“Hovering above the age old banyan tree that is standing on the field with its long tentacles and intruding roots, they used to herald the possibility of a bleak future, or at least, the people thought so. With straw coloured eyes, piercing beaks, and dark feathers, they used to form a breathing cloud with dark wings over the dead bodies spat out by war or some other tragedy,” Dadi told Ramiya as she stroked her dark hair with her wrinkled hands.
It always amazed Ramiya how Dadi's skin seemed sandalwood spun and the wrinkles formed waves on the sandalwood ocean.
“Don't you see them here anymore?” Ramiya asked, expecting Dadi's exaggerated reply. She knew since Dadi held them close to her heart, they deserved a little of her literary praising. Rightfully so, exaggeration is okay in this case.
“Not that often. Sometimes I could spot one or two, but it doesn't do justice to how they used to come in mobs back in the days-all time ready to swallow up a bunch of the dead and soar high up in the sky,” she replied while the banyan tree poured itself on her round glasses as she looked out the window. As Ramiya gazed at the reflection, she thought how the tree greeted her with its winding branches and the shooting crows instead of Dadi's eyes.
The landscape sprawled before the window lived up to everything that Ramiya had imagined from Prague—the perfect definition of her Dadi's village home. The unending carpet of a field, small houses with mildews and mosses crawling up the walls, no concrete skyscrapers, a perfect kind of quiet, everything satisfied Ramiya except the sight of her Dadi's loved birds, the ones that she held dear while most of her countrymen cowered at their sight. She equally grew excited and afraid at the same time while Dadi narrated the tales of them arriving in flocks and devouring the carcasses. They used to be a common sight on the river banks, lakes, fields, tree crowns, and even the concrete tinged capital. Dadi said their bald heads and brown cocoa feathers had added to their beauty, but she found little Ramiya cowering at their images on the internet just like most other people.
“It's okay, Ramiya. You are little. It will take time for you to understand. But I hope one day you do grasp that a friend isn't always beautiful just like an enemy isn't always ugly,” Dadi passed her wisdom onto Ramiya as if she were to absorb it immediately and grow 16 from 6 in that instant. She further went on about how her white-backed friends had the stomachs to defeat deadly diseases from animal carcasses and help her kind create a less diseased world. She called them cleaners from nature. She kept emphasising on how rabies and anthrax held humans under their clutches as her friends had come in lesser flocks until one day they had stopped coming.
“Where are they? Why don't they visit like you used to see before?” Ramiya asked, waiting to fire the unending questions one after one.
Dadi took off her glasses and replied, “Hopefully, one day they will, when diclofenac will be banned.”
“What's that?” she inquired while being surprised to the presence of a foreign word in her Dadi's tongue.
“It's a medicine they use on livestocks, which the scavengers don't have the stomach for. I would say it's a medicine that detached the human kind from their vile looking friends,” Dadi replied and gazed at the sinking sun.
In her head, Ramiya pictured the white-backed scavengers soaring high up in the sky one moment, and in the next, they were dead birds pelting from the sky until they became carcasses on the ground with other scavengers to feed on them.
Were the scavengers feeding on their carcasses one of the last few of their own kind? Or were they some other animal?
The concept of an ecosystem was too much to process for a six year old.