Saturday, 15 August 2020

Marianne de Nazareth, Short Story 2020 Longlist

A Murder of Crows at Dawn


Sugandhi was rudely awakened by the loud cawing of crows. Her eyes flew open when she realised it was early morning and still dark and yet the crows were cawing madly on the tamarind trees outside her bedroom window.

“What the heck?” she thought, squinting at her Fitbit in the dark. “It’s only 4:30am and why are the crows cawing so crazily? Looks like they are having a conversation about COVID-19,” she thought smiling wryly to herself.

She plumped up her pillow and laid down again, trying to get back to sleep but no such luck. Her brain was wandering around, wondering about the cawing birds which sounded desperate. Almost as if they were having a conference on what to do. What to do about what, she thought as she slowly fell back to sleep.

Waking at her regular 6:30 am with her phone alarm going off, she tiptoed into the bathroom so as to not wake the others in the house, while pulling on her running gear for her early morning jog. Thankfully that was one part of her daily routine she had not given up in spite of COVID-19.

“Tie those laces firmly or you will be stopping midway, trying to lace them up on the road,” she sternly said to herself. The shoehorn she bought in Bangkok helped slip on the fitting running shoes quite effortlessly.

Her mind went back to the crows cawing at that ungodly hour that morning, as she jogged up Hayes Road. We humans are not the only one disturbed with COVID-19, she realised. The crows were definitely hungry as they were scavengers and now with all human movement locked down or locked in, well they were really and truly hungry.

We humans had made them dependent on us along with the stray dogs that roamed the streets of Bangalore. Trash and garbage which included waste food was always thrown around our roads and street corners. That’s where the dogs and crows feasted and thrived.

She jogged along the beautiful St. Mark’s Road TenderSure pavement, revelling in the abundance of flowers growing on the street medians. Masses of gem coloured bougainvillea flowed over the Bishop Cottons Girls’ School stone wall. And she let her eyes feast on their colours and abundance.

“For once they were left to bloom rather than being picked clean by the flower pickers every morning,” she thought.” Definitely the positive side of COVID-19 that nature was being left alone with no man around to disturb her.

Suddenly she saw a low slung Hoysala police car cruising along the road. “ Oh no! Let them be merciful and leave me to jog,” she thought worriedly.

Letting out a sigh of relief as they silently drifted past, she was glad she was not told to turn back and ‘get home’ like the reports in the press said the cops were doing. The cops apparently were sending back dog walkers and runners, if they found them on the road, which was silly if true. There was no question of breaking the social distancing rule here. She was literally the only one on the road!

She rounded the State Bank of India curve peering in at the just opening water lilies. A royal purple, the lilies grew in a large pond in the SBI garden. Here too the gardens look lush and bursting with flowers, with no humans to decimate them. The pourakarmika smiled a good morning while he wielded his handsome looking coconut brooms, as he swept the pavement.

“I must call Nirmala and ask her if she has heard the crows too,” she thought to herself as she took the home stretch back to the gate. “ She probably would have a theory, like she always did!”

“They are not ‘flocks’ of crows Sugandhi, interestingly it’s known as a ‘murder’ of crows,” she said in asnwer to Sugandhi’s phone call.

“Well they are screaming blue murder every morning, so that’s really an apt collective noun!” replied Sugandhi with a laugh, chuckling to herself as she hit end to her call and headed for her shower.

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