Boy and the Eagle*
It had started with the sound of strange whistling. He must have been hearing it off and on but it started for sure during the days he had stayed home from school because of a viral fever.
It was late afternoon. His fever had gone down. The sound of whistling was like an old and shaky whistle being blown by a small child. As if he had got it and played with it last year and had forgotten about it, till he had found it in his toys today. Long, uneven notes. A battered whistle.
He thought about it. There was no child living in the flats above or below his, he knew for certain. And it could not be from the street outside, because it was 28 floors down. Who could it be? He was mildly curious, mainly from boredom of staying at home.
His father had got this flat last year, in the new part of the city. Many tall new buildings had come up here during last few years, his father had told him. It had been a year already but he still did not really like it here. It was too far up. He had almost given up going down to play. He had not made any new friends here, but that did not matter because he had many friends at school.
The views were great. He could see the hills of Borivili in the north and the Arabian Sea in the West. He spent long hours at the windows, watching, and had learnt many new things. For instance that all clouds big and small floated at the same level in the sky and that they looked darker at the bottom because of the shadow of the upper part of the clouds. Also that sounds from the streets far below reached up in uneven ways – even traffic sounds. Sometimes nothing came up. Sometimes even small sounds somehow managed to reach his windows. It was because of air currents gusting between the cluster of new tall buildings. Almost like a gigantic flute. They were reading sound in the physics class.
He went looking from one window to another. Nothing. The whistling stopped, but started again, and stopped yet again. Someone bored, like him. He checked, nothing from the streets. The whistling was from some place quite close. Where?
There was a small spare room, or the store room, where half the window was of angled venetian glass slats. These slats could be raised or lowered by a lever at the side. There were also two sliding bolts, one at the bottom and another top, and the whole venetian panel could also be swung open like a normal window. He pushed down the lever for the lower half, so that the slats became horizontal, and then he saw outside at the other end of the parapet just outside the windows, where the whistling was coming from. It was an eagle and it was speaking to the wind, or to the city itself.
It was magnificent. Large like a rucksack, with angry yellow eyes and a proud, curved beak like a dagger. Its body was brown-black and ashen in patches, like rocks weathered by centuries of sun and winds. At the sound of his opening the slats it almost jumped, but held its place, watching him keenly. He too did not move. Both watched each other for quite some time. The wind ruffled the small feathers at the back of its head, like boys’ windblown hair. He felt he could spend his whole life, standing here, watching the eagle. The eagle occasionally looked away but turned back swiftly to watch him. He smiled. This went on for quite some time, as if it was judging him. Then, as if satisfied, the eagle flew away.
His fever too went away the same evening. He slept well after many days. Just before nodding off in his bed at night it became clear to him that eagles are not fierce and angry at all. It is only the yellow colour of their eyes, and more importantly maybe their curved beak, that gave them an angry air. Even pigeons had yellow eyes. Nobody thought of them as fierce.
Next day he went to school. He returned home in the afternoon in time to check whether the eagle would come. It did not. All day he kept wondering if he could offer it something to eat. What do eagles eat? They hunt their prey. They won`t eat biscuits. They won`t eat cooked stuff either. I can`t catch mice, or lizards, or such things for it. Or can I? His mother kept packets of frozen fish chicken fillets, and things in the fridge. But they took a long time to thaw. And his mother might wonder about opened packets and missing fillets, anyway. For some reason he had not told anyone about the eagle.
Some days passed. The eagle did not come. Will it ever come again? Why had it come at all, so high in a foodless building? To rest? To take away his fever? Deep inside his heart he knew it would come again. He remained on the lookout.
Almost a week later he heard the shaky whistling again. He went to the store room window and raised the slats. There it was again, cocking its head to get a better look at him. Wait, he said excitedly, and ran to get a biscuit. He opened the whole panel of the window slowly, so as to not startle his guest, and slid the biscuit on the parapet like a carom coin and slowly closed the window again. The eagle was unmoved, he saw through the raised slats, but it kept turning its head away and then turning back to gaze at him. It was like last week. Two friends looking at each other. Then it majestically walked up to the biscuit, lifted it in its beak, and dropped it down beyond the ledge. It turned to look at him again, as if to say don’t bother about such things, and flew away.
This became a pattern between them. About once a week around the same time he would hear that uneven whistling. He gave up watching through the venetian slats. He now opened the full window half way.
After some visits silent gazing was not enough. So he started talking to the eagle. He said whatever came to his mind. About school, about his friends, about physics, about whatever. The eagle listened with alert eyes, kept cocking its head back and forth. It flew away only after he would run out of things to say, and would fall silent. What did the eagle get out of all this, he wondered? He was sure it understood everything he talked about.
In one visit the eagle talked back.
After the usual routine of hearing the wavering whistle, opening the window of the store room, he saw the eagle but also saw a twist of paper wedged between the glass slats. Something the eagle ate from? Something for him? The eagle was watching him, alert as usual. He prised out the twist of paper, and untwisted it to see what was in it. There was nothing inside. The paper was part of a newspaper ad, torn or cut out. By the eagle? Only one word was printed in large lettering. It said: EXPERIENCE. The eagle watched him read it. Did it expect some reaction from him? Is it for me? You are saying something to me? He asked the eagle. The eagle kept silent, watching him with yellow, hunters` eyes. You want me to decipher the message? He asked. Okay, I will do it. The eagle flew away.
In the following days he pondered on the word. It could have been part of some ad with SHOPPING EXPERIENCE, or DINING EXPERIENCE, etc. Why had the eagle picked out only one word? Did it actually tear up the newspaper? Using its talons and beak? Experience. Experience counts? Was it, a verb, or a noun? Or was it a command, a direction? Like: experience the world? He kept trying out many, many possibilities.
This became a pattern in the following weeks and months. The papers were different, but they were torn up to retain only one word. Once it was a used paper napkin on which someone had written many words using a ballpoint pen, but had later crossed out all words except one. Surely the eagle can’t write? Or even read, for that matter! Words were simple but strangely meaningful. Planet. Keep. Flow. Eclipse.
All these words kept echoing in his mind. But although he was unable to be sure of their meaning for him, he nevertheless felt he was getting deeply becalmed and strengthened as the months went by. His home, his school, the city, all were altered in his mind. Something real was happening in his life — like in stories.
One day the word was: Go.
Next day he went.
Where? Nobody knew, then or later. Parents, police, schoolteachers, friends, all tried hard and for long to find him. But he had vanished. Gone for good. It was in the newspapers, a small piece of news. In the city boys do go away, after all.