Electricity cuts had always been a problem in this part of the world, evidently during winters when the blissful snowfall turned into their biggest enemy. Every winter, it rained for days in succession & the whole valley felt stilled; the daily hustle bustle muted by the roaring rains.
“These western disturbances my lord! I can barely take so much of this cold.” His grandmother complained. Every rain which lasted for more than two days ended up bringing with it snow which blocked all roads, disrupted all communication, water & food supplies, insulating the inhabitants from the world outside. This was the beautiful yet disturbing winter of Serdote.
Something had woken him up at this unusual hour of dawn. He perched through the tinted gothic window for a magnificent ray of sunlight. But the sky was still dark & edges of the window & rooftops luminous & covered In cottony white. Serdote had just a snowfall. He put aside his woolen cloak & slid into his guilt again.
“Jerome! Wake up & get the bird out of your room. Jerome! I said wake up.” He had become used to it for he had brought it in on himself.
“It’s sunny now Jerome. The birds need warmth. Place the cage in the sun.” rubbing his eyes, he held a dark, heavy wooden cage & placed it on the roof.
Every day he mumbled curses at himself for bringing them in. The two little birds bought by his mother at 150 bucks for a couple as a result of his childish persuasion to have a pet. How cheap was the price of a life! Even cheaper was that beautiful ones as they were the most demanded ones.
“I’ll take care of them. I have seen people raising parrots. I want a bird too.”
“But honey those birds cannot live here in this climate & you have your school, I have my work. Who will take care of them?”
“I will! All by myself! I know how & what they need & how to raise them. Trust me. Please ‘mamma’ buy me those. Yeah… wait! I want a red & a yellow one.” A delighted young kid exclaimed as his dream was at the verge of fulfillment.
“Alright kid! But you have to be responsible.” What more options did a loving mother have than this mere dictum.
“I will & yeah I love you mom.”Jerome introspected into the argument he had with his mother a month ago. & today he possessed two cute lovebird fishers.
The first few weeks he had tried to talk them & make them imitate him like a parrot, unaware that this breed never spoke like humans. But finally he’d given up the contest with nature’s laws. “Say Jerrr…rrrr…..rrrr…yyyyeee…..eee….eee!” walking past the cage he’d still at times try to make them speak but it all ended up frightening them as they confined to the farthest corner of the cage & he’d reluctantly resume his chores.
But what was more atrocious was his attempt to secretly feed them chilies. As he’d heard from one of his friends at school, “My bird speaks when we feed him chilies.” his brutal tenacity finally ended when his experiment made the birds so sick that his mother found traces of blood in bird’s poop. Finally they decided to put them off the punishing diet.
Ever since they entered home, they had been crowded by guests & visitors from all around the town for they were picked from another city. Everyone was curious to see Jerome’s beautiful birds. Those read & yellow birds, with beaks as tiny as the tip of a fountain pen & a fat tongue hidden inside; at times they’d delightfully chirp in loud voices which were taken to be their happy songs. They’d shake their neck & feathers & point their eyes at every object or human approaching their cage. Jerome would often insert his finger into the cage to which the birds took resistance & tried to bite him with their tiny ineffective beaks. Jerome, the fearless owner, would show it as his bonding with the birds.
But was it? Their first week in the house Jerome had been up on his toes; swinging the cage in & out with shifting sun, feeding them all day. But not anymore! & that was the human who cried & lamented for his dearest dreams & once he had them, he forgot to value them. Why was it always merely about attaining & not sustaining? If only his naïve mind could tell apart the right & wrong, he’d have been a better owner. But he was blinded by his want.
It must have been 11 am; the sun was warm & the snowy cover & chill from the fresh snowfall had subdued.
“Jerome! Come here!” his mother exclaimed from the terrace.
“What is it mom?” a reluctant reply as he knew it must have been about the birds.
“I said come here. Look what’s happening to your birds! It’s unable to get off the ground.”
His heart sank at his mother’s shout. He frantically ran up the stairs taking two steps at once.
“Pheww…! What happened? Tell me?” he placed his hand on her shoulder & tried to look into the cage.
“I…I don’t know. One of them doesn’t seem alright. It’s unable to climb the stick. I’ve been seeing it scramble to get off the ground.”
“Let me see.” He opened the cage & took out the bird, held it in his hand. It wasn’t the first time he’d done so & somehow the bird tried to feebly bite & claw his palm but had no energy; would not take a flight for it could barely stand on its powerless feet. It would open its eyes & close faintly as if it had been drugged. Jerome felt its chest beneath the feathers felt burning like anything & the heartbeats like a dilapidated drum.
The cold had taken its toll. He placed the bird in a towel blanket & placed him in the sun; tried placing it on a warm cloth. But all his attempts were failing with the falling beats of the bird & his drowning heart. Jerome had now known that it was time, & there was nothing slightly consoling that he could do. After a half an hour duel with death & the unbearable cold of Serdote, the docile bird gave up in his owner’s palm.
Jerome buried the body of the bird under a tree. But what was more grievous was the guilt of its death. Jerome realized that his bane desire had costed a life. But the realization was too late. The lesson he learnt from its death could do no better to lessen his hatred for himself. Seeing one bird pass away, the other lonely bird became silent like a doll. The sweet chirrup was never heard again. His mother proposed to set it free as it wouldn’t last long in a cage without its pair.
They set it free. But did it ever make it through the cold winters of Serdote? They themselves dint know. Jerome’s mother just protected him from increasing the dead-load of guilt at his heart. But who knew if their setting the other bird free was yet another mistake. They never saw the bird again after that sunny morning a week after one bird’s death. But Jerome became wiser at his words; wise after the birds paid the price with their lives.
Abheerup Bhalla ©