Geralyn Pinto is Associate Professor and Head at Department of English at St Agnes College (Autonomous), Mangalore. She is an accomplished poet and short story writer, and has won numerous accolades in both national and international creative writing contests. She was one of the three finalists for Desi Writers’ Lounge’s annual Short Story Competition in 2013 (‘Two Flew Over’) and 2014 (‘Shanthi Smells of Smoke’). Her writings have been featured in various national and international journals. Her oeuvre in fiction spans human interest, science fiction, low grade detective fiction, the supernatural, and bizarre combinations of the aforementioned. She confesses to a love of elementary mathematics and an addiction to Sudoku. Geralyn is hardly all bookworm and enjoys housekeeping and cooking with a special emphasis on baking rich chocolate cake.
Two Flew Over
And now – that hatchery van, crawling slow as a flea, ahead of her car… It had a wire-mesh cage cram-full of poultry for the market. But there was an opening on the top, she observed, wide as a yawn. Anything could get in – or out. Even a bird-brained rooster.
Yet there were three dozen of them inside, humped in misery: bird hearts quivering in their bony cages; necks sunk between feathered shoulders; wrinkled membranes pulled over glassy bird eyes. A short ride and they’d arrive at the extermination kitchens where every fowl must fulfill its life’s mission on bright-edged steel. You’d imagine that they’d explore every avenue of escape. Like the one right over their heads. But they didn’t. They just gave off the sad odour of dirt and death. Schooled to meet their destiny, Shaheena sighed.
Twink! The lights had turned red. She halted her car in the fantail of exhaust from the hatchery van. To her left was the District Maternity Hospital where the lives of poor children began. Further down were the eateries and shoeshine stands where the lives of poorer children ended.
There, in fact, were her scrawny-necked chokras and the restaurant owner, Ramappa, who looked like one of his own overblown puries. She saw them every day. The chokra boys mopped tables with what looked like discarded loin cloths, served boiling tea in filthy tumblers, and chopped tiny hummocks of vegetables for short eats, while Ramappa threatened them with the long arm of the law and counted his day’s earnings. In the evening he’d pick up his collection box, contents rattling like the broken bones of childhood, and lock it up in his safe below the gilt-framed pictures of Gods and Goddesses, before going for a tea and a pee.
She’d seen the boys nicking pakoras when Ramappa’s back was turned and chomping away energetically on their rotten teeth. She didn’t need to see them being belted when they were caught. She’d seen the suspended animation of their dead- sparrow eyes.
So why didn’t…
Her attention snapped and her eye focused on the hatchery van, instead. An odd thrill crawled up from within and played over the skin on her arms so that the hair on them stood to attention. A suggestion of red sponge had emerged from the opening in the cage. Then a pair of now-bright bird eyes, in a head that bore a red cockscomb, came into view. A hesitant movement – and he was out, up to his feathery shoulders! He rotated his head, amazed at his own great, good fortune.
The opening had discovered him!
Then he paused meditatively as the fidgety seconds passed: Philosophy on a monument in the middle of Old Market Road. Shaheena ground her teeth, “What man, you think you’re Aristotle? Move on, stupid bird! Arrey, traffic lights will change!! Want to end up in cold storage, or what?”
And he was out, whirring inexpertly towards the further end of the road – obscured from her sight by other honky-tonking vehicles. She was straining her neck to get a better view when a blue-nosed tempo van blustered into the trajectory of a bundle of plummeting and bloodied feathers…
Shaheena groaned gently and rested face-down for a moment on the hot plastic casing of her steering wheel. But a movement caught her eye. She looked up. To her left she saw ‘her ten-year olds’ – she had privately named them ‘Adkalo’ and ‘Budkalo’ after the sounds made when you drummed your fingers on empty clay pots. The boys had moved to the edge of the pavement, hand-in-hand, the tatters on them ill-concealing skin richly mapped with dirt and historied with welts. That was the furthest they had ever ventured beyond the awning of ‘Lucky Restaurant’. But they weren’t looking at her, at all. Their mouths were open beaks and necks outstretched in the direction of the hatchery van.
Shaheena followed their line of vision.
A second bird had emerged and was speculatively eyeing the relative safety of the traffic island. A moment and it had spread wing and was ready for takeoff.
Shaheena turned back.
Adkalo and Budkalo had a toehold each on the footboard of a lopsided express bus going – anywhere! Who cared!!