Vinita, the bird, thought this: how splendid a woman, this one with hair so golden-brown, so “foreign,” how shapely her eyebrows, arched, as if pencil-drawn (she squinted here; she was growing old and blind­ – fat, old and blind)… Well, she probably has kind eyes and oh! how pretty her pink-slippered feet (her own so stocky and brown). But I’m a bird! thought Vinita (only a woman in truth) and how does it matter if my feathers – my feathers – many hued?

Her eyes trailed longingly after the woman – why not call her Uma? (although she could very well be a Shabnam or a Honey or even, god forbid, a Pinky). She doesn’t look like she’s from these parts – dressed in garish yellow and parrot green, her face frozen as if perpetually stunned (thought Vinita) by the novel and crafty onslaughts of life.

Vinita, alone in this world (she didn’t want to be reminded of her three parrots, two sons and let’s not even mention that cheating husband of hers) – alone in this world (it was easy to forget parrots, sons and cheating husbands), Vinita felt kinship with the woman – Uma ­­– despite the latter’s youth (how fresh-faced! And that endearing look of startlement!).

Bird that she was, Vinita wished she could hop on to one of the chipping buttresses of the temple – to where she stood, Uma, on the threshold, remote, almost tragic in the immobility of her features, oblivious of any bird or woman. But Vinita, though a bird (trapped in the body of a woman – heavy, greasy, tired and speckled like a gecko!), could only look on from afar (she stood a few metres away from the temple ruins, leaning against the hot bus, uniformed children pouring out of the swanky, newly automated doors).

Presently, she regarded the hesitant figure (perched on the threshold still, now inundated by a flood of screaming children in the frenzy of passing freedom) with growing fondness and, much to her own surprise, an almost violent pity. How she longed to reach her (if she were a bird, a real bird, she’d fly, and fly at tremendous speed, and perch on those hapless shoulders and peck at that frozen cheek!) and comfort the one who looked so misplaced, so lost and so… (but how dreadful the word!) loveless. But the last of them – laggards all! – lingered in the bus, munching crackers gaily, so unmoved by the necessity, yes, Necessity with a capital N, of this encounter, stalled and all for crackers and… what do these rogues want! She peered inside and pulled one by the ear, ‘Out!’

And then her hot, urgent gaze darted back to the temple, anticipating warm reciprocity (oh, how they’d talk over tea ­– no, coffee – and perhaps the girl smoked cigarettes too? How thrilling! Good thing she’d packed that thermos; she nearly hadn’t – mornings were so weary)… Only, Uma was gone! Vinita spun around, breath caught in her throat, squinting into the cruel sun. Just the chattering children by the temple. No thrilling young woman with infinite possibilities. No hopes of friendship, or even communication. Nothing at all.

I am no bird, thought Vinita, and something in her collapsed at the thought, just a woman.