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Keeping the falcon was no joke. It had to be served meat, its bowl had to be filled with fresh water twice daily, its perch had to be cleaned of droppings. It was moody and choosy in its diet. When Jani took the falcon to the bazaar or the community center, the villagers would ask questions about it, and some would tentatively stroke it. Jani harangued against the dealers and their so-called experts. “My bird one day will get me a fat price,” he insisted.
Jani reported back for duty at the brick kiln. Now that people realized the falcon was worthless, they started making fun of him. One day as he was sipping tea in a café three fellows nearby nudged one another.
“A sheikh is flying from the Emirates to buy his falcon,” the first man declared.
“A zoo in Lahore wants to buy his bird,” the second man blustered.
“I think he should just kill it and make kebabs of it,” the third man tittered.
Incandescent with anger, Jani flew at them. There was a punch-up, some passersby intervened, Jani stormed out.
He lost interest in the falcon. He could not afford to buy meat for it. Sometimes it went without food for a day or two and no one bothered to clean its perch. Its talons were chipped, its wings were droopy, its feathers and quills were losing their shine. A cloud of flies buzzed around it.
Jani’s elder brother took the falcon to the village outskirts to set it free. An army of boys followed along. He untied the jess and asked the kids to howl and clap hands to rouse the bird, but it sat glued to its place, its wings drooping like a sick condor. He scooped it up and sat it on an acacia tree. He and the boys returned to their homes.
Next morning when they woke they saw the falcon back on its old perch. Jani hurled a shoe at it. “Don’t be cruel to Allah’s creature!” his mother admonished. “You took it into captivity and now you are responsible for its care.”
One afternoon Jani’s nephews caught a mouse in a live-catch mouse trap. They pushed it towards the falcon and the bird lunged at the mouse and started tearing at it. From that day, Jani’s nephews and their friends fed mice to the falcon and when they could not trap a mouse they brought discarded animal parts from the butcher.
The falcon in effect became the pet of Jani’s nephews and its health improved. They flaunted it in the streets. Their friends asked to sit it on their hands and caress it. Then one day one nephew was flaunting the falcon when a column of SUVs rolled into the village. They were returning from hunting in the foothills. One SUV pulled over near the boys, the tinted window rolled down and a goateed face popped up. An Emirati sheik. He slipped a gauntlet over his right hand and asked the boy to show him the falcon.
The sheik sat the bird on his hand. “It’s starving, poor thing,” he observed. He took a slice of cold mutton from a plastic cooler on the back seat and dangled the meat before the falcon. It gobbled the delicacy in one go.
“It belongs to my uncle,” the boy said.
“Bring your uncle to me. I want to have a chat with him,” the Emirati said.
The boy sprinted home and in a few minutes returned with Jani.
“Greetings, brother,” the sheik said. “My aviary back home has several falcons but not this variety, the shaheen falcon. I used to have one but it passed away. I need your bird for breeding purposes...to make the lady falcons happy, hahaha. How much do you want for it, my friend?”
Jani felt as if he was in a dream.
“Fifteen thousand dirhams will be OK?” the Emirati asked.
Jani’s ears buzzed, he felt as if he was floating on air. His vocal cords had become immobile and despite his best effort sound would not issue from his mouth. The Emirati was bigger than a mountain and the falcon was bigger than a camel.
“You don’t want to sell it? Speak up, my friend. We have to catch a flight back to Dubai.”
Jani wanted to nod his head but his neck muscles had jammed.
“OK, I will give you twenty thousand dirhams,” the Emirati said.
At last Jani managed to nod his head.
“Great!” said the Emirati. He shoved a wad of crisp notes towards Jani.
The SUV drove off in a cloud of dust. Jani held the strange-looking notes, still uncertain whether they were real or fake.