Size / / /

Translated from Bengali by Layli Uddin and Mir Rifat Us Saleheen

The old residents of Dhaka can still remember how once, long ago, all the crows vanished from the city. The incident, or rather incidents, took place about five years back and began in a village called Baikuntapur. Sirajganj City is on the western side of the Jamuna River, and about six miles west of the city is Baikuntapur. A canal flows along the southwestern edge of the village; children play football there in the dry season, and if the water reaches waist-height during the rainy season, people cross the river using a boat made out of banana tree trunks.

About fifty yards from the banks of the canal, a woodcutter had built a hut on an abandoned piece of land encircled by trees, and settled there. His name was Akalu, he was only known as that, and he lived with his companion Tepi, who also had the one name. Akalu was a poor landless person, and Tepi’s father was landless as well. The land on which they had built their hut was the village chief’s property, and they lived there with his permission. They had a room to sleep in, and a cooking shed, and they used the dense bamboo thickets on the eastern side of the land as their toilet.

Both Akalu and Tepi were dark, and their physical health was bad, but they were young and full of high spirits. Akalu thought that Tepi was not that bad a wife, just slightly odd because she often muttered and spoke to herself. She also ground her teeth while sleeping. Akalu had got her various kinds of talismans and tied them to different parts of her body. The talisman strung around her neck was to stop her talking to herself; a square-shaped one was tied on her arm to prevent her from grinding her teeth. There was one more talisman which could not be seen; it was around Tepi’s waist so that she could quickly bear a child. But no child would stay in her womb and she continued to talk to herself.

One morning, at the beginning of the second month of the rainy season, Akalu woke up very early and determined that he would not go out looking for work that day. Instead, he decided that he would spend the whole day sleeping with his wife, and he fell back asleep. A little later, the sun started to pour into the hut through the gaps of the flimsy fence and he woke up again; he heard a gentle sound coming from behind the house. Tepi, her feet dyed with red alta, was walking around and muttering to herself, “Oh sweet child, oh no, has a fly got to you? Hold on, let me get some ashes.” When Tepi came to collect ashes from the stove, Akalu called out to her, “Tepi, what’s happened to you? Who is the sweet child?" Tepi, returning to her senses, laughed and said, “Come and see."

Akalu got up and followed Tepi. She took him to the jungle and showed him a tender gourd on the cucumber vine, which had a little white blossom on it, as tiny as the little finger on the hand. Akalu stood and looked as Tepi found the fly and killed it, and sprinkled ashes over the leaves. At that moment, two crows flew over the trees, one landed a few feet away from them on the branch of a mango tree, and the other one sat on the thatched roof of their hut. They started cawing. Tepi’s attention shifted from the cucumber to the crows. “Where did these big crows come from in such hot weather?”

Akalu thought a while and said, “I think they came from Sirajganj, you must have invited them to your house.”

Tepi found Akalu’s words very amusing and started talking to the crows.

“Oho! Is that right? You came from that far away? You must be very hungry, no? Will you drink water? Wait.” Tepi brought water in a clay pot, put it down on one end of the courtyard and moved away, and said, “There, take it, drink!"

However, the crows did not come down to drink the water, and continued cawing. Tepi got irritated. “What are you saying? Get lost, go away." She pretended to throw a stone; the crow sitting on the roof flew away and sat next to the one on the mango tree. Tepi left the crows and moved away; Akalu went and sat on the doorstep. At that moment, Jabbar Ali of Pangsihat came along the bushy jungle path, and appeared in front of Akalu. He informed Akalu that a contractor had bought the big banyan tree from the high school in Sirajganj City, and was looking for a woodcutter. Akalu replied that he was not interested and planned to spend the day walking around with Tepi in the forest and the jungles. In the meanwhile, Tepi’s attention once again returned to the crows.

“What did you say, eh?” asked Tepi. The crows cawed.

“Oh my God, what are you saying crows? 'Let him go and cut it, go and cut it.'" Tepi went into the house and came out with an axe. Akalu did not want to go, but Tepi forced him into it.

Meanwhile, the Sirajganj City contractor had dug out the one-hundred-year-old banyan tree on the grounds of Pangashi high school and left it there. When the contractor’s fixer took Akalu to the grounds, Akalu saw that eight huge knots and the roots of the tree were still there.

“You will cut these and make firewood out of them.”

“You will need to give me fifty taka.”

“Shut up, you’re a crazy man! It’s not even fifty taka’s firewood, you’ll get ten taka.”

Akalu did not agree; he settled finally on twenty taka. However, as he went to cut the wood, he realized that he had been fooled. It was not easy to cut the knots. It took three days of hard labour, morning until evening, to cut seven pieces. He felt furious at the thought that Tepi had forced him out to do this work. On the morning of the fourth day as Akalu began to cut the final knot of the tree, it started to rain. However, Akalu did not stop his work. He cut the tree continuously from three sides until after some time the knot was less than half the original size. Akalu, suddenly getting mad at the rain, swung his axe, a strange sound came out of his throat, and the small blade of the axe entered the round knot. He realised that there was a hole inside the knot. Without giving it much thought, he chopped the tree a bit more and saw khaki-coloured cloth. Akalu became curious, and discovered that the side of the knot closer to the ground led to the mouth of the hole, which was closed up with soil. He used the axe to clear the soil, and pulled out a stuffed cloth bag that resembled a small cushion. In the heavy rain, he wrapped the bag up carefully in his work cloth, went to his house, and called to Tepi.

“There, take this.” Akalu handed her the bag.

“What is it?”

“Don’t know, shush, be quiet.”

Then they opened the mouth of the bag, took out a polythene bag, and saw that it was full of taka notes. Akalu opened the bag and tipped it over onto the straw mat on the floor. Tepi was struck dumb with amazement.

“It’s money, no? Where did you find all this money?”

“Inside a tree.”

“Allah! That is why the crow said “Go cut it”. Aren’t they good, the crows?”


“If they come another day, I will make rice pudding for them.”

“Yes, you do that.”

Akalu counted and saw that there were ten bundles of hundred taka notes. Tepi asked, “How much money is here?” Akalu continued counting, but he was unable to finish. He said, “These are hundred taka notes, one bundle has one hundred , other bundles have ten.”

“How much taka is that?”

Akalu said, “A lot.”

They put the money back in the bag just like it was before, and buried it in the middle of the house.

At night, as they lay in bed, Tepi, scratching her nose with Akalu’s chin, began to speak. They first tried to figure out where the money came from and were certain that the money had been put there by bandits; then they thought about the possible ways that they could use the money. Tepi said, “Buy the land", but Akalu responded, “If I use the money, there may be problems." They both became anxious. Akalu hugged Tepi and said, “ I will go to Sirajganj tomorrow and talk to a lawyer.”

The next morning, with the puffed rice and molasses given to him by Tepi tied in his work cloth, Akalu appeared in front of the courthouse in Sirajganj. He asked a vendor man selling cigarette and paan, “Alright brother? Can I find a lawyer here?”

“Yes, there are many lawyers in the city, what do you need one for?”

“Wanted a bit of advice.”

“What sort of advice?”

“No, just… say you started digging and found one hundred taka on a road, is that money yours? Can you spend it?”

“You found some money?”

“No, I’m just saying.”

“How much did you find?”

Akalu replied, “Two hundred taka.”

“Shut up, you peasant, you are lying!’

“No no, really. Okay, I found a thousand taka, now I need a lawyer’s advice.”

“I will take you to the lawyer, but you will have to give me a share of the money.”

“Okay, sure’, Akalu said.

“You will give me half.”

“Yeah, fine.”

The cigarette-paan seller took him to a lawyer’s house, which was to the east of the city, behind Mumtaz Cinema Hall. At that moment, the lawyer wearing his black coat and a bag under his arm was coming out. They walked up to him, and the cigarette-seller spoke. “Sir, we have come to you for some advice’

The lawyer, furrowing his brows, stared at them and said, “If you need advice, you will need money, you do know that?”

“Yes, we have money," Akalu said.

“How much?”

“Twenty taka."

“But my rate is thirty taka.”

The seller agreed to give the remaining ten taka and they entered the lawyer’s chambers. When the lawyer heard why Akalu needed his advice, he was too shocked to speak.

“How much did you find?”

“One thousand, yes, one thousand."

“Shut up, you thief, you are lying."

“No, really, I found bundles of hundred taka notes.”

The lawyer’s eyes glimmered. “How many hundred taka notes in a bundle?”

“A hundred."

“How many bundles?"

Akalu first said, “Two’, then said “No, five.”

“Hmmm." The lawyer released a deep breath, got up and closed the door, and said, “You can’t get this sort of advice for thirty taka.”


“You will have to give me half.”

“Okay, fine", Akalu said.

“Then you will have to give me half of the other half," the seller said.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Right, let’s go to your house. First, you will give me the taka and then I will give you the advice," said the lawyer. The three of them arrived in Baikuntapur in the afternoon. Tepi was not in the house. When Akalu brought out the bundles, the lawyer bared his teeth and laughed. He took five bundles for himself and gave the other five bundles to Akalu. The seller grabbed three bundles from Akalu’s hand. The lawyer, eyeing the remaining two bundles said, “This is my advice, don’t take out the money for a year. Once the year has passed, take out the money and spend it in small amounts. If you show too much money, people will get suspicious and throw you in jail.”

Soon after the lawyer and seller had left, Tepi returned and became furious after listening to Akalu’s story. She said, “You gave all that taka and got this crap advice?”

“We still have two bundles, and there’s a lot of money in those two bundles.” Akalu replied. Hearing Akalu’s words, Tepi’s anger left as her smile lit up her face. In the evening, once again, she spoke with the trees, the birds, and the wind.

That night, after they ate and fell asleep, five men with scarves wrapped around their faces came, woke them from their sleep, took them to the courtyard, and tied them tightly to the mango tree with rope. The men took the money that was hid inside the house. Akalu and Tepi spent the whole night tied to the tree, and could not make a sound because their mouths were stuffed with pieces of cloth. However, Tepi spent the whole night chewing on the cloth, and in the morning, she managed to move it away from her mouth and screamed. However, Akalu could not remove the cloth from his mouth. After three hours had passed of Tepi screaming, Kuddus Maulabi who had come from the village to tie his goat at the edge of the canal heard her scream, and when he saw Tepi and Akalu tied to the tree, he ran towards the village screaming louder than Tepi herself. The villagers, seeing the madness of Kuddus Maulabi, went to Tepi and Akalu’s land and found them. They loosened the ropes, set them free, and were shocked when they saw the middle of the house was dug up.

“Bandits came," the villagers said. “What was in there?”

“Who knows? We don’t know," Akalu said. Then just as the villagers were about to take Akalu to the police station, Akalu was struck with severe stomach pain, which continued into the evening. With both hands pressed to his stomach, Akalu lay in the dust, and then when the evening passed into the night, he got up from the courtyard and went into the house. An unwashed Tepi asked, “Did the bandits do something to your stomach?” Akalu replied. “Nothing has happened to me, but we cannot stay here anymore Tepi. The police will definitely come tomorrow after hearing about the theft, and if they come they’ll find out about the taka, and I’ll be in jail. Tonight is our final night. Tomorrow at early morning prayers we will go to Sirajganj, cross the river with a ferry, and go to Dhaka. Get ready; we’ll start walking in the second part of the night.”

The next morning, the villagers came and found that Akalu was not there, nor his wife Tepi; the house was completely empty. Akalu and Tepi were elsewhere: sitting on the benches inside the ferry crossing the Jamuna. From there they took a crowded bus from Bushapur, and arrived in Dhaka Gulistan at three in the afternoon. At that time, Chandu, a rickshaw driver from Doyaganj, was waiting for passengers near the bus stop. He saw Akalu getting down from the bus and was shocked. Chandu shouted, “Hey, mate, is that you?” but Akalu did not notice in the pushing and shoving of the crowd, he continued to move forward holding Tepi’s hand. When Chandu realised that there was no point shouting, he left his rickshaw, and went and grabbed Akalu’s torn shirt.

“Hey, you bastard, did you not see me?!”

Akalu became scared, his face crumpled. He held Tepi’s hand and said, “Respected brother?”

This time, Chandu, very shocked and hurt, said, “Oi, Joinal, you bastard Joinal, don’t you recognise me?! Mate, you really don’t recognise me. I’m Chandu, mate, I’m Chandu!”

Akalu gulped. A fearful Tepi squeezed her eyes shut and stood still.

“I’m Chandu, Chandu, you’re Joinal, no? You really don’t recognise me, mate?”

This time, Akalu understood what was happening. He swallowed again and said, “Respected brother, I am Akalu, and this is my wife, Tepi.”

Chandu’s face broke into a smile showing his full set of teeth. “Oh, your wife," he said. “What name did you say?”


“Ah, Tepi, oh friend, such a sweet name you have. My wife’s name is Halai Hawa Bibi!”

Akalu and Tepi remained silent. Chandu said, “Where did you run off to, mate? See, you ran away, and now after so many years, you have come back. I looked for you so so much. People told me that Joinal has died, and I didn’t listen to even one of them, nah, Joinal cannot die! Where did you run off to, friend?”

Akalu replied, fearfully, “My name is Akalu.”

Chandu did not seem to hear anything that Akalu said. He said, “I know you are Joinal. Where are you going now?”

Akalu’s fear did not leave him, but he told the truth: that he did not know where he was going. Chandu said, “You come with me; you can’t tell me that you don’t know where you’re going whilst I’m still alive. Chandu hasn’t died yet!"

Akalu’s suspicion remained; Tepi stared from the opening of her veil. Akalu said, “I really am Akalu, I’ve come from Sirajganj.”

Chandu stared at him seriously and said “Your previous name was good; you’ve gone from Joinal to Akalu. Akalu, hahaha, what a name!”

This time Akalu got irritated, “Akalu is good. Your name is Chandu! Chandu!”

Listening to Akalu and Chandu, Tepi started to giggle; she pulled Akalu’s hand and said, “Let’s go, let’s go with brother Chandu.”

Akalu and Tepi moved into a hut close by to Chandu and Hawa Bibi’s hut in the Doyaganj slum. The slum dwellers that heard Akalu’s name from Chandu’s mouth knew him as Joinal and those who heard it from Akalu himself, knew him as Akalu. Only Tepi remained Tepi. Chandu took Akalu to an open field and taught him how to ride a rickshaw, and arranged one for him from a money-lender in Doyaganj. Akalu was delighted but Tepi was miserable. Akalu didn’t understand why Tepi was in such a bad mood. One night, Akalu, who was sleeping on top of the straw mat and quilt, asked, “What’s wrong with you, Tepi?”

Tepi, near to Akalu’s chin said, “My stomach feels so strange.”

“How does it feel?”

“It feels like it’s full of stones.”

The next day Akalu told Chandu, “My wife’s not feeling very well; she has developed stones in her stomach.”

Chandu thought about it and said, “Okay, take your woman to the doctor, and then they will take her to the hospital.” The doctors tested Tepi’s urine and blood, and did an x-ray scan of her stomach, but they could not find anything. Tepi became even more miserable after hearing that. She said, “My stomach feels like there’s one huge rock in it, but the doctor says it’s nothing! I will not live much longer. If I die, please marry again.” Akalu became upset hearing Tepi’s pain, and in the night he hugged her and cried.

The next morning, he woke up and realized that Tepi was not in his arms. He went out to search for her, and, crossing the railway line, saw her in an empty plot of land. She was slowly walking around in this desolate spot, and hadn’t seen Akalu. At that moment, a crow flew and sat on the top of a bamboo pole buried on the edges of that place. It looked here and there a few times and cawed for a while. Tepi noticed the crow and immediately started talking with it.

“Oh, you’re that crow, no? Where did you come from? Did you come from Sirajganj? Oh, you’re the crow from my homeland.”

The crow tilted its neck and listened to Tepi’s words. Tepi said, “Oh, you’ve flown from very far; it must have been difficult, no? But why are you alone, why are you alone?” The crow continued to be silent, and Tepi started to cry, “It has died, oh, it has died, no?”

Akalu approached Tepi, and she hugged him and cried aloud, but Akalu did not feel sorry. Instead, he got angry. “You bastard crow, you dirty … I will kill that bastard!" However, Tepi did not let him throw stones but ran into the shack and brought a metal bowl full of water and gave it to the crow to drink. Yet the crow continued to stare, and did not drink. Akalu noticed then that people had gathered to see what his wife was doing, and he took her back home. The slum people said, “His wife is mentally ill." After many days, Tepi started to talk to herself once more in the various nooks and crannies of the house and the outdoors washing spot. Akalu was filled with happiness listening to her talk to herself.

Three days later, Akalu was taking a passenger from Doyaganj to Jatrabari. The passenger, on seeing the bus for Gulistan coming, leapt out without paying his rickshaw fare. Before Akalu could scream for his money, he saw that a wallet had fallen from the man’s back pocket without him realizing it. Akalu quickly grabbed it, and tucked it inside his vest. He cycled some distance and then took the wallet out and counted: there were seventy-one taka notes in it. At that moment, he remembered the money he found in the tree and got scared. He took his fare of one taka and tucked it into his lungi—the cloth tied around his waist—and then he placed the rest of the seventy taka inside the wallet and went to the Narinda police outpost. At the outpost, there were three police officers present. Akalu went and stood in front of the duty officer and said, “Sir, I found a wallet.”

The duty officer, furrowing his brow, stared at him.

“What’s your name?”


“How much money did you find in the wallet?”

“Seventy-one—no—seventy taka.”

“Tell me straight, how much money was there?”

Akalu, scared, said, “There were seventy-one, but I took one as my fare.”

The duty officer muttered, “Bastard, thief," got up, and started beating Akalu with his huge baton on the buttocks and shoulders. Akalu cried and pleaded, “I did not steal the money; I am not a thief, sir!”

The other two police officers just stared at him, as the duty officer returned to his chair and said, “Show me how much money you’ve got.”

Akalu opened the knot in his lungi and put six taka on the table.

“Hmm…" the duty officer grinned. “How the hell will I divide seventy-seven taka? It would be easier if the bastard had ninety taka." Then he asked Akalu, “Don’t you have any more?”

“No sir, I swear to Allah!"

“If we had one more taka, we could divide it. Don’t you have one more, you piece of shit?”

Akalu started crying again. The duty office thought for a while and then said, “Son of a bitch, you did this deliberately so that we cannot divide it into three. But I am not going to spare you so easily. You will bring thirteen taka by noon or I will break your legs.”

Akalu cried and swore on the Prophet that he would get the money. The police noted down his rickshaw number and released him.

Akalu returned the rickshaw to its owner after 2 p.m and returned home with a grumpy face. Tepi tried to talk with him but Akalu remained silent. Tepi’s face darkened with fear and she started to wail. She shouted, “Please, everyone come and look! Something has happened to this man!” The neighbours, on hearing Tepi’s scream, came running along with Chandu and Hawa Bibi, and saw Akalu sitting silently in front of the door. Akalu spoke with nobody. Only when everyone except Chandu had left did Akalu’s lips open. “Brother, I am in grave trouble.”

Tepi had stopped crying, but after hearing that, she resumed her previous state. Chandu said, “Don’t be scared. As long as I am here you don’t need to be afraid. Just tell me what happened.”

“The crow is after me, I am going to die.”


“Yes, a crow! It made me leave my village once and now it has followed me to Dhaka. I almost got thrown into jail today.”

Chandu thought all day, and in the evening he said, “Do not worry. I will take you to an astrologer. He will fix everything with his magic stone.”

Chandu’s words gave Akalu and Tepi some courage, and Akalu heard Tepi hum again.

That evening, Akalu and Chandu went to meet the astrologer, a middle-aged man, in a half-lit room off Nazirabazaar alley. Akalu turned over his right hand to show his palm while resting his arm on his stomach. The astrologer stared at his hand and scribbled for a long time on some paper. He said many things to Akalu, most of which Akalu did not get. However, when the astrologer said that the Hindu God Shani’s eye was on him and he could be in danger, he began howling, “Astrologer brother, please save me!” Chandu and the astrologer reassured him. The astrologer said, “Don’t be afraid, I will give you a blue stone to wear on your hand. Inshallah all difficulties will go away and you will progress.”

“What is this blue stone?”

“It comes from the land of the river Nile, the country of King Solomon. Merchants bring these stones from that place and sell them in Patuatoli Lane. I also have some and I will give one to you.”

“How much?” Akalu asked.

“The stone is fifty and the ring is ten, so sixty taka in total.”

Akalu was surprised. How could a little stone like that cost so little? Akalu told Chandu that he only had twenty taka, so Chandu lent him thirty more, and he bought the blue stone. When he was asked why he was not buying the ring to put stone in, he answered that he would wear the stone with a cloth wrapped around his arm. At that moment, all the electric lights in the Nazirabazar area went out. Akalu and Chandu sat in the small house for a little while in the complete darkness. The lights still had not come on when they left. Akalu gave the stone to Tepi who put it in a knot in the end of her sari.

The next day, Tepi made an armband out of old cloth to put the stone in, and stitched it like a pillow. Akalu tied it on his right arm above his elbow and left with his rickshaw. That day, he earned twenty-seven taka by two o' clock. When he gave the money to Tepi, she started humming with joy and surprise and said, “Twenty-seven in one day!” Akalu replied happily, “Wait and see what happens! This stone has been brought from King Solomon’s land of the Nile River. From now on I will fill this house with King Solomon’s money; all you will do is eat and hum.”

The next day Akalu earned thirty-two taka. To please Akalu, Tepi put on clean clothes and oiled her hair. However, the day after, the police came to the slum and arrested Akalu. They accused him of stealing precious stones from the astrologer in Nazirabazar. The police also searched for Chandu, but he ran away as soon as he heard the news. Before Akalu and Tepi even realized what was happening, the police took Akalu to the Sutrapur police station. When the police refused to hear anything from him and beat him instead, Akalu realized that jail was inevitable. After being silent for a while, he confessed that he had helped Chandu to steal, and that his wife Tepi had given him the idea. The statement worked and the duty officer sent his two constables to fetch Tepi. At ten at night, the doors of the cell opened and the police pushed in a pale, frightened Tepi. That night she held Akalu’s broken body and they went to sleep in middle of the cell floor. A day later, the police sent them to court where they were sentenced to one and a half years in prison. Although they lived in separate wards inside the jailhouse, they spent most of their day talking to each other from two sides of the iron fence in the jail courtyard.

After fourteen months had passed, Akalu, who shared the western side of the cell with eleven men, began to see shadows of twigs and straw from gaps in the wall high above. Later, he saw a black bird sitting on top of the twigs and straw. Akalu then understood clearly what was going on. After several requests, he got to see the jailor and pleaded for his cell to be changed. “Sir, save me! That crow will finish me off!” The old jailer thought that these were just stories, and that the real reason behind Akalu’s request had to be something else that he could not guess. He rejected Akalu’s request. But what happened later was exactly as Akalu had predicted. After several days, Akalu was struck with severe fever and was lying in the middle of his cell when he thought that a shadow of a huge bird passed silently over him. Akalu opened his tired eyes but saw nothing. Towards the evening, when the cell had started to darken, he got up, as he felt something small and hard like a small pebble under his thigh. He removed the thing, brought it in front of him, and saw that it was a ring. It was an extraordinarily beautiful golden ring, with a large round gem in the middle. The gem glowed luminously even in the faint darkness of the cell. Akalu threw the ring on the floor and hid his face. He probably made a distraught sound while doing that because another inmate, the petty thief Abul Hossain asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

Without removing his hand from his eyes, Akalu pointed at the ring. Abul Hossain picked it up, astonished.

“Where did you find it?”

“The crow threw it.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“You can have it.”

Abul warned Akalu not to tell anyone, then hid the ring with his other stuff.

Ten days later, Abul’s wife attempted to smuggle it out of the jail, and was caught. Abul was summoned in front of the jailer. Trembling, he said that Akalu had given him the ring. When the officers brought Akalu forward, he said the ring fell from the crow’s nest onto him whilst he was sleeping.

“Whose ring is this?”

“I have no idea sir.”

“Bastard, you are telling lies!”

“No, sir. The crow threw it! You can have it if you want.”

After giving it some thought, the jailer put the ring in his drawer and decided to let Akalu go. When Akalu went back, he saw Tepi sitting under a fruit tree with a glum face and talking to herself. Four months after that they were released.

The jailer called them to his office and asked, “Where are you going to go now?”

“Sir, we have nowhere to go.”

The jailer took them with his jeep to Noyatola, which was to the east side of Moghbazar. There he took them to the middle of a vast open field where there was an enclosed space with brick walls. They entered the courtyard; Akalu and Tepi saw a little shack under a palm tree. The jailer opened the shack and said that someone used to live there as a security guard, but he had gone and from now on they could live there and start a new life. Akalu started to work as a labourer, and Tepi worked as a housemaid near the shrine of Shah Nuri. Several months passed.

One evening Akalu saw Tepi sitting silently by the door.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“The crow has returned.”

They looked up at the branch of the tree; Akalu lowered his head and saw the bird seated there.  With surprise and dread, Tepi and Akalu noticed that an ever increasing number of crows arrived on the branches of the tree each night. Soon there was no space left on the tree or even on the thatched roof of their house. After many days Akalu and Tepi accepted their fate for the first time. With the money they both earned, they bought a huge load of bamboo and built fifty-one parallel head-high lines from it in the courtyard. Each long line had thirteen crossbeams, which made six hundred and sixty three perches in total.

The neighbours did not really think about it at first, or if they did, they did not give it much importance. They assumed the bamboo structure must be for some kind of construction. But soon they too became aware of the increasing number of crows. At one point, the whole bamboo cage filled with so many that it looked like some sort of tree. When people asked Akalu and Tepi about the crows, they tended to avoid the question. In the evening when Akalu and Tepi returned from work, the crows also returned to the open cage. At first the neighbours were silent, but when the baby crows began to fly at the beginning of the rainy season, Akalu broke open their nests and discovered seven hundred and twenty kilos of metal scraps. That was when the neighbours started to pay attention. They were amazed by this village couple’s business idea. But astonishment soon turned to greed and jealousy when they heard Tepi had given the local sweeper Nimfal Dasi a crow-egg omelette and a pair of golden earrings she found in a crow’s nest. After that, some of the neighbours abandoned their passion for pigeon-keeping and tried to start with crows instead. After trying for six months, they gave up in failure. One evening they gathered in front of Akalu’s home and said to him, “You have given the sweeper golden earrings, we want some too.”

“I didn’t give her the earrings, my wife did.”

“Then call your wife.”

“She’s cooking.”

“Why do you eat crow’s eggs?”

“Because I like them. You want some?”

“No, we don’t want eggs. We want what you’ve given to the sweeper.”

“Okay fine. However, I do not have anything now. I will give it to you the next time.”

After they left, Tepi gave Akalu little boiled blue eggs to eat and asked, “What did they want?”

“They want earrings like the ones you gave to the sweeper.”

“Where we will find that many earrings?”

“You brought trouble by giving those earrings to that sweeper. From now on don’t give anything to anyone.”

Over the next six months, the neighbours gradually became angrier as they kept returning from Akalu empty-handed. For thirteen days they threw jackfruit cores, and for five days after that they threw rotten cow dung at Akalu. But they became frustrated when they saw it was not affecting him at all. So one day when they saw Tepi walking home like a shadow they sent a dog to chase her.

After that, the people did not see Akalu or his wife on the streets any more. After several days of waiting uncomfortably, they went and stood outside Akalu’s house. They could smell omelette being cooked and saw that even during the day the area was full of crows. Three men tried to open the door but when they failed and started climbing the wall, the crows, which had been silent for so long, left the roof and flew down at them. The people were already angry because they did not get any gold from the crow’s nest, but the attack made them furious. After the three men were injured climbing the wall, the people retreated, but remained surrounding the house on all sides. They stayed there for four days and four nights, assuming that if Akalu and Tepi were human they were bound to come out at some point.

On the twenty-sixth day of the blockade, when night had come, the clouds had gathered and it started to rain. When the rain stopped two days later, the truth dawned on the waiting people that Akalu and his wife could spend the rest of their lives surviving on crow’s eggs and well water. So the men returned to their homes. Nevertheless, those men whose wives had seen the sweeper’s earrings soon resumed their position. On the thirtieth day, after midnight, they spread dry straw and leaves around the house, and set it on fire. When the heat and smoke engulfed the entire house, the crows began to leave. The men who were guarding it saw hundreds of thousands of crows flying away. By morning, the whole place was abandoned. At dawn, they broke the door and entered with spears, iron rods, and sticks in one hand and sacks in the other. When they crossed the yard, full of thick crow shit, there was no sign of a human being. However, they found nine boiled little eggs. They checked every inch of the fence but saw no sign of digging. This assured them that the uneducated villager and his wife who seemed very good and honest were very cunning and deceitful because they had managed to trick them and escape with all the treasures, even after such surveillance. But some of the men were sceptical. They argued that it was impossible to pass the blockade without being noticed. Those nine boiled eggs seemed quite recent; they were probably boiled on the night they set the compound on fire. They also saw as they lowered their hand into the water on the stove that it was quite clean, and when they held the eggs, they definitely felt slightly warm.

The confusion amongst the Noyatola residents increased even more when a rumour spread that the crows carried Akalu and Tepi off in their beaks. The story spread that on the night of the fire, when the crows had flown away because they could not stand the flames and smoke of the fire, some men were on the deck of a boat tied at the Rampura Lake. They were lying down having a smoke when suddenly they heard what sounded like a thousand claps, and they saw that it was the wings of a flock of crows flying above them. They saw that Dhaka’s sky was filled with crows, and in one or two places the flock was so dense that it looked like an army of ants. However, they realized that in one of the places it was not that the birds had gathered closely, but that they were actually carrying something. At first, they thought it was two pieces of cloth but then the faint light of the night revealed clearly two human-shaped silhouettes. The black birds crossed the Rampura Lake and flew into the Dhalesshwari river fog.

Following the incident, Dhaka became crow-free. Even now elders tell how, after this, the soap by the well stopped disappearing. Trash started to pile up on the streets and the sky became bird-less and mundane. Many days went by like this until some crows from rural towns migrated and the children of these birds began to fill up the sky of Dhaka.

Shahidul Zahir, 1953-2008, a prolific Bangladeshi short story writer and novelist, lived in Old Dhaka for most of his life, and used it as a backdrop in most of his stories. Known in Bangladesh for the use of magical realism in his plots, he introduces his readers to a world of human-animal relationships, rituals, myths, superstitions, and traditions. His major works include the short story collections Parapar (1985), Dumur-kheko Manush O Onyanya Golp (2000), and Dolu nodir Hawa O Onyanya Golp (2004), and the novels Jibon O Rajnaitik Bastobota (1988), Mukher dike dekhi (2006) and Abu Ibrahimer Mrityu (2009). This article from The Dhaka Tribune remembers the author and his work.