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Volume 11

Prequel - January 2013


Written by
Fatima Khalid

Fatima Khalid is an Islamabad-based engineer.


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Man and Crow


‘Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.’
– Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven.

The other day, I met a man who lived with crows.

That was his pick-up line. ‘I live with crows.’

I would have ignored him, but you know how deafening and unreal the city can get some of these nights. So I asked him what he meant.

He did not answer right away. He continued to sit there, like he had the whole night – with blurred outlines and hunched shoulders, eyes glazed over. I thought I could even hear faint echoes of residual memories bouncing in his ears. I asked him again what he meant.

He turned to me then, ‘Would you like to see?’

I know it sounds bizarre now. But the city was blasting in my ears, so I just sort of shrugged, you know, like, sure, I guess.

I cannot remember where it was exactly that he lived. It was a beautiful house, though, and rather big for just one man. There was a glass enclave built at the back of the house, where his living room opened out to a rather airy verandah.

I did not see the crows until the next day.

I did see shadows rustling in the glass house that night. An inky darkness rippling across the glass walls, the kind you could see even against the blackness of the night. I asked him if that was where he kept them. He nodded. And then he said, ‘I don’t keep them. That’s where they live.’ I was somewhat disconcerted. We did not talk much after that.

The next morning I lingered over breakfast, and he asked me to stay awhile. His crows were not there. I decided to stay. The city, no matter how far you get from it, it gets inside you. That morning, it was pulsatingly alive inside me. I was in no hurry to get back. I asked him where his crows were. He just shrugged, as if he could not care less. I looked outside at the empty glass annexe. He said, a little abruptly, ‘They’re not my crows. I don’t own them. They just live here.’

The throbbing slowed down soon after, towards the evening. That is when I called to hitch a ride. There was a picture by the phone of a woman and him – young and happy, laughing. It was not in a frame or anything. It was just lying there, dog-eared, partially obscured by dust and almost hidden beneath some papers. I asked him who the girl was after I had hung up. He did not answer. I do not think he heard me – he was leaning against the door to the verandah, looking distractedly at the glass house. The sun was setting in the distance. I heard a flapping, like paper cutting through the wind. And then there was the cawing. Harsh, battle-like, stern.

The crows were returning.



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