Hola friends. This piece of flash is part of the WEP August 2020 Challenge, the prompt for which is ‘Long Shadow’. If you would like to be a part of this challenge and more in future visit here. Thank you to all the wonderful hosts of WEP. I love being a part of WEP!
Before I begin, just a little note. The setting of the story is a small village in Himachal. While names of places have been retained, the legend mentioned in the story is a piece of the writer’s imagination. I hope you will enjoy this take on the prompt.
“This feather… where do you think she may have found it? I thought the birds had bid goodbye to this valley long ago!”
“My concern isn’t that Rimjhim discovered a brilliant plumage but that she looked for one… you do know what that means, don’t you?” Nirmala’s eyes drifted to the deodars outside the window.
“Don’t you worry! Do you see the Deo Tibba* out there?” Nikka Ram waved to the ranges perched behind the wooden walls of his tiny shack. “It guards our tiny village Rumsu, and nobody can ever escape its dome shaped peak. That is where the congregation of our Gods meets…”
“Your Gods couldn’t hold my son back,” Nirmala hit the ladle on the edge of the karahi.
“Woman, you need to get your facts right. The mountains can never be left behind. Those who dare leave their fold, must return. Now, I need to go and let the elders know that we have a jujurana** feather back home. I’m not giving away any of this without being rewarded.” Nikka Ram slipped his foot into a worn out rubber chappal. “And while I’m away, get hold of your girl and ask her!”
“Ask her what? Should I ask her where she found a useless feather belonging to an endangered bird, or should I ask her if she is all set to run away just like her brother and leave her old parents to lament all their life? You know collecting these rare plumages is symbolic of a new life she may be on the lookout for! Why don’t you care?”
Nirmala stood at the door, the ladle ranting and raving in her hand as her voice rose to a crescendo. Nikka Ram was already out of earshot . He was a tall man and it took him barely a few steps to reach the next bend. He would demand a good price for the plumage and maybe someday he would find the bird too! That would mean at least a year’s ration and of course, his name would appear in the papers for having added to that miniscule number of jujuranas in the state. Or at least, to the rare collection of their feathers.
‘But only if that stupid woman would mind her own business. What a mess she had made of it last time. Running helter-skelter like a lunatic, blaming it on a mere bird… “The bird’s taken my son away, the bird’s taken him away!” Crap. Young boys always want to move out of a chit of a village and find a life for themselves. But the mountains…they make sure to bring them home. A year, two, ten, fifteen- nobody ever escapes the rugged ranges. It’s for the very reason that the Gods parley on the top of the Tibba. They pull you back to the verdant meadows and imposing oaks… this time I am making no mistake. Neither am I going to let a crazy woman spoil it for me. I will get my due for this unusual find.’
Nirmala’s gaze was fixed on the door when Nikka Ram returned.
“Rimjhim isn’t back. I tell you it is the plumage. The jujurana doesn’t forgive those who secretly nurture the desire to own the bird. Legend says it follows them like the long shadow of late afternoons until they become endangered…or extinct. The bird’s taken my daughter away, the bird’s taken her away!” she said, looking at him with her bloodshot eyes. Her face was blotchy and red. Was it because of the onions in the karahi that had turned to ashes? She bent down, falling to the ground.
“That is no more than your imagination woman. Your girl will be back. If not today, then tomorrow, day after or may be ten years later. But the plumage, we won’t get this opportunity again. They are paying me good money. The last time you had your way. I am not letting you throw away that feather in a god forsaken place this time.”
Nikka Ram turned over the only chest in the house. “Now tell me where is it? The fellows are waiting for me and I must take it to them. I’m going to ask the Gods to get your children home. Just help me get done with this.”
He had overturned the cauldrons and emptied the rice canister. The clatter of utensils pricked through Nirmala’s cochlear membrane. Before she could react, Nikka Ram pulled her up, pushing her tiny frame against the wall.
“Look woman, you threw away the plumage last time. It’s been three years and your son isn’t back. I tell you, there is no truth in the legend. The mountains are going to bring them home. Their shadow hangs over all of us… over all of Rumsu, over your children. The Tibba will never desert them…just tell me once…”
“Yes, the shadow hangs over them,” a sob tore through Nirmala’s throat. “But it isn’t your Gods, it’s the jujurana. Trust me, it’s the bird.” Nirmala looked up at the lone bulb hanging from the ceiling of the shack.
The fog rolled into the night outside as the shivering pine needles glided in the wind.
One of those trees held an exotic orange plumage, buried in the hope that it might return to its owner. An invisible jujurana flew past the hut, casting its shadow over the heart of a lonely woman.
The old shack was home to a noisy riot that night. A striking contrast to the silence of the Tibba, where the Gods whispered to each other only to be heard by an angry, battered man.
*Deo Tibba – a mountain range in the Pir Panjal in Himachal, India
** jujurana- The Western Tragopan, called jujurana in local language. An endangered bird that is also the state bird of Himachal Pradesh.
Total words – 975