I'm deathly afraid of crows. I'm afraid of the way they spiral downward out of nowhere, razor sharp wing skimming above my head. And then flap away unconcernedly to a lamppost, preening that dark seamless coat. I'm afraid of those beaks they sharpen purposefully on telephone wires. I'm afraid of the primeval screams that are unlike what any bird's call ought to be. I'm afraid of how that blankness in beady animal eyes suddenly turns into bloodlust without any warning as they dip and soar, aiming directly at the red dot of fear that I can never hide. Even in death they are gruesome, stretched out in a molting rotting heap while high above crowds of others wheel madly, shrieking their rage to the sky.
Up on the window eaves of a neighbouring house, in a position where I can see it from my balcony, is a nest. That nest is occupied throughout the year by a family of crows. This is precisely why I hate waiting on the road for my schoolbus every morning. Bag slung over a shoulder, RC Majumdar weighing one arm down like a ton of bricks, it leaves me very little means of defence. A few early joggers pass by. The milkman cycles to his daily round. A grey and white cat sleeps between the wheels of the neighbour's Maruti. And always there are the crows. Perching comfortably on the mass of electric wires, finishing their morning toilettes with mock delicacy. Always watching. Lazy malevolence in their gaze. Shuffle a little bit just to see me flinch. Then fly off to find a place on the tree in Tamalda's compound, scornful of my human dread. I don't know the name of that tree, but around this time of the year it is covered in bellshaped golden blossoms. They flock to it, jostle for room on its slender branches. As if they own that tree, every leaf and golden petal of it, every beam of sunshine and fleck of shadow on it. If I wasn't so afraid I'd almost envy them.
It rained all morning today, the kind of rain I love. I stood on the balcony literally leaning out to taste the cold in the wind. A lot of small boys sat on the rok next door, dangling bare legs, throwing stones at newly forming puddles. Two dogs chased each other around sagging piles of sand and cement. The leaves on the trees were washed to a bright green, the air was clean, and the flowers were blooming again. And then I saw them. A lump of shrivelled blackness crouched over the precariously placed bundle of sticks on my neighbour's window eaves. Shrunken bird of prey with skeleton wings. Behind it wriggled two balls of dirty grey fluff, stretching out scrawny necks, blinking with pink sightless eyes.
The lone crow swayed where she stood, getting wetter and wetter in the relentless drizzle, ignoring the scuffling and scrambling in the nest behind her. No defiant caws this time. No sweeping flight past my face to the highest chhad in the para. It pretended not to see me. And for a moment, I wished I hadn't either.