I looked at my soaked hands at once.
It wasn’t rainwater that caused them to be like that, although the tin slate above my head was chattering fearfully and the wind went berserk outside, crying and howling like a woman abandoned by her man.
There was a tiny hole on the tin wall through which I could see the dirt-pile outside of my dwelling in the slum.
If one viewed it long enough, one could tell the holes on the discarded plastic bags, the dried blood stains on sanitary pads, dangling by some stone, as if the dead eggs inside it, cried to be impregnated foolishly.
A few years ago, this very dirt-pile was where I scavenged for food, along with crows.
While the crows went for dead meat, I voraciously ate slices of burgers and half-eaten fruits.
As a child, I often had visions about a rich man, stopping by my shanty dwelling, getting out of his car, smiling at me, and taking me out for lunch.
The rich man never came, my childhood passed vacantly, and as I entered my adolescence, I took to washing dirty clothes and utensils in the well-off homes of the suburb.
The crows had eventually learnt to identify me even in bazaars, on streets, in the middle of an angry mob – they knew who I was, and some of them even followed me to work.
I had not known the love of family, but I knew crows, and if I’d felt any wee bit of protection in that dingy vulnerability which had always been my home – it was in the blackness of their strong wings.
Work tired me out, and I almost always fell into a deep slumber – but they cawed diligently at dawn, making sure I have timely awakenings.
Too many hours in water, and your skin becomes bluish, swollen, and prone to fungal growth.
The work however, granted me enough money, so that I could keep myself fed – and thereby, save the flesh around my bones. It made sure my skeletal framework never peek out of my body waywardly like the metal angles off a nascent building work, and I could retain that unobtrusive beauty akin to healthy women.
I was fortunate that way, God forbid if I showed any signs of malnutrition, I would never find any work; misjudged by people as being afflicted with tuberculosis or some such ailment.
I suppose, only two kinds of people understand malnutrition – ones who suffer from it, and the ones who study it.
One morning, as I was going to my work, I heard angry cries near a tree.
The tree had been half – chopped, and a nest had fallen onto the ground, with its eggs broken.
The nest belonged to a crow.
I tried to go near the nest, but I was sharply deflected by the mother crow.
She was obviously distressed and wanted nobody to touch her eggs.
I obliged, and continued toward my work.
The mother crow followed me, tentatively, all the while screaming in pain.
But there was nothing I or she could do.
How can you stop human beings from chopping off trees when telephone wires get entangled in them – or when buildings take their places?
The rich ones erect buildings of glass, while the poor ones look for mud or tin.
They were urbane – they were progressive, and had no time to think about the depleting population of birds or the broken eggs of a mother crow.
On my way to another workplace, I crossed the same tree again, and this time found only its dwarfed trunk, and dogs slurping upon the remains of the eggs.
The mother crow could nowhere be seen – she’d probably abandoned the place, broken-hearted as she were.
Since that day, I saw dead crows every other week, along with their broken eggs and ravaged homes.
A new developmental scheme had been introduced into the suburb, which asked for to make clearings around slums.
It meant that all dirt-piles and garbage mounds would be destroyed, and trees chopped off.
I would often have nightmares about my family of crows being wiped off the face of Earth.
One morning, I woke up to find the sun nearing noontime.
I realized to my horror, the crows had not cawed at all.
I quickly readied myself for work, and rushed outside my home, and in the place where there was the dirt -pile once upon a time, stood a man, staring at a machine in his hand.
He noticed me, and came walking toward me.
“Hello.” He said.
I greeted him back.
“I am an ornithologist. I am sure you do not know what that means – it means, I,”
I stopped him mid-way. “You study birds.”
He was visibly taken aback. “I am sorry – I was not expecting you to, er…”
“It’s alright, Saar. A few college graduates donate books in our slum on the last day of every month. I have taught myself to read and write.”
“That is really commendable.” He said, staring penetratingly into my eyes.
“Well, I have been tracking a few crows, but to my dismay, I’ve found none whatsoever.”
“The crows are dying, Saar.” I said.
“Do you know about them?”
“I have always been with them, Saar.” I replied.
“Aren’t you a lady of surprises?” He said, admiringly.
“Crows have always been family to me. Every morning, they would caw and wake me from my sleep, but I overslept today, because they aren’t here anymore.”
“It’s urbanization. If crows continue to deplete at this rate, I am afraid, our cities will be left with no scavengers at all.”
Doubtful of my understanding, he continued.
“I know crows, magpies and the like are relatively unloved species, but these are scavengers – meaning they digest all of the rotting animal carcasses. With their natural habitats destroyed, and their dwindling numbers, it could pose a great hygiene hazard for the environment.”
I stared at him blankly.
“Do you understand?” He asked, this time incredulously, as if all his words had been in vain.
“We are cleaners, Saar. Contribution is seldom appreciated.”
He grinned. “You are very wise for your age, and your – “, he stopped himself again, embarrassed slightly.
“My social standing, you want to say? Perhaps, that is true. But that is because, perception is often gauged in terms of wealth, or standing, but it isn’t always right.”
He looked at his watch.
“Should you observe crows closely, you surely understand their behavior better than I do. Can you help me?”
“How can I help you?” I asked.
“You can. Let me take you to the lakeside, where a family of crows have survived. I have been documenting a white crow in that family.”
“I know about her. Her name is Sabeda.”
“Oh! You’ve a name for her. That’s brilliant. I need you to come with me – and what’s more, I will take you for lunch following that, and even pay you a decent sum for all the knowledge you would be sharing with me!”
“I will help you.” I said.
He smiled, and guided me to his car, which was parked far-off, on the highway.
Crows had died, but as though still protecting me, even in their death, they had made my vision about the rich man come true.
I would finally have lunch.
I would not have to be a scavenger anymore.
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