Amrit walked upstairs to the Birds Hospital, holding the shoebox with a perforated lid. Slipping his shoes off, he stood at the second-floor Check-In. A girl followed him holding a cracked egg swathed in a cotton batting; before him an older woman holding a cage with her sick parrot repeating, “Woe, woe, is me. Wait-wait-I-love-you.”
—May you recover—
—May you be well—
—May no one harm you—
The doctor looked up. “Next.”
Amrit opened the box: inside, a crow with a broken wing.
The doctor deftly lifted the bird, turning feet up, examining the wing. The crow remained calm in warm palms. An assistant brought a bandage which the doctor wound around the wing twice, resetting the wing with a click.
The bird looked around, tipping her head, espying Amrit.
The doctor spoke: “She is your family bird.”
“Crows are very intelligent. I noticed the game you played with her, so she wouldn’t be afraid to come.”
“When she was a chick, she fell out of a nest. I picked her up to put her back in—”
“But the mother had been killed.”
“How did you know?”
The doctor tipped his head. “She has stayed with you. If she flies away, she comes back.”
“She will be okay.”
Amrit exhaled, relieved.
“You can take her home.” The doctor gave instructions for care. “Now I have a question.” “Yes?”
“Why is the lid drawn with tic-tac-toe grids?”
“I’m waiting for my fiancée. We text every day. I play tic-tac-toe with Prema, my crow. She pecks the X and I do the O. Just like when you send a text to show your love, XOXO. I guess I like that every peck Prema gives is a kiss.”
Annie Bien is author of two poetry collections—Under Shadows of Stars (Kelsay Books, 2017) and Plateau Migration (Alabaster Leaves Press, 2012). Flash fiction: a runner up at Faber Academy QuickFic, Mercurial Stories, 101Words, and Potato Soup Journal. The Soho Theatre Company in London awarded her with her first seed commission. She translates Tibetan Buddhist scriptures into English through 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. http://anniebien.com