It was an unusual day. A sparrow died. But there’s nothing much unusual about death. I mean, sparrows die every day. And in those multitudes, one should matter. But it did that day.
I was on my post-breakfast walk, when someone tapped my shoulder. It was a homeless looking man. His hands were cupped, as if holding something in his palms.
“Sir, please help me!” He said with begging eyes, “I found this little thing on the road.” He pointed towards a highway nearby.
I was confused, but the fog cleared as soon as he opened his palm. There was a sparrow in it. And it lay deathly still.
Just then, it opened its eyes and tried to flutter its wings. The homeless man tightened his grip a bit so that the bird would calm down.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I saw it lying down on the road, trying to fly. It was failing repeatedly. Maybe it has a broken wing, I don’t know. I picked it up, if I’d left it there, the dogs would have eaten her.”
It was when he said ‘her’, that I noticed the pale plumage. It was female sparrow. And it was hurt.
“Okay calm down. I’ll call animal rescue.” I pulled my phone out and googled for contact shelters near me. Internet was slow in the area, it was taking quite some time for the results to show up.
“Sir, can you please hold her? I have to leave right away for my shift.” The man said, holding out the bird towards me. I took a step back. Birds disgusted me. What with their erratic flapping and all! Also they had ridiculously sharp beaks. Like someone had designed them to be a nuisance.
“No! Just keep it on the ground for god’s sake!”
“Sir, but the dogs…”
“I’ll stay here until help comes.” I reassured the man.
He then gently bent down and rested the bird onto the ground. And then he left. While I waited for the results to load, a black dog walked up to me. I shooed him away.
And then another dog showed up. He sniffed around and tried to get close to the sparrow. So I drove him away with a hit of my umbrella. And then I looked around to see if there were any other dogs around.
Speak of the devil; a couple more dogs had arrived at the scene. They were gathered with the dogs I had shooed away before. I looked at them and all of them had one thing in common. They couldn’t seem to take their eyes of the dead sparrow.
I looked at my mobile phone, the search results had finally loaded. So I dialled a local animal shelter, just a kilometre away from there. While the call connected, I checked in on the sparrow. It didn’t seem to move.
I nudged it with the tip of my umbrella – no movement what so ever. I nudged it a bit more. The little thing remained motionless. I bent down and looked at its chest, where its pea sized heart was. It had stopped going up and down. The sparrow had stopped breathing. I nudged it one final time.
This time, the body rolled over and its wings fell limp to the ground. The sparrow was dead.
“Hello, is anyone there?” A voice over the phone crackled.
“Sorry, never mind” I said, and disconnected the call.
I came back home and washed my umbrella. It had mud stains on its tip. I’d dug a hole and pushed the sparrow’s body into it. And then filled the hole with mud. This way the dogs wouldn’t disturb the little thing.
Come that day and over the course of the next week, I wrought myself over the possibilities. May be if I’d just picked it up in my hands and walked it to a vet, I would have survived? May be just if I had the god damn guts! Or maybe not? The sparrow would have died anyway, even if I’d helped him. Because once a sparrow is touched by a human, the other sparrows kill it. Either way, the sparrow was dead. And yet, I couldn’t fathom why it wrecked my conscience.
A sparrow had died. Sparrows die every day. One small death shouldn’t matter. But it did that day. It definitely did matter that day.