Children

When the storm cleared...

Illustration: Sonal Goyal

Illustration: Sonal Goyal   | Photo Credit: Illustration: Sonal Goyal

Jason’s kite was well trained — it was adept at stealing sandwiches from unsuspecting beach-goers. Then, one sandstorm changed everything.

Jason waved to a black kite that soared with outstretched wings over the sunlit sea. The bird turned his head towards Jason and descended in a slow spiral.

“How? “asked Ramona in wonderment, sitting up on the sand.

“He is my bird. Black kites have sharp eyes. Sharp talons too,” said Jason running his hand over a scar on his right forearm.

Jason had chanced upon the bird beneath a coconut tree, two summers ago. He was a tangled mass of brown feathers and his right wing was broken in two places. Jason had rushed him to a vet and nursed the bird back to life …

With a shrill call, the kite glided down towards the children. Jason donned a forearm guard of the kind used by cricketers. The black kite landed with practised ease on the forearm guard.

“Smart bird,” said Jason and patted the kite on his wings.

Ramona said, “You look like an eagle yourself, Jason”

Jason laughed and surveyed the beach. Sudden winds often sprang up here and kicked up mini- sandstorms. Despite this, the beach pulsed with the whoops of children, the calls of vendors and the crash of waves. Gaudy paper kites danced in the wind, and an escaped hydrogen balloon nodded to the kites.

Abid, the peanut vendor, propped his bicycle on the sand bank by which Jason and Ramona were stationed. He deftly made a paper cone, filled it with hot peanuts and gave it to Jason.

“Have you found your prey today?” Abid asked Jason .

“Not so loud,” said Ramona.

Abid grinned and moved on.

Well-trained

Ramona gave Jason a reproachful look. Jason had trained his pet kite to snatch sandwiches from picnic baskets. Not that he needed sandwiches or money. The kite would fly with the sandwich to a nearby coconut grove where their friend, Rakesh would be waiting. Rakesh would cycle to the fishermen’s colony and give the sandwich to young men who preferred to starve rather than work.

Jason popped a peanut into his mouth. The kite opened his beak and uttered a shrill cry.

“He wants the peanut.” said Ramona.

Jason tapped the kite on the base of his beak, looked into the bird’s eyes and said “Go, snatch a sandwich”.

Then the kite flapped his wings and took off.

“Why do you make your bird do this?” Anger stole into Ramona’s eyes. “Giving sandwiches to those lazy men will only make them even more lazy”.

Jason said, “It is not that. It is the thrill of the sport. Bet my kite is going to target the picnic basket over there.”

Ramona looked in the direction he was pointing to and saw a family frolicking in the froth of a wave. The picnic basket was unguarded. The kite dropped like a shot and flew up with a chicken sandwich in his claws. The family ran to the picnic basket but it was too late.

“Bravo,” said Jason .

Ramona blushed. The kite flew near the children en route to the coconut grove where Rakesh lay in wait.

Winds of change

At that instant, the gentle sea breeze transformed into a howling sandstorm.

“Look out,” shouted Jason and lay face down on the sand. Ramona was quick to follow suit. The kite was caught in the eye of the storm. The bird was whirled around. Then the sandstorm died down as abruptly as it had begun.

Jason raised his head cautiously and looked around. He saw a crumpled mass of brown feathers.

The bird lay still, his beak was open. A fragment of the sandwich was wedged in his claws.

“Wake up. I won’t send you sandwich hunting again,” said Jason in desperation. The bird lay still as a doll. Jason pressed the chest of the bird several times in quick succession.

“Come on,” said Jason.

He thumped the chest of the bird. Ramona cried.

The kite opened his eyes and staggered to his feet. He looked into Jason’s eyes but he did not appear to recognise his master. The kite flapped his wings uncertainly. He rose up in the air and flew into the sunset. A fragment of the sandwich blew about in the wind.

Jason and Ramona never saw the black kite again.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 2:27:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/when-the-storm-cleared/article27134519.ece

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