Friday 15 June 2012

Flash Fiction 2012 Longlist, Ranjan Nautiyal

The Silent Birds

Every morning, the children would wake up to the sound of something drumming on the corrugated iron-sheet roof. In their half-sleep they would mutter their prayers, hoping it was the rain. Often, it was the sound of the birds pecking at the boiled rice mixed with sugar that their grandfather would throw on the roof as the first rays of the sun worked its heat on the moisture that would settle in the night’s cold. A few times the kids’ prayers would get answered and it would actually be the rain. Rains meant no school and puddles everywhere for their paper boats. Rains also meant no breakfast for the birds. But mostly it was the birds’ prayers that got answered and the kids would drag themselves out of their warm beds to get ready for school.

As the dejected kids shuffled about with rolled rotis in their hands and bags on their shoulders, they would go past the chair where the old man sat sipping his tea under the morning sun. He was a strict man who always had a word or two to say to the boys. It could be about that ink-stain on the elder boy’s shirt front, or about the missing hanky on the youngest cousin. And for each kid he also had a coin. The kids saw it as a compensation for the sound on the roof being engineered by their grandfather. As if by feeding the birds their grandfather was somehow responsible for it not having rained today.

The night the kids were to watch their favourite movie the house was in a state of unrest. The fathers walked about and consulted with each other, the mothers sat quietly in a room with some close neighbours, the grandmother hung around the grandfather’s door as he wheezed and coughed from inside. The kids were sent to bed early and told strictly to not venture out. The only thing they liked about the arrangement was that they were sharing a room today and could kick and play around and make a mess as long as they were not heard. They were trained well in this art by their own mothers.
The next morning the kids woke up with sunlight streaming into their window, signalling that the day was well past the point they had to leave for school. The birds hadn’t dropped in, nor had the rains. Something was clearly wrong. The older kids sat up, gloomy, knowing something had changed forever. The younger ones looked at them and felt lost till one of their aunts came in. Seeing the kids were up, she turned back and fetched their mothers. The kids saw they all had tears in their eyes, and as they were rushed to go to the neighbour’s house they saw the veranda was full of people, dressed mostly in white. Their grandmother sat in a corner surrounded by women and on the roof sat the birds, not making a single sound.

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