Pamir roared from the bottom of his stomach, clapped loudly, pounded his feet on the ground and screeched, “Keeeeeeek! Keeeeeeek!” But the crows lined up on the power line didn’t budge. They stood staunchly, cackled wildly at each other and then shat a massacre across his yard.
Pamir spent most of his afternoons with Adam in the yard, while his wife Raisa worked. During the day, he tended to Adam, dressing and feeding him, walking him to and from school. In the afternoons, he created puzzles with chalk or spread butcher paper across the yard and gave his son watercolors to draw whatever was in his mind. And everyday, he would have to hose up the crow poop only to find more splattered across the cement the next morning.
One day, Pamir picked up Adam from school and said that they had a new project called Operation Eradicate Crow.
“What’s eradicate?” Adam asked as they walked through a bustling street filled with local restaurants and thrift stores. He was dressed in black shorts and a grey shirt, a backpack hanging over his shoulders.
“To end, finish, destroy,” Pamir responded.
“Like the dinosaurs,” Adam reflected.
“Sort of,” Pamir said. “The dinosaurs are extinct. The crows, we just want to get rid of the ones squatting in our backyard.”
They walked into a drug store and found the aisle with the children’s toys. Adam found a mask and put it on his face. “I’m a zombie like the ones you make! Rarrr!” He lengthened his arms forward and moved slowly towards his father. Pamir was a freelance animator, coloring in zombie eyes and zombie blood for a cartoon series. The schedule was perfect, allowing him to work from home during the day and leaving his afternoons and evenings free to take care of his son. Adam put the mask down and picked up a whistle. “Or, we can scare them away with this.”
Pamir smiled. His son rarely played rough, choosing dollhouses over gun battles. “Perhaps we can get something a bit more hands on.” He picked up a water gun but decided it didn’t have a far enough reach. He put it down and found a rifle with plastic bullets. He looked over at Adam who was looking at the board games. In some ways, Pamir was glad his son didn’t have any interest in guns. It meant that Pamir had come far enough away from the violence of his own childhood.
Pamir decided the rifle wouldn’t work. They would end up spending their entire morning tracking the bullets down. Then, on a top shelf away from all the other toy guns, Pamir saw a slingshot. He picked it up and handed it to Adam. ”My father bought me one just like this when I was your age.”
Adam looked at him with huge eyes waiting for more but Pamir stopped talking.
“This will work,” he said. They paid for it and picked up rocks on their way home. They went into the yard and looked up. A few crows sat quietly across the wires. Pamir felt a fresh wave of anger inside of him. They were so casual, settling in as if they belonged.
He unwrapped the slingshot and pulled the rocks out from the backpack. Adam positioned a palm-sized rock in the sling and aimed. He looked up at his father, “I don’t want to hurt them.”
“It won’t hurt them, just scare them off.” Pamir took the slingshot from Adam. “It’s okay. You can just watch.” Pamir pointed it up at the wires. He missed the first time and the crows barely noticed. He calculated the distance more carefully and released the sling. He hit one of them. They all flew away and Adam cheered.
They went inside and made some dinner. Raisa was away on a work trip so they were home alone for the night. As Pamir put him into bed, Adam asked about the story of the slingshot.
“I was your age,” Pamir said. “And my father and I would go up to the roof in Karachi.”
“How did you get up on the roof?” Adam asked.
“Oh, it’s not like here. The roofs are flat with stairs leading up to them. We all hung out on the roofs, chatting to neighbors, checking out who was up to what.” Pamir felt a longing pulsate through his chest. “By that time, we weren’t really allowed to play in the streets.”
“Just like how I only play in the yard.”
“Yea, like that, but when I was a younger boy, we would run all over the streets, in the alleyways. But then, things changed.” Pamir paused wondering how to explain what happened. He could see Adam listening as if it was a story from one his bedtime books. “Well, there was battle going on between the… between Usa and Ussar.”
“Were they brothers?” Adam asked.
“Well… yes, they were. They were brothers separated at birth that grew up on opposite sides of globe. They each had their own idea of how the world should be and they both wanted to be kings. So they fought each other.”
“Why couldn’t they both be kings so they wouldn’t need to fight?” Adam asked.
Pamir smiled at his son. “People like you should rule the world. But they chose not to do that. Instead, they fought battles all over the world, in other people’s land, with other people’s sons. And then, one day, Ussar came into our neighbor’s country. Many of our neighbors didn’t believe in Ussar so they had to leave their homes and come into ours.”
“Is that why you couldn’t go outside?”
“Yes. But it wasn’t just them. Usa came into our country, too. They started giving guns to young boys telling them to go and fight.”
“What happened to the boys?” Adam’s voice was soft.
“You could say they won. They kicked Ussar out but then they started to fight Usa. You see, they didn’t want what Usa or Ussar had to give them. They had their own way.”
“Because Usa and Ussar were both the bad guys and the boys the good guys!” Adam snapped his fingers.
“Maybe at first they were, but then they started attacking other people’s lands too.” Pamir was finding it difficult to breathe.
“Oh.” Adam had a look of disappointment on his face.
“I saw many of those boys from my rooftop.” He tried to suck in air into his stomach but felt it stuck in his throat.
“Did you help them?” Adam asked.
“No. We had to leave too.” A ton of concrete had settled on his chest.
“But how does the story end?”
Pamir got up. “It doesn’t. No one wins. Everyone loses. Now go to sleep.” He turned off the lights and ignored Adam’s plea for an ending. He went into his room and got into bed. He thought about the part of the story he couldn’t tell his son. One afternoon, a long line of families with all their belongings were walking down his street to a makeshift camp nearby. Pamir was on the roof aiming his sling at different items in people’s windowsill. He looked down and saw a boy with a backpack similar to his own. He aimed at it and released a stone but the boy stopped suddenly so that the rock hit his head. The boy shot his eyes upward and saw Pamir. His gaze was cool and directed and he pointed a finger up to him. Pamir didn’t know what it meant but it chilled him. He ran downstairs to his mother.
Pamir pushed the memory away and closed his eyes to sleep. The next morning, he went to throw out the trash. As he neared the bin, he heard a screeching sound and something grazed his head. He ducked down and shook his hands frantically around his ears. He watched the black bird fly back up to the wires. He ran inside and closed the door. His heart was beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out of his chest. Adam was sitting at the breakfast table and looked up. Pamir breathed in deeply not to let his son see his fear.
He took Adam to school and then drove to the airport to pick up Raisa. On their ride home, he told her about the crows. “They attacked me, can you believe it?”
“Well, you attacked them first.” Raisa was talking while scrolling through her email on the phone. “What do you think they’re doing with all that caw caw? That’s them spreading information. They’re a very smart species and chatty.”
“But they were shitting all over our yard,” Pamir could hear the defensiveness in his voice.
“The trash is there, they probably just realized it’s a food source. Address the source and you’ll address the problem.”
Pamir moved the trash to the garage. It worked. They moved off the wires to nearby yards. At least they were out of his. Pamir went back to his daily routines and games with Adam. He had reclaimed his space and felt a calm come back to his life.
A week later, Adam and his friend spent the afternoon playing in the yard. They had been eating chips and nuts, often throwing them at each other trying to catch the food with their mouth. Pamir called them in but before he could go out to clean, they had pulled him up into a video game. Later that afternoon, Pamir looked out the window and found the entire yard was covered with crows and squirrels. Pamir’s body filled with rage. They had gone too far, coming down from the wires into the yard and bringing other vermin. That night, Pamir went to the store and found rodent poison. He came home and wrapped the poison in the cornbread he had baked earlier and placed the pieces across the yard.
When trying to sleep, Pamir started to worry that one of the neighborhood cats would get to the poison or that Adam would wake up before him and go out back. He got up in the middle of the night and picked up all the food. He came back to bed and fell into an uncomfortable sleep. Pamir dreamt of his father. He was young, his hair thick and full, greased back and his face clean-shaven. Pamir could smell the Old Spice. He was running over to touch his father’s cheek when he looked up and saw the crows. They came down, lifted his father from his coat and flew off with him. He could hear them taunting him: “This is it; this is the age it ends for you.”
Pamir woke up in a sweat. Pamir was six when his father died, the same age Adam was now. For Pamir, every minute that he spent with his son now meant it was one more day than his own father had spent with him. He knew Adam would keep him alive. Keep him alive the way that he couldn’t keep his father alive. But when Pamir saw the crows, he felt a threat to the world he was building. They were soul stealers and peace breakers.
Pamir got out of bed and walked into the yard. He saw a dead crow on the ground next to some crumbs. He missed a piece last night. He got a pan and scooped up the bird. He walked to the trash to throw it out but then he thought about the one that had attacked him and the ones that kept coming back. Instead of throwing it out, Pamir found some string and hung it up under the wires.
The crows on nearby poles watched him. They were still and stoic, quiet as if at a funeral mass. He felt a sadness overcome him and immediately pushed it aside. He walked inside and saw Adam. This was for him, for his future.
Later that afternoon, he picked up Adam and didn’t say anything about the dead bird. They played indoors that day. Later he checked the yard and noticed that all the crows were gone.
Raisa came home and he showed her the bird. Flies were buzzing around it.
“That’s disgusting,” she said. “I don’t want Adam to see that.”
“He didn’t. I kept him inside today.”
“Well, how long are you going to keep this up?”
“Until they’re all gone.”
“Pamir, come on, don’t you think you’re taking this too far?.”
“I’ll take it down when they’ve cawed cawed across LA not to come to this house.” Pamir knew Raisa couldn’t understand. He never told her about that day when he hit the boy. About what happened that night. When he came down from the roof, his mother was busy preparing dinner. She scolded him about wasting his afternoon away and sent him to do homework. Hours passed and his father still hadn’t come home for dinner. When a car finally pulled up, it was the police. Pamir watched the two men in uniform from the stairs talk to his mother. He heard them say something about a territorial crossfire. He heard the wails of his mother and he ran to her full of fear and guilt. He wanted to tell her that he had made this happen but he swallowed the words tight. A year later, with the help of his uncle in the U.S., they migrated to Los Angeles.
“I’m addressing the problem,” he said.
“But, they’re just trying to take care of their family,” she said.
“So am I,” responded Pamir. Raisa sighed and said she needed to finish up some work. They both went inside and busied themselves for the rest of evening. The next day, Pamir picked up Adam from school and told him they would spend the afternoon indoors again. He left Adam in his room to play with his toys while he worked on the latest zombie episode. Afterwards, he went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. He was standing at the sink when he heard Adam’s voice.
“Getchu, getchu, I’m gonna getchu.” He looked out the window and he saw his son standing in the middle of the yard, aiming the sling at the hanging crow. Adam released the sling and the rock flew across the yard and hit the dead animal. It fell on the ground. Adam raised up his arms and cheered loudly.
Saba Waheed is an award-winning writer and radio producer. Her writing has appeared in Angel City Review, Hyphen Magazine and SAMAR Magazine and she recently won the 2016 Water~Stone Prize in Fiction. She co-produces the storytelling radio show Re:Work that won a Gracies by the Alliance for Women in Media. She also wrote and starred in a one-act play that premiered at the East West Players’ Evoke Festival. Saba is the Research Director at the UCLA Labor Center where she sees research as a tool to elevate community stories.