Friday morning, Bird workers, bleary-eyed from putting in hundreds of extra hours just to keep our functions afloat, received a special meeting invitation. We crouched under our work-station desks even before it began, hanging cables and miscellaneous wiring notwithstanding. Like on the dirt, between fallen dry leaves, as if searching for something lost.
Ten of us were set to lose our jobs — it was no longer a secret. A little later, the Chief came up to request a shade from the burning sun.
Sam laughed, for we were all undone, except the zebra-striped feathers, and nothing to cover our heads. 'A shade?', someone blurted, 'Maybe. Chief, why not just take your bum somewhere else? Char-char-char! Charrrr!'
The Chief wasn't amused, for he was hardly the same one as he was, say, three thousand years ago, in Egypt and Crete, adorning walls as the royal bird hoopoe, used to being considered sacred. He snarled, and from the pits of his eyes, splurted rage.
Sam and David and Anjan and the rest of us had made up our minds. Tii-tii-tii; there just wasn't enough to take back to our nestlings.
A fight ensued. Sam was quick, the punch landed where it shouldn't have and the Chief was left groaning in pain. Hoopoe Bird workers were winning.
Just then, Martha let out a groan, EEEk-EEEk-EEEEEk. Martha's fawn-colored body was more delicate than ours and in hoopoe world, it means only one thing. The moment she fainted, we had two requiring attention.
David put a finger on Martha's pulse and shouted, ‘we need some air.’
His voice boomed across, bounced about the calendula-printed wallpapers, like uk-uk-uk repeated thrice, and at once we unfurled our stately crests, our crowns of pauper-princes, and flew low.
Funny that Jammy worked at Bird too. Got into action right away.
Jammy pecked his wife with his long beak, thin and curved like an old-type nail cutter and we knew at once why Martha chose him in the first place.
The mate's kiss worked wonders, and Martha recovered enough to fly urgently to their nest nearby.
Of course, the chief continued to be stubborn, and we were happy to leave him there. The meeting adjourned, sine die.
Gossip was: Chief was fuming, closing shop, because the three wives of his had found caterpillars of their own.
Bird workers wouldn't usually fly — too poor. We strutted out the offices, walked past the company gates, wings folded, preening halfway through, and to our humble nests. And soon enough, we received news — Martha's eggs were warm and healthy, numbering five.
We didn't return to work, until end of summer, when we needed new skies to measure. Trooping out of our homes, we began trading our silk talks across the neighborhood, venturing out into other relative communities and were ready to go wild, if that helped. Nothing was falling into place.
Nearer to the holiday season, Sam called me thrice. Said someone was launching something new, offering three hundred a week. It was smelly and filthy. ‘Just what you deserve,’ said the new boss. Six of us joined anyway, to keep our crests still looking regal, what if we only cleaned toilet bowls.
Mandira Pattnaik is a fiction writer and poet. Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best Microfictions nominated, her work has appeared/due in Best Small Fictions2021, Flash International Short-Short Magazine, Atlas & Alice, Citron Review, Watershed Review, Passages North, Amsterdam Quarterly, Bangor Literary
and Timber Journal
among other places. Her spec-fiction microchapbook 'In the Glow of a Velvet Moon' (Ghost City Press) was published in Sep. 2021. On Twitter