“But why are you so scared of birds, cousin? They’re cute. And delicious. I slaughtered this one before you guys arrive,” she said in a shyly proud tone while splitting the boiled hen in portions to serve her polio-ridden brother.
“That’s really brave of you,” I replied.
For some odd reason in life, birds have always been my vilest nightmares. The chirpy careless creatures scared me to death. The problem was, it was not a problem for anyone else. Nobody feared cute birds. As a child, all my friends in the hood wanted to catch, pet or kill one at some point. It was the only fear that inculcated a sense of complexity in my confidence among peers.
If I came across a dead bird on the street, it meant skipping several meals to beat the anxiety caused by the memory of its hanging head, loosened beak and squeezed claws. Too gruesome, too grisly an image to ignore. The longer it be dead, the dryer its eyes be.
When I reached early teens, I somehow gathered courage and decided to face the dreadful fear. It would mean me rehearsing by copying certain behavior patterns I thought I witnessed when others engaged with birds. I did that for over a period of few months and was finally convinced it will not work because there was nothing to copy. Everyone would just do it.
The only way I could kill my fear was to kill a bird.
But I was not ready to disclose the dare yet because it involved high risk of, I mean what if someone actually tested my courage on the spot? I had to come up with something to make it look normal after all.
One ordinary evening my gut feeling informed me that I was a grown-up and was ready to take down some harsh realities of life. It was a life-changing realization and harbinger of a fearless tomorrow.
I woke up earliest in the morning and grabbed a kettle full of tea before making myself comfortable on the charpoy. The view captured the entire veranda, overlooking all the cattle and chicken making themselves at home. My mission was to choose the prey and cook the plot before everyone else woke up to avoid embarrassment in case anything went wrong.
The confidence felt real.
At first, I looked for the cockiest rooster in the crowd. That was to satisfy the inner conscious for a reason to warrant its killing. It was not long until I settled for a mid-aged white hen, the color of peace and, well, just peace for now.
Before I could change my mind, the overexcited boy who was helping me in the task jumped, crawled, caught and rolled the hen in his arms just in a matter of split second. Then as soon as he started walking towards me, the cackling hen became louder and louder: “BUCK. BUCKK. BUCKUUUUKKK”. My feet went numb.
My stomach developed a motion which turned into an empty hole sort of feeling that grew bigger and bigger as the boy came closer. The air felt heavy and every living thing stood still except the hen. At this point, I still had time to chicken out and back off had I wanted.
I turned back and walked straight towards the sharpened knife.
As if time slowed down and every footstep prolonged the distance to the knife. I rolled up the sleeves, scratched and rubbed the knife edge against the first oval-shaped stone I saw, and then pretended there was no time for this.
I now had the hen grounded, legs beneath a foot and wings beneath another. My toe could feel the fluffy feathers, I knew it was game over for me the moment I focused on its moving claws.
“In the name of All… ah!” the knife peeled the skin cut, making its way between the knuckles of the throat and passing through the vibration of dying cackles. There was no blood and then there was blood everywhere.
It felt like somebody slapped both my ears at the same time.
The claws withered slowly and it took three shock waves before the headless hen stopped moving.
“It’s dead” I exhaled, hiding the uncertainty behind my fake terror expression.
“OH GOD!” screamed the boy, “You ruined it! You can’t talk before you swish water in your mouth!” he announced it to the neighbours.
It was a sign nobody would eat it now.
My numbness continued while I stared at my left hand fingers covered in light blood. My right hand, I didn’t wanted to see my right hand. I never owned one.
“Shoma che goshta Mureed a kokkore kra torsi?” (Y’all thought I’m scared of birds, didn’t you?) I murmured the chewy words before walking off the scene.
I found myself sandwiched in between an old sponge mattress stored underneath a bed in a dark room. It was a common practice I would do to escape acute guilt or fear. Every time I pictured the scene, I would stuff the mattress in my mouth and chew harder.
The last time this happened was when I accidentally pulled a trigger of a pellet gun that hit the boy next door.
Mana morgan cha sak torsi. (I fear birds).