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Haron closed all the remaining loop traps. “We have to do so, otherwise the birds would get ensnared and kill themselves by hanging,” he explained.
Next day after school, the two boys returned to the guava tree. They righted the nooses, concealed themselves in the bushes and waited for the birds to alight on the bait and drive themselves into the snares. But the birds, suspicious, would not even look towards the bait. Yahiya’s wish of having a bulbul did not get fulfilled that day.
The next day was a holiday. Fearing that Haron might not give him the bulbul if they caught any, Yahiya went to the orchard alone. The deep silence and long dark shadows stirred fear in his heart but he toughened himself up against his fear. He righted the loop-snares, squatted down in the usual lair but once again the bulbuls gave the bait a wide berth. At lunchtime Yahiya left for home without closing the snares shut.
The day after that, the two friends skipped school and went to the hunting ground. They were so engrossed in their talk about bulbuls that they hardly recognized when they had reached the guava clump. Then they stood aghast because on the guava tree they saw a white–cheeked bulbul hanging dead by the neck.
Haron brought it out of its noose: the bird was stiff and hard as a stuffed animal. He placed it on the palm of his hand and gazed at it from different angles then angrily hurled it into the grass. “You killed it, you bloody fool!” he flared at Yahiya. “It died because of you. You should have closed the snares shut.”
Haron thundered out of the orchard.
Yahiya picked up the dead bird and placed it on his palm. He wished there was a magic, a panacea that could bring it back to life. Tearfully he stared into the stiff glassy eyes of the dead bird. A flight of angry bulbuls hovered over his head and they hooted and screeched like nightjars. He felt as if the tall grass would wrap its stalks around him and squeeze him to death. He stuffed the dead bird in his pocket and hightailed it out of there.
In the evening his father spanked him for truanting but Yahiya did not feel the pain — he was thinking about the pain the bulbul must have felt when it was hanging upside down from the stick. He went to bed. When he heard his father snoring, he pulled out the dead bulbul from his pocket and placed it on his chest. He stroked its little head with his forefinger, smoothed its tail-quills, then gently pressed its beak as one presses a baby’s nose. He was caressing its back when he fell asleep.
That night he dreamt that the dead bulbul had become alive and had flown to his house on its own accord and it perched on his shoulder when he was going to school, and he felt so good. His schoolmates wanted to stroke the bird but Yahiya would not let them have this privilege.
In the morning when Yahiya woke up, he fumbled for his bird but it was missing. He looked under his pillow and under the charpoy but it was not there either.
“Looks like the doing of the cat,” his mother said, pointing to the feathers that lay scattered in the courtyard.
His mother placed his breakfast before him. But instead of eating Yahiya searched the rooms for the cat to punish it. He climbed up on the roof hoping to catch the cat catnapping there.
“You are a fool, you think the cat is waiting for you to be caught and walloped? Come down and eat your breakfast, you are getting late for school,” his mother shouted.
Reluctantly he sat down to eat his breakfast. But it seemed to have a weird smell. He broke a piece of paratha bread and put it in his mouth. He felt as if he was chewing a ball of feathers. His stomach heaved. Pushing the breakfast aside he stumbled towards the bathroom.