When Uncle was young, he killed parrots. He could strike a bird dead from over a hundred meters away, armed with nothing but a sling and a pebble. We often asked him to show us: Uncle, Uncle hit that parakeet, hit that mynah, show us how to strike a bird dead in the eye like you, but never did; he said that what he did as a child was cruel, that to take a life so callously was a sin against nature, against God. He told us that if he ever caught us carrying slings or stones, he would thrash us soundly with his chappal. Nonetheless, we would try-sometimes at day, sometimes in the dark, casting stones over ledges and into trees to see if we would strike something. Our throws were never anything more than blind rushes: a flutter of wings over a roof, a sudden rustling of leaves. Uncle hated those noises, hated the idea of what we were doing, even though we were only trying to be like him. In college, he won a gold medal in marksmanship by training shotgun rounds the same way he trained his pebbles. I could shoot up to 25 pigeons in one minute, he would say, and we would ask him, Uncle, I thought you stopped shooting pigeons in 6th standard, and he’d shake his head and laugh and say, no, no, these were clay pigeons, they didn’t bleed; they shattered. Uncle was convinced that souls ran through blood, that a life was narrated in its heartbeats. Every time a goat was slaughtered in our village, he would collect its blood in an urn and drain it deep in the forest where no human would ever find it. Give the animal some peace, na, he would say, let it be free of us in its next life. The sight of blood was what made Uncle stop killing parrots: a bright red splotch the size and shape of a thumbprint, a scarlet birthmark over a lime green breast. I painted a picture of it, that bird, he said, but when we asked him to show us the painting, he clicked his tongue and said he’d already burned it a long time ago.
Valmic Shridhar Mukund is a writer from Northern California with a passion for the surreal, the absurd, the magical, and the beautiful. He enjoys exploring strange neighborhoods, meeting interesting people, and driving past colorfully-lit street signs late at night. You can often find him at work at his computer or drowning himself in music.
Drawing by Valmic Mukund
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