Translated from Bangla by Zaynul Abedin
There was a loud peal of a gunshot. As soon as the bullet went off from my rifle, I saw two birds taking flight in the sky which was ablaze with a brilliant ray of afternoon sunshine. Another bird flaked off, like a falling star, somewhere on the ground from the tree on whose boughs the birds had so far been perching. From a distance I could not spot exactly where it fell, for my view was blocked by thick undergrowth. My chaprasi-1 made a dart for the place, tightening his grip on a canvas bag and a knife. I liked hunting game birds. I was a government employee and as soon as I was at leisure, I would venture out with my rifle to the moffusil town. My chaprasi loved cooking game birds and he did quite well. Life in one way had a pleasing symmetry then. I released the casing and replenished my rifle with a new bullet, my eyes glued all the while to branches up there. The sunlight was quickly fading, yet I needed to zero in on the target. Sometimes birds camouflage themselves in the foliage so effectively that you cannot find any trace of them! But what was taking my chaprasi so long? I was feeling increasingly exasperated with the situation. Worse still, no matter how much I was darting my glance at the tree branches around, there was no new target at which I could aim. My chaprasi must have lit a cigarette with relish after he had collected and put the bird in the bag. He ought to be reprimanded for his sloth. The sun was going in, and I felt an overwhelming urge to shoot one or two more birds before sundown. I clearly saw the one I had shot dead a while ago — it was a beautiful wild horial . Returning empty-handed, my chaprasi blurted out that the horial was nowhere to be found. It was infuriating! He had become a sloth incarnate. I must slap him a fine or two for his cheekiness when we would return to the town, otherwise I would not be able to make him work anymore. My wife had aptly said I was responsible for his insolence as I gave countenance to such bad behaviour by not slapping timely punishment on my chaprasis. I let out a string of expletives and said to him, “Let us go and see!”
But the bird vanished into thin air, like a magic wand, so to say. Did the gunshot deceive me into thinking that I saw the bird falling which actually had not taken place? Were my eyes deceiving me then?
My chaprasi kept trailing behind. The tree on which the horial had perched was about fifteen metres away. I kept chiding my chaprasi as I was making my way with the rifle butt through a dense thicket. When I reached under the tree I found neither a drop of blood nor any downy feathers there, much less the hunted bird. The wounded bird must have trudged itself to safety somewhere afar. I strained my ears in vain to hear its despairing groan. Everything in the immediate vicinity seemed to be profoundly engrossed in a sylvan silence. But I resolved not to give in so quickly. I clutched the twig lying about on the ground and started beating the tall grass and the thick shrubs. Yet no trace of the bird could be found anywhere. My exasperation gave way to an overwhelming bewilderment. I looked around as if in a trance. Everything in a radius of fifty metres around the tree was in plain view. Finding such a big bird would be all too easy as it would not even be difficult to pick up a coin lying abandoned there. But the bird vanished into thin air, like a magic wand, so to say. Did the gunshot deceive me into thinking that I saw the bird falling which actually had not taken place? Were my eyes deceiving me then? My chaprasi assured that he was also a witness to the sight of the bird falling down after it had been wounded by the bullet. It all sickened me. I thought my chaprasi was only trying to ingratiate himself with me. I went away, telling him off for his interventions. Coming back to the place where I had shot the bird, I saw a boy standing on the edge of a narrow ditch, the used shell of the old cartridge in his hands. Almost naked, the boy wore a shirt almost twice as large as his own size, which somebody else must have donated him after it had worn out. He had a round face. I could tell from his expression that he would take mortal fright at the slightest movement on my part. When I was about to leave him to his own devices I stopped short. My chaprasi gave a start. I averted my attention and saw smudges of fresh blood on the left front side of the shirt that the boy had on. It seemed that the bullet had hit him in the breast where blood was still congealing in thick black clots. I felt stupefied. I knew I was under no illusions, and yet in the innermost recess of my mind I could see splashes of blood gushing forth and hear boatmen tow away and pant seemingly incoherent “heave-ho” sounds at a distant pier.
I saw the boy still had the splotches of fresh blood on the left front of his shirt. He neither moved forward nor backward.
The boy was about to sprint away when my chaprasi caught hold of him. My stupor was shattered and I shouted orders at my chaprasi to land a few blows on the boy so as to scare the boy into bringing out the hunted bird from where he had hidden it. The bird was found. The boy had hidden it under clods of earth on the edge of the ditch. Now I had no difficulty understanding that as soon as the wounded bird fell off, the boy gathered and clung it onto his chest, which left these daubs of blood on his front shirt. The boy could not muster the courage to flee the scene in our presence, so he concealed the hunted horial in a place not so far from the site. My chaprasi slapped the boy slightly on the head to scare him off. As I turned my eyes away I saw the sun was not where it had been. In fact, it was not anywhere at all. The red aura of the twilight had already begun to spread. The boy disappeared in the cornfield shrouded in mist, wiping his tears on the sleeve of his shirt. At night, my chaprasi prepared a sumptuous dinner. I had already forgotten to slap a fine on him. I was even ready to hand him some extra money if he asked for it. He prepared the bed for me. Tired from my daytime hunting, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and my body the white bedspread. The boy reappeared and I stared at him. His was a sad and light dark complexion though I could not completely make out the contours of his face. His eyes were filled with dread, but sparkling like marbles drenched in the rain. He had nothing on, except for the loose shirt. But he was no more frightened of me. He was fast approaching me. He inexorably kept coming nearer and nearer still! I felt utterly terrified of him. I saw the boy still had the splotches of fresh blood on the left front of his shirt. He neither moved forward nor backward. He stood his ground, so to speak. When I woke up with a start, I found my chaprasi hovering over me, calling me out. Enlarging the flame on the wick of the lantern, he pulled up the curtain but I could barely recognise him. I went back to the city next day and surrendered the license of my rifle.
Zaynul Abedin teaches English at the University of Dhaka.