By Abdullah Rayhan
The bird just died in his hand, a brown bird with a yellow beak. It didn’t bleed, but its senses were silent beneath the greenish-dark eyelids. The tiny heart within its chest didn’t beat anymore. “What have I done!” thought Manik.
He put the slingshot back into his torn pocket and tenderly held the dead shalik in his sunburnt arms. Something inside his chest thumped heavily as if a mad giant was scampering within him. A gloomy whirlpool of clouded sorrow confused Manik. Where did his happiness go?
Two months ago, when his elder brother Ratan crafted this slingshot for him, Manik started to dream of hunting a bird with it. As Ratan cut the stick and attached the elastic to the leather pad, Manik crafted a colourful tapestry in his mind. Thousands of times, he imagined the bright, flamboyant vision of shooting birds with pebbles and capturing them once they had fallen to the ground. His mind would light up at the thought of it all.
But after the slingshot was built, and Manik threw his first shot with it, he realized it wouldn’t be as easy as he assumed. He nagged his brother to teach him how to shoot perfectly, but Ratan got irritated.
“Isn’t it enough that I made this slingshot for you? Don’t disturb me, or I will break it apart”. Ratan had yelled.
However, this didn’t deter Manik. He went on exploring his village, looking for a vulnerable bird. He would have a handful of tiny pebbles in the pocket of his dirty khakis. Their weight would weigh down his pants a little, and he would pull it up repeatedly.
In his own mind, Manik was a hunter. His one and only goal was to hunt down a bird. The moment the bird tumbled, Manik would cage it in his fists and put it inside the small mosquito net he used to sleep in when he was an infant. Everything was arranged. He even had his mother mend the hole in the net. Now there wouldn’t be any way for the bird to escape!
But where was the bird? That’s what Manik tried to hunt all day long.
He would wake up before the first ray of the sun blanketed their village because that’s when birds were abundant. Though his mother would scold him, he didn’t care much.
His hunt would begin near the bank of the canal. On either side of the stream, there were numerous nests of shalik, doves, and sparrows. Manik could never pinpoint the location of the nests, but he was aware of where the birds lived.
Right beside the canal, he would walk on the dewy grass and collect tiny stones for the day. While collecting the pebbles, he would sling some if he saw any bird, and obviously, he missed every time. His stone collection continued until the sun rose higher in the horizon. Then he would run around the village. Occasionally to spot a prey, he would tiptoe quietly and cautiously.
He would see hundreds of birds sitting here and there. But Maniks’ amateur hands would miss them by a yard, and the bird would fly away at the sound of the slingshot. After a week or two of this routine, almost all the birds were familiar with the little hunter who had a bad target and pulled up his pants every now and then. Thus, Manik had a hard time finding any prey.
He would sit silently in the bushes for hours and hours, waiting for at least a sparrow to show up. But nothing did. Every bird was aware of Manik now. The barber told Manik that his attempts had scared off all the feathered friends.
Just like every year, on the carpet of shadows beside the bamboo forest, the barber was shaving Maniks’ hair for the summer.
The barber said mockingly, “How is the hunting going?” while running the blade on his half shaven head.
Manik sat on a high stool with his feet dangling in the air, “There aren’t any bird around. I wonder why!” A tone of disappointment vibrated in his words.
“Well, probably they are scared because they all know your intention.” The barber said, not stopping the razor.
“So, what should I do?” Manik asked with genuine concern.
“You can try looking for birds in my village.”
“Will you take me?” Manik said, excitedly turning his face toward the barber who was still shaving the back part. This sudden jerk sliced a thin, long cut on Manik’s bald head. Blood began to slowly stream out of the fresh wound.
“Ehhe! I asked you to sit still. Look what happened.” The barber washed Manik’s head and finished the rest of the job irritated. He was annoyed by the sudden movement.
But, even with a cut on his head, Manik was delighted by the thought of exploring a new territory. The next day he followed the barber. It was noon when Manik reached the new village.
The new village was just like his native one. The same trees, same odour of bamboo, wet mud, and the stench of cow dung were an imitation of his home. There were a lot of birds here too. The whisper of their fluttering wings expanded a new sky of hope in Manik. “I will catch one for sure,” he thought as he started on his hunting mission.
After missing a few, Manik found a shalik sitting on a bamboo fence. Manik was stealthy this time. He slowly approached a hedge near his target. From behind the bush, Manik stared at the bird for a while, memorising its position. Then he slowly grabbed his slingshot, drew out a good, round stone from his pocket, and set it on the leather pad properly. Holding the handle with a steady grip, he pulled the elastic with all his might to the back of his ear. The target was fixed on the bird.
A tiny stone ran into a tiny bird. The prey fell on the ground and twitched its thin yellow feet for a few seconds. And then, the Shalik was still.
Maniks’ heart immediately filled up with victorious ecstasy. He couldn’t believe he had finally hit a bird. Holding on to the slingshot, he ran to his prize and picked it up.
But the smile faded away from his face in an instant. He realised that the bird had died. The profound innocence that slept inside him suddenly woke and stared at the dead life with melancholic eyes.
The brown Shalik lay like cold silence in his clutch. Its feathers dampened as Maniks’ tears fell on them. Though weeping like a beaten child, Manik didn’t know why he was crying. Something heavy was crumbling inside of him. His heart thumped loudly under his dust-covered chest.
Other birds gathered around and watched a small bald boy, wearing loose pants and torn shirt, digging a small hole in the ground with his bare hand. The sadness in his eyes echoed the vibration of his cracked heart. A small stream of thick, transparent mucus drooled down his nose, and he kept sucking it back as he patted the ground. When the hole was deep enough, the boy gently laid the Shalik to rest and then spread the loose soil all over the dead bird. A hefty cloud continued to blur his sight while a heart-wrenching torment swarmed inside him. He felt he was crumbling.
 Common mynah
 An exclamation of regret
Abdullah Rayhan is an English literature student who loves to read novels and write stories about simple and insignificant aspects of life.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles
Click here to access Monalisa No Longer Smiles on Kindle Amazon International