“Why are you here still? Shouldn’t you be home by now?”
Kora’s question startled Reya. She had been sitting lost in the rhythm of the waves beating against the shore. The dance of light on their crests was mesmerizing. The shifting shades of golden orange from the rays of the setting sun at this time of the day never failed to enthrall her.
Reya looked up and down the beach, then turned to look at Kora lying flat on his stomach in the soft golden sand. There was a tiny crease of annoyance between his brows.
“Who are you talking to?”
There was no one in the entire length of the beach as far as her eyes could see. It was just the two of them. Behind them, the trees in the distance stood tall and silent. Beyond the trees were the mountains. Through the trees lay the road, a dirt road, that Reya took daily. It wound its way up the nearest mountain, and then descended to the village that nestled on the other side. There were about two dozen houses clinging to the slopes and Reya’s was the one on whose walls grew the creeper with the orange flowers.
“I was talking to the crow.” Kora had taken a while to answer. “Over there.”
Reya followed his eyes and saw a lone crow. It stood still with head tilted, its eyes beady and shining.
“Talking to a crow, Kora! What will you do next?”
She pretended to throw sand at him. He put up his hands in mock defense, then rolled over on to his back and lay smiling at her. From the corner of her eye Reya saw the crow hopping closer to them.
“It is looking at us!” she exclaimed.
“Of course. She wants to make sure…. ”
Reya was filled with amazement. Kora first talks to a crow and then says it is a ‘she’! It struck her then that she didn’t really know much about Kora. Perhaps he knew the language of birds. She had heard there were such as them. Kora rarely spoke of himself, his home or people, only of his dreams for the two of them, the ‘nest’ they would have and the ‘chicks’ they would raise. And she had wanted nothing more than to lean against him, his one hand holding her close and the other combing through her golden hair, listening to those very dreams.
They had first met six months ago here on the beach. She and her friend Chia had come to the seaside. But Chia wandered off with her lover who had turned up unexpectedly. Reya stood undecided for a while. But from behind the rocks had came sounds that made Reya’s face go red and she hastily moved away. Walking around aimlessly for a while she stopped to watch some children playing when something orange caught her eyes. An unusual looking shell, the color of pearl, with orange streaks on it. But just as she was about to pick it up, a hand swooped down and took it.
Reya looked up in dismay. A dark young man stood smiling at her. For you, Reya, he said, extending his hand. In his open palm was the coveted shell. But her thought had been, ‘how does he know my name?’. He must have seen the questions in her eyes. I heard your friend calling you, he said, pointing to the rocks. She blushed afresh. He had gifted her the shell and then asked her if she would like to walk the length of the beach with him. There was something about him that made her say yes. That first day at the end of the walk she knew it was with him she wanted to walk every day of the rest of her life.
She heard the flap of wings and was brought back to the present. The crow was still around.
“Here’s your crow nanny come to fuss around you.”
She smiled at her own silly joke but stopped when she found there was no hint of a smile on Kora’s face.
“She’s not my nanny.” The tone was curt.
“Sorry, Kora. I didn’t mean to annoy you.”
Kora didn’t reply. He had turned to the crow.
“Go on home. I know today is the big day.”
He sounded impatient and cross. And he was truly talking to the crow. Reya frowned and shook her head to try and clear it. This was foolish. She was imagining things. Kora was simply teasing her. Yes, that was it. She was not going to fall for it. But what was that he said about the big day? It made no sense to Reya. But she didn’t want to risk another curt reply from Kora.
The sun had set. To the west, the sky was a rich orange shade. The clouds on the eastern sky had borrowed the hue but could only manage a pale version of the original. The beauty of her surroundings was somehow lost on Reya. A strange stillness was in the air. Though it was a balmy evening, she shivered.
“I have to go now.”
Reya suddenly wished for home home and her mother. She stood up abruptly and started dusting the sand off herself. She liked walking barefoot on the sand. So bent to pick up her sandals. Kora grabbed her hand tried to pull her down next to him.
“What’s the hurry, Reya?” he asked. “Stay for a bit more!”
His eyes were naughty and beseeching at the same time. She felt herself melting, remembering other times. She glanced uncertainly towards the trees and noticed the darkening sky. It looked like rain later on that night. The clouds were gathering. She had to go.
“Mama will be waiting.” she said.
It was the truth. Her Mama would worry if she got late. And Reya didn’t want her to worry any more than she already did. Besides there was an unknown fear that made her want to hurry home.
“It’s late! Later than usual. And you know I have a long way to walk.”
“I have come a long way too.” Kora sat up and looked at her sideways.
“And I came… only for you!” he added.
“Tomorrow.” she promised. “I’ll come earlier tomorrow.”
Reya looked around. The crow was nowhere. She relaxed. What had happened to her? Why was she feeling nervous? It was only a harmless crow. And so Kora had talked to it. He probably talked to all birds and animals. Yes, it had stared at her. So? May be to it I looked like someone it knew. She smiled at the picture of a crow with her face to it. Her nervousness somewhat lessened, she pulled her hand free from Kora’s grasp and started running, calling out over her shoulder,
“Come on, Kora. You can race me to the trees. Let’s see who reaches first!”
Reya could run fast, but not as fast as Kora. He was taller and had longer strides. She glanced back and saw him gaining on her. She giggled and ran faster. By the time she reached the shelter of the trees she was panting. This was where they usually bid each other farewell.
Kora hadn’t caught her. It looked like today she had beaten him and was the one to reach the trees first. She turned around, a triumphant smile on her face. There was no one behind her. The beach was empty.
It was darker under the trees which was why she didn’t notice the crow at first. It sat on a low leafless branch eyeing her, its beady eyes shining. When her eyes got used to the low light, Reya went cold. There were more of them, hundreds, thousands, perched on branches and they were all watching her. Thousands of eyes. She took two steps backwards and quickly looked around again for Kora. Where had he disappeared?
In the silence all she could hear was her heart pounding. Something or someone touched her shoulder and Reya jumped in shock, a scream escaping her. Disturbed by it, the crows rose as one in a flutter of wings and settled back without a sound. One of the crows alighted on her right shoulder. Its feathers brushed her right cheek, its feet painfully gripping the bare skin of her shoulder. She stood paralyzed with terror, unable to move or utter a word.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the bird. “We have come for you.”
It was Kora’s voice.
©Shail Mohan 2017