BIRDS- A SHORT STORY

Few months after debuting with my first short story PIANO NOTES, I dabble again in writing one that melds the beauty of relationships along with my preoccupation with the natural aura of birds; birds as symbols of freedom and an inherent Godliness in our world.

I hope you like this one.

***

BIRDS- A SHORT STORY





“Uncle, what is the meaning of God’s presence on earth?”

“Especially since we can’t see God with our own eyes?”

“Yes, Uncle, you always know how to pick up the spirit of all my enquiries”

He had done it again, the precocious little ‘man-child’ as he liked to call himself. Samridh, my eight year old nephew, prided himself on the weekends spent with me as we took long leisurely walks on his favourite riverside parks, which we found to be perfect embodiments of paradise within the city.

“Thank God for this natural beauty and also for the fact that we don’t get hit by hurricanes, floods or even rainy spells to drown our hopes, here in this town; I guess the good karma and impressive history of this place that you tell me so much about has blessed it with an even temper”

“Of course, my wise captain, now that you have read such a favourable forecast, I guess the bright and sunny days are here to stay. You know how I always tell you that a child’s goodwill especially impresses weather Gods”

“You mean, manifest destiny of sorts, as you had explained”

“Yes, you remember that? Good boy”

“Uncle, I try to keep up. But what can I do? I can’t help it if I got your retention power”

“I know, that’s why your mother always felt betrayed for not getting that part of the family genes. Because I could memorise whole chapters, let alone the slightest remarks uttered by anyone and she struggled to even learn word meanings. She still envies me for that quality. Actually, she gets fed up with your questions. Dropping you off to spend the weekends with your beloved Uncle is just an excuse to get her peace of mind. Or maybe, she brushes up her memory tricks to plan the next week with you in focus. She knows she has to keep up with the chatterbox and his pile-up of pending enquiries. Maybe she consults an encyclopaedia fit for the purpose with a title like HOW TO RAISE CHILDREN WITHOUT RUNNING OUT OF ANSWERS. There are books like that out there, believe me”

I always broke into peels of joyful laughter when we’d share something on these lines, the point of levity being my younger sister and our childhood. Samridh, this time, too joined in with a thunderous laughter of his own. He agreed with his mother’s temperament. But we loved her deeply for being the glue that held a familial unit together. We joked amongst ourselves that maybe the formidable lady was eavesdropping on us and will be ready to give one of our delicate ears a twirl. Or join in unexpectedly with giggles of her own.

In these unguarded moments, Samridh reminded me a lot of a boy I knew who was similarly curious, his interest piqued by the little things around him and whom everybody had dubbed as a talking parrot because of his endless streams of back and forth with anyone who cared enough to attend to his worldviews. Now, that boy has outgrown his petite stature. The man in the mirror now standing at 5 ft. 9 inches tall stares back at me.

****

“Uncle, you didn’t answer me. What indeed is the meaning of God’s presence on Earth?”, with this, he knocked me back to the present moment, each word coming from him precious to my ears, each expressive articulation unadorned and beautiful, stringing a young life innocent and drinking in sights and sounds to the lees. Just like how an eight year old should be.

A flock of birds, in that very instant, flew above us in the most inevitably beautiful formation, a sight we had seen in that blessed evening hour on various Saturdays together. A sight that got our undivided attention this time too. For a minute or two, we traced their collective flight, the synchrony of that unison till they disappeared or seemed to melt into the horizon, eluding human vision beyond that line. I had, however, found the answer to Sam’s meaningful query as it had sprung from my own beliefs nurtured since my early days.

“You know Sam, how I say that nature is the greatest teacher?

“Yes, Uncle, I believe in that. We just saw an example of that with the birds in perfect formation”

“What did you learn then now?”

“That they never leave each other, always flying in the same formation, never leaving their friends behind. Or family behind. That is the beauty of nature to me”

“Bless you boy”, I said as I gave him a warm kiss on his forehead and patted him on his shoulders, proud to have such a sensible young man with me. We then leaned on the pruned grass on a slope just above the garden. I then told him thus,

“You know Sam, that is the way God lives among us. He makes us see the rays of the sun, observe the flight and listen to the call of birds, listen to the pitter-patter of raindrops and swaying of trees and plants to tell us that we can never be above these gifts. Or be too proud to overlook them.

He gifts us with what’s most natural to us: the power of observation”

“Yes, Uncle”, he said and then rested his head on my chest as we took in the sights and sounds of more birds mingling with the canvas of the sky. The warm evening breeze further gave us comfort to observe the wonders of our world.

“You know, Sam, when do we kill the Godliness in us?

When is that Uncle?”

I knew I had changed the course of the conversation to a more serious tangent but to my mind, it was just as innocent as that which Samridh needed to hear.

“We send away the God living in all of us when we stop looking at the birds above us or heeding to their calls. When we don’t have enough time or sense to appreciate their freedom as they soar in the sky. That’s, after all, the only way we get to experience each day as living, breathing beings. To see that life is dear and so close to us. That our lives too matter and should be free and full of joy for the little moments that make us happy. Like how this moment is for both of us. Atleast for me, it is. “

“Me too, Uncle”, he said as he rubbed the little track of tears that had formed on my cheeks, just like the river tributaries that he discussed with me from his school books. “Don’t cry, I’m here, Uncle”

“Promise me, you never will forget to be like the birds, free and beautiful in your goodwill”

“I promise Uncle”, he said it, knowing in the manner of childhood wisdom that all of it came not only as words of endearment and love from me but sprung from a depth seldom shown to him before. He chose to look at me quietly while I gazed at the sky, the blue expanse reflecting in my open eyelids. Then I looked at him and we both gave each other reassuring smiles and an embrace that’s more life-affirming than all the grand words grown ups can muster.

“Uncle, I think you remembered your two beloved lovebirds today, the ones who you call your first borns, your babies, the ones you lost one after the other.”

“Yes, maybe they were sending me a message. Of course, I miss them even today. They were my babies, yes, they were. I could not help them as one went away and the other passed away too two weeks later, unable to bear the loss of being left as the only one behind.”

“So birds do feel sadness more than normal humans do, Uncle?”

“Yes, son. Purer the heart, purer the pain of suffering. You know, I sometimes wonder if they have been reborn perhaps and fly above us here itself.”

“I sure wish that for them. They were lucky to be with you”

“No, no. They were my good luck birds. My heartbeats. If they are reborn again or have already, I wish they are not put up in cages”

“Manifest destiny, Uncle. Your wishes won’t let them be caged. I’m sure they are free, flying above and under, calling out your name in some sweet language of their own”

Then I looked at him and with a twinkle in my eyes told him to never be afraid of crying. He promised me he would never be hard of heart to show his emotions to me or those who would become close to him.

“None as closer than you. Ever. That’s the greatest promise. An oath”

He crossed his heart and managed to make me pleasantly smile then and there. “Oh, yes, I believe you more than anything. None as closer and sacred than we two boys”

****

Five years after the events of that day, Samridh has moved out of the city with his parents owing to a temporary relocation, a move which none of us ever wanted to manifest even in our wildest dreams. But the gift of life keeps on giving and we still retain our weekend ritual of meeting each other with profuse joy and a bundle of topics to spend our minutes with. Old best friends wearing the same garb of trust. And truth, as he says. Only the mode of communication- video calls over the phone- has transformed.

Now more confident in his verbal articulations and to adorn his sentences, he told me last week,

As I take my strolls in the lakeside garden and park, I see only my sights holding the beautiful flight of birds in thrall. All others, too busy, with their curious multiverse in their devices, never look up or even so much around them. All my peers are in the habit of ignoring this very pattern of divinity. I think to myself, ‘how can one refuse to be humbled by the signs of God reflected in his innocent creatures?”

“We should know better, son, because our brethren perhaps only look at the sky to imagine their own names sprawled across its expanse”


“Or they are visibly hypnotized by the blare of aeroplanes, birds of metal that attract their attentions relatively more, more than those birds who don’t need a reserved seat to reach their destinations. It’s baffling Uncle that we mortals actually dare to call ourselves intelligent”

We once again broke off into giggles as is customary to both of us, a mainstay of our wonderful relationship.

“My high flying bird, I miss you”

“My wise old eagle, I wish you could fly all the way here”, said Sam as tears streamed down his cheeks.

**

Two weeks later, he gave me the perfect birthday gift, delivered to me as a letter with a framed portrait of my beloved lovebirds made by him.

“This is for you, my soaring eagle, my most favourite comrade. I believe the birds bring the purity of the sky closer to us. As do guides and friends for life like you make the earth a peaceful abode for mere mortals like me.” And then lines in verse to mark the occasion,

‘Our beloved birds,
God’s humble creatures,
will always retain their pride.

Their synchrony,
divine and ever-present,
is like a neural network of
the universe,
celebrated in their flight’

They prevail like you and your message of freedom to me”

***

In that moment, I cried tears of joy and knew that a true free bird had caught the spirit of my words, shared with him in all these years. How lucky was I to share kinship with Sam.

How blessed was our sense of wonder, at the freedom of every bird who gave us a new lease of life on our journey.

****

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