sign of being in any way perturbed by my presence. And I…feel a kinship with him. My little turdus merula friend. Not with my girlfriend, who doesn’t want me to have female friends (‘why do you need to have female friends?’ she asks on a regular basis) despite my constant reassurance that my close female friends surely go towards showing that I have a healthy, non-discriminatory attitude towards women (well, don’t they?). Not with Sean, ringing again, whose bonhomie as a fellow artist I suspect thinly masks a need to constantly be better (sell more, paint more, know more) than me. Not with the other artists at the university reunion who, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be ‘one of them’, leave me feeling like a perennial outsider, a weirdo, an (say it) Impostor. No. Not with any of them. But with this blackbird, my little scavenger, I feel a fellow feeling. And it looks like, on this dreary night as the streetlights blink and flicker on, he’s not going anywhere. The phone has stopped ringing. Maybe Sean has given up. I settle down in front of the canvas and take a deep breath.