Day 1, Evening
As his eyes regained focus, he saw the crow flapping away. For a moment, he thought the
crow had winked at him. He wondered how the deal would work out.
He let an assortment of cars and bikes and buses pass. Each passing vehicle sent a shudder
through the slabs that made up the bridge. He counted about 20 shudders absently, then
stopped. The bright yellow stripes of paint in the middle of the road glistene d in the waning
sun. A wall that rose chest-high on either bank of the bridge hid the dark underside from
people passing over the bridge. A few kite-eagles dived into and rose out of the murkiness,
keeping its secrets to themselves.
Naman sighed. He cast a long gaze over the trees on the far bank of the river that flowed
along the bridge, his eyes unfocused.
“Well, that’s that” he thought, and kicked his bike alive. He had to find a petrol pump.
The alarm on the stool beside Naman’s bed buzzed and jangled like it had every day, month
after month. But today, he put it to snooze, and ten minutes later when it jangled again, he
simply pulled out the cord and went back to sleep.
By the time his mother woke him up, it was 10 AM. He should have been in office an hour
He gave her a vicious look, and without a word, set to get ready for office.
“Are you feeling alright?” she asked.
He replied with a curt grunt.
“Didn’t you have office today?” she had concern in her voice.
“Yes mom, am I not getting ready?” he spoke in an irritated voice.
She left it at that and replaced the air-starved chappatis in his Tupperware lunch box with
Like everyday he smoked a cigarette at the pan shop below his office building. Even though
he was late for work, he did not seem to care.
As he was butting out the cigarette, a small girl trundled up to him, one arm stretched out
carelessly, the other scratching her matted hair. She jerked the shiny steel bowl she was
clutching. The few coins in it clattered loudly.
Without a thought, Naman tossed whatever change the panwala had given him in the bowl.
It was a sum the beggar girl had never received in one go. With a twinkle in her eye that
seemed as out of place as the bright smile that livened up her emaciated features, she ran
back to her mother and siblings sitting across the road on the footpath. Their mother took
the money and hugged the little girl happily.
An even younger boy, jealous of the attention his sister was getting, grabbed a bowl and ran
towards Naman. He held out his bowl, but failed to catch Naman’s attention. He went
around and tugged at Naman’s trousers.
Instead of a firm reprimand, Naman simply slapped the little boy right across his face. The
under-nourished kid fell in a heap at Naman’s feet. Without as much as a second look, he
strode back into the office building, leaving in his wake shocked faces and the wails of the
That evening, a cat had a horrible time trying to catch a crow that landed on the ground
after flying a few feet, hopped a bit, and then took off again as the cat came closer.
The cord for the alarm clock had not been plugged in again. Naman was still in bed when the
RJ on his mother’s radio announced it was 10 AM in her best I-know-men-love-me voice.
His mother looked at him warily.
“I hope you have a good reason to be so indifferent towards your job. We don’t want any
problems just as you are getting engaged.”
Naman only stared at her, his face showing no sign of any emotion or comprehension.
“The hotel wanted an advance payment for the party right? I think you should clear the
advance today. Tell them the menu would be as we had finalized, too.”
The thought of more expenditure pinched him in the gut. He had lost his father years ago,
and so was paying out of his own pocket for his engagement. Even though Chinmayi’s father
had insisted on splitting the expenses 50/50, together with the engagement ring the
expenditure was turning out to be substantial. With the engagement just three days away,
Naman cringed at every last-minute expense that came up.
“Yes mom I will do it” he mumbled robotically and left for office.
Despite being two hours late already, he did not skip the habitual cigarette outside office.
He noticed the pan wala looking at him curiously. The beggar family looked at him from
across the road, the mother was incessantly mumbling, gesturing at him. The little boy was
prostrate in her lap, his eyes looking into zero.
As he walked into office and sat down at his desk, his boss walked over and, leaning in close,
asked if everything was fine at home. Naman nodded, with a smile.
“Guess there’s lots to do with the engagement and all coming up eh?” the boss laughed and
slapped Naman happily on the back, then walked back to his cubicle. Naman shrank into his
chair, his mind in a tumult.
At lunch that afternoon, he logged in to his banking website and transferred a meaty sum
into the hotel’s account. He quickly logged out, not wanting to see how much remained in
his account. It was depressing.
He leaned back on his chair, and out of the corner of his eye noticed the thick wallet of his
colleague lying on the table.
As he pulled out and pocketed five crisp five-hundred rupee notes from the wallet, he failed
to notice a certain somebody standing behind him had seen e verything.
As the sun began its westward descent that day, passersby on a road a few buildings away
from Naman’s office witnessed a scene that drew loud laughter from a bunch of kids playing
A crow, as if in a daze, staggered and swayed in mid-flight as it tried to control itself. It hit a
billboard, toppled to the ground, limped up to its feet, then took off again.
Chinmayi was in an upbeat mood in the morning. Her dad had enthusiastically applied
himself to making all the arrangements for the engagement. Her boss had happily granted
her a week’s leave, and had promised a month’s leave after her wedding, winking good
She sat her terminal, typing away briskly, as she ran a mad race with herself to finish all her
assignments. The report she was working on was not due for another week.
Her phone rang in her drawer, the muffled tune unmistakable. It was the tone she had set
She answered quickly.
“Hi! You at this hour? What’s happening?” she chirruped.
“Got leave from today.” His voice was flat on the other side.
“Wow! Really? Wasn’t boss fussing about it just a few days back? What did you do?” she
had a habit of asking a lot of questions when she was happy.
“Just. This and that. Meet up for lunch? Then a movie?”
She readily said yes. Later, as she said her goodbyes and again invited everyone to her
engagement, everybody said the glow on her face was worth a million bucks.
That afternoon, she noticed he was pre-occupied. There was still some time to go for the
movie, so they idly strolled around on the lawns in front of the mall.
Then, Naman saw a crow, sitting on the back of a park bench. Letting go of her hand, he
started walking towards it, taking long and purposeful strides.
Chinmayi freaked out the next moment when she saw Naman break into a run as the crow
flew off, shouting “Give it back! Give it back!” at the top of his voice.
As a curious and shocked group of people turned towards them, Chinmayi made a show that
he was doing it only to make her laugh, and holding his hand, firmly pulled him inside the
Once she was sure they had blended in with the crowd, she turned to him.
“What’s gotten into you?” she demanded.
Naman mumbled something she could not hear, and simply turned his back to her.
That afternoon, a bus hit a divider in from of Naman’s office. The driver said he was startled
by a crow which suddenly appeared out of nowhere and hit the windscreen right in front of
Some passengers claimed they saw the bird flying away erratically, losing its balance again
and again, as if it was flying under a heavy load.
The crow could hardly get off the ground that day. The bus hit had severely damaged his leg,
but thankfully the wings were intact.
Early in the morning, with a great effort, he had flown towards a tree opposite the office
and sat down on a branch. It leaned against the stem every once in a while to take the
weight off the broken leg.
As he sat there waiting, he thought of his flock. They must have disowned him by now.
He had done something no crow had done before.
There was a time when he would get goosebumps thinking this line. Now, all he felt was the
heavy realization of his naiveté. He had set out thinking himself to be a rebel, only to end up
with a broken leg, with a cat following him everyday like a shadow. She was being a good
vulture, he thought.
He felt the weight increasing with each passing day, and all he wanted to do was find
Naman and give him back what was rightfully his.
Though he waited out the whole day, it proved fruitless.
That night, like all nights, Naman slept peacefully.
His mother stayed up late into the night, worrying about the engagement the next day.
Chinmayi couldn’t sleep. She was much too excited and worried at the same time. Naman’s
behaviour had been very odd.
Her thoughts were broken into by the shrill tone of the landline phone in their living room. A
few moments later, she heard the gruff ‘Hello’ of her father, and then she slowly drifted off
to sleep, listening to him say “Hm, hm” every few seconds.
Naman’s mother wept profusely. So did Chinmayi. Naman stood before Chinmayi’s father,
his eyes steady, his mind confused. The colleague whose money Naman had stolen stood a
little behind them. He had called Chinmayi’s father the previous night. He had asked him to
come and meet near the office so they could talk. Chinmayi’s father had asked everyone
else to come there too.
He was speaking loudly, almost shouting.
“…he said he had got leave! Is it not, Chinmayi? Turns out he was forced to take leave for a
few days. Late to office every day, and then stealing? Where is your shame boy? What has
gotten into you that you had to do this? You think I would let Chinmayi…”
Naman heard in silence, though the voices around him had retreated to the background of
his awareness. He thought of the choice he had been given, and how he had chosen what he
thought was the best option. “Just ask, and I will give it back” the crow h ad said. He cursed
himself for not asking how he will find him. If only he could find the crow now…
A faint cawing brought him to his senses with a jolt. He whipped around and saw a tired
looking crow hobble, stagger and fly towards him, even as a big bl ack cat stalked it.
Naman ran towards it and Chinmayi felt her world collapse around her. Why was he being
like this? She ran behind him.
“Wait Naman, please! What’s wrong with you?” she shouted behind him.
As Naman got to where the crow was, it ceased its futile attempts at trying to fly and looked
up at him.
“Give it back, please, give it back to me.” Naman managed in between laboured breaths.
For a moment, Chinmayi thought Naman had lost it, but she was aghast when she heard the
crow speak back in a very strange voice.
“It’s too heavy for me now.”
The next instant was a cacophony of sounds as the crow cawed in exultation as it soared,
free of its weight, the cat screeched in frustration as it lunged at the crow in vain, and
Naman collapsed to his knees with a long, pained wail.
Day 1, Evening
The light turned green and the avalanche of metal and smoke and noise moved like a giant,
hopeless monster, a few pieces broke off from it and blazed ahead. Naman purposely stayed
behind, starting slow and letting everyone pass. Soon, every car and bike behind him had
moved on ahead. He rode at a leisurely place, knowing that the next avalanche was at least
120 seconds away.
“120 seconds of peace” he thought to himself as he drifted along on the bridge.
He enjoyed this routine every day. The signal timer was set to 120 seconds. Enough time for
all the vehicles with him to move on. And as it was a one way bridge, there was never any
oncoming traffic. The river flowing along the bridge and its far banks provided pretty vistas
for Naman’s mind. He always felt peaceful when he commuted on the bridge.
But today, his thoughts were taken up by Chinmayi. He loved her so dearly. And they were
to be engaged in a week’s time.
It had taken him a long time to finally propose marriage to her; with his father dead a long
time, he was not sure he could afford all the expenses by himself. But his company had been
happy with him, and he was now doing ‘well for himself’ as people were wont to say.
He mentally ticked off the ‘to do’ he had made up; buy clothes, ring, train reservations for
some close relatives. Only the advance for the hotel was left. That was going to be a big
amount, he thought, but what the heck. I won’t get engaged again. He smiled at the
lameness of his joke.
Suddenly, faint puttering started up somewhere behind him. Before he could turn around
and try to find the source, a strange black man and biker appeared beside him.
The biker was very strange looking, dressed all in black and wearing a helmet that had a
beak like projection. The bike, or whatever it was, was all black too, with a curiously oily
looking paint job and a texture that somehow looked like crow’s feathers. The bike made a
funny puttering sound as it moved, its speed matching perfectly with Naman’s. The rider
wore a grey scarf around his neck and a large pair of shockingly red sunglasses.
“You seem to be enjoying yourself, and your leisure ride!” the rider said to Naman, while
the strange bike seemed to move on its own.
“What?” Naman looked at the stranger curiously, “And who are you?”
“I am crow” the rider said simply.
“Um, sure” Naman twisted his accelerator and tried to get away from the biker. But the
biker kept up with him effortlessly.
“I won’t push too much petrol into the engine if I was you” the biker went on, his bike was
so close, to someone looking from a distance it would have looked like the shadow of
Naman began to panic. The biker talked on, his words were rough and somewhat drawn
“You should have really tanked up on petrol after office like you were thinking then.”
Naman twisted the accelerator fully and raced ahead. The biker stuck to him, there was not
a moment he would be left behind.
“Um, if you don’t stop and pull up right now you are going to run out of fuel and a big
orange dump truck is going to run over you and kill you.” The biker made himself heard over
the sound of the wind.
Sure enough, Naman felt the engine going sluggish below him as it starved on the last drops
of fuel in the tank. He looked into the rearview, there really was an orange dumptruck a few
metres behind them.
He pulled over.
The biker smoothly came to a stop at the exact same spot.
“Alright man, who are you? I am straight so if you have any ideas I am sorry ok?” Naman
The biker cackled.
“Oh sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing. So morbid of me, laughing like this the day you are
supposed to die.”
“What?” Naman felt a fear rise inside him. Was this guy a murderer of some sort?
“Well, as I said, I am a crow. Not just any crow, but the crow who had been saddled with the
responsibility of carrying of your soul and keeping it with me for thirteen days, after you die
under the wheels of that truck.” The man pointed at the orange truck as it passed them
“Well, why am I not dead then?” Naman asked, thinking the man to be deranged. He started
contemplating stopping some passing car to help him.
“Um, don’t think about stopping anybody. It won’t help.”
Naman stared. The crow continued.
“Look, I am not kidding. You were supposed to die today, and being the chosen carrier of
your soul, I can hear your thoughts today. That’s how I found you.”
Naman thought it was all too surreal, and his mind refused to cope. But the crow had
spoken out his thought precisely. His head began to reel.
“Ok, so I am not dead. Why? And is it done then?”
“You are not dead because I did not let you. I have failed in my duties, and my flock will
definitely expel me for this. But I have always fancied myself a rebel. I never invaded a
cuckoo’s nest.” The crow said smugly, and Naman could not help but laugh at the crow’s
remark. It was very weird, but yet not alien.
“But it’s not done. I will have to take something from you though. I am bound by the laws of
nature, and though I have broken one hell of a rule, I still have to carry something of yours
with me for thirteen days as fulfilment of my duty to a greater God.”
“What part of me?” Naman was in a strange way enjoying this.
“Uhm, you have four choices. Since not your whole soul, I will need to take one of its parts:
your awareness, your conscience, your will or your intellect.”
“And what if I refuse?” Naman asked.
“Well, then you would have to die. I will make sure you will, I have connections in the right
places for that.” The crow said simply.
Naman laughed at the humor of the crow, and then at his own morbidity.
He thought long and hard. He couldn’t live like a vegetable, so awareness was out. Without
his will, he wouldn’t have what a man needs to feel alive; without his intellect, he would be
a sorry laughing stock.
Could he live without conscience? It was only a matter of right or wrong, and he won’t have
to feel guilty, for a long time!
He made up his mind.
“If you want it back, ever, just come to me and ask.” The crow said.
As the crow took his conscience from him, Naman felt his vision blurring.
He vaguely saw the black biker shape-shift into a crow.
As his eyes regained focus, he saw the crow flapping away. For a moment, he thought the
crow had winked at him.