Seven in the morning in the Chintadripet
quarter, and on the next street are women
with their baskets on the pavement before
them, threading jasmines on string to be
measured out to the lengths of their
forearms. Here, wire cages of white
birds are stacked one atop the other in
front of a blood-bright Vodafone wall.
I watch the chicken trusser emerge from
under the loud shutter of his storefront,
raising feathers with each step, like a
molting angel. He carries
nothing. He opens
a cage and in a swift movement has
a hen by the neck, then by the feet,
dangling it upside down so it stills in
that peculiar manner of poultry. “It’s
hypnotism,” someone told me once.
“They’re comatose.” It hangs slack
from his fist, as if caught mid-dive.
One by one, dexterous, he subdues
them this way, until in his hand is a
bouquet of fowl, suspended in sleight
before slaughter. In the cages, an
agitation of wings, packed tight.
With his other hand he loops a knot of
twine around their feet, lays the birds
against the asphalt, secures it, and
boutonnières them to the handlebar
of his motorcycle. Then he opens
another cage. When he is done,
a consecution of white chickens,
bound claws skyward, will move
through the city, bumping against the
bike like a heavy-tasseled shawl.
I walk away. I buy flowers for my hair,
and watch the women weaving jasmine,
their fingers twining and knotting rows of
small white buds, twining and knotting, and
when I lift a forearm of strung blossoms to
my braid, I can think only of those beaked
heads, garlanded together, the trail of
petals that will scatter through the city
this morning, soft as silence.
(First published in Dark Sky Magazine)
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