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A Whisper of Feathers

Based in Calcutta, India, Runa Chatterjee studies at Jadavpur University. She grew up loving speculative fiction of all kinds, but especially those stories which involve AIs. She's also an avid gamer and can be occasionally found reviewing video games at http://www.jags.in/. Apart from spending a copious amount of time in from of the computer, she also likes watching flying creatures of all kinds which has given her an undue fascination with wings.

The woman behind me unfurled her wings and settled down into the seat. Once she was seated, the wings carefully closed around her wizened frame, almost like a shield. Black crow wings. I averted my eyes from them.
Two schoolgirls brushed past me, giggling as the tips of their wings brushed my shoulder. White wings, like most children, though one was already turning brown at the tips.
The bus conductor was arguing with a passenger, his speckled wings (like a pigeon's, I thought) twitching in his indignation. The woman he was arguing with has wings like a dove, the whitest I had ever seen, matching the serenity on her face. But I caught a glimpse of it when the conductor turned away and it was twisted in the foulest grimace I had ever seen. The underside of her wings was coal black.
Nobody else I know can see these wings. I don't know why I can either. People have occasionally looked at me strangely as I stepped over a trailing wing or swerved to avoid the tip of another. I do this again as the bus I am in swerves to narrowly avoid collision with a car and the reddish-brownish wing of the man next to me (sparrow, I think automatically) brushes past my face. I don't know what would happen if it made contact. Would I find out that it's all in my head?
The bus stops and people jostle in. From where I'm sitting it looks like a giant mess of feathers and people, like birds trying to escape.
A large woman comes to stand next to me. She has the smallest wings I've ever seen, and also the oddest. She sees me looking.
I turn away. "Nothing." The wings don't have feathers. They buzz behind her like a bee.
She moves away. The next person has, thankfully, more conventional wings. Black glossy ones, tucked tightly around her body. Magpies. Incessant chatterers and the shortest attention span I've ever known.
People flash by outside my window. Black wings, grey wings, red wings, brown wings all blur until I cannot tell person from bird. I close my eyes and don't open them until a screech tells me I've arrived at my destination.
As I get down at my university gates, I pass two men walking by. They're laughing and their wings are the brightest I've seen today. Sometimes it's just light and not color. Those are the best. Better than the half shredded wings I see in the footpaths every day.
My wings? I don't know. I don't look back. I don't think I want to know.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Author Comments

This work came about as a result of a Creative Writing workshop were we were instructed to write about a single journey from home to university. My journey is a particularly long and maddening one where I have the opportunity to observe a large number of people for nearly every day of the year. Watching them jostle together inexplicably reminded me of birds trapped together, and thus this story was born.

- Runa Chatterjee
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