The frenzied crows broke cover from the forest above the bazaar, where the trail continues north along the ridge going up toward Debribas. The flock skimmed the red tile rooftops of the bazaar and dove under the power line, shrieking bloody murder. All but one of them banked right and rose again through the drizzling mist, pursuing a marauding cuckoo into a stand of pines, down on the flank of the slope. The big male crow that hit the wire bounced back in a small violent explosion of black feathers and fell convulsing to the ground. It lay on its back, one wing beating the wet grey stone, the other lying limp beside the kicking black body. The broken crow flapped in circles on the main street of the bazaar, in front of the old Durga temple.
The street was deserted in the chill evening drizzle. From the old brick water tank down to the Durga temple, all along the high wall of the district jail, the worn stone street was littered with wet leaves blown from the two great trees opposite the jail. In the compound behind the wall, all but the guard at the gate squatted under shelter around small fires; he looked in at them in envy.
The old rag lady came around the tank with her broom. She had been sweeping leaves behind the tank when the crows´ hysteria gripped her heart like talons. Now her mad eyes focus on the fallen crow, smashing his one good wing against the stones, while her ears scan through the mist for the source of the hoarse demoniac crying of the angry flock. She advances down the wet stone street of the bazaar toward the terrified broken crow.
The hag holds her broom in her left hand. In her right hand she holds a buffalo clavicle. Arms spread like a black carrion bird, she herds the broken crow onto the low porch of the Durga mandir. The porch is immaculate and red with fresh mud and cowdung. This is where the old woman sleeps and she cleans it for hours on end, with seasonal brooms of long grass. Her own black rags reflect no change of season. Rags too torn to wear, she sleeps on, stuffing them, each morning, into the filthy hessian sack which she leaves in the care of the black goddess on the porch of the temple, for the day.
Beside her bag of rags on the porch the tortured crow cowers, screaming. The flock breaks cover and their panicked calling rends the mist. They have heard his pain, and they quarter the ridge searching for their fallen member. The fat cuckoo flees silently into the rain, a hatching crow dying in her claw. A cock´s crow from somewhere down the valley is drowned by the violent screaming of the flock. The crows rail and wheel and dive at the roof of the Durga mandir. They are mad with rage. They fly menacingly at the black rag advancing on the broken crow but turn just short of her; there is a margin that they do not dare cross.
The rag lady mounts the three stone steps to the temple porch. The broken crow falls silent and lies trembling softly, black on the red mud floor, beside the filthy sack, beside the door with the black image of the goddess (red with offerings) inside. And the old woman tenderly places the still black form at the statue´s feet. And in the jail, the wet pathetic guard at the gate turns to see where the moan came from, but now only a cock´s crow floats up through the mist, from somewhere in the valley. And he sees behind him rain on the stones and crows in silhouette against the cold gray evening sky, black and strangely silent on the wall.