January 01, 2008

Last road run

Somewhere on the road running east from Holbrook in Arizona, with not a car or truck or person in sight ahead or behind me till the horizon -- somewhere on that road, a roadrunner scurries onto the tarred surface from the bushes ahead and to my left. I'm doing a steady 45 mph, and this little fellow must be only 15 or 20 feet away when I see him.

I hit the brakes, though I know with a sinking feeling that it is futile. At the same time, I direct the wheels so they won't hit him, won't run over him. My hope is that I can go right over him and he'll be OK. That's what I do, and I think I don't hear or feel anything as he vanishes under me. It works to perfection.

Not quite. As I slow to a stop, I'm peering anxiously, hopefully, in the rear-view. The bird is lying in the middle of the road, fluttering and scrabbling with his feet. Many years ago, I ran into a deer, and as I stopped and got out, that graceful animal was also lying in the middle of the road, legs working. That one scrambled to its feet and bounded away. As I open my door, I hold on to the tiny hope that the roadrunner will do the same. That he has just been momentarily stunned.

No luck. Even as I run back, the fluttering is slowing down. When I get to him, his wings and long tail feathers heave a few times, his legs move back and forth once or twice, and he is still.

And there on that deserted road, I hear someone saying, "I'm so sorry." I've read about these things, here it's happening to me: a second after I hear the words, I realize that it's me who said them.

Kneeling next to the creature, I'm struck by how beautiful he is. His beak is long and elegant, his feathers are grey but tinged with a vivid blue-green pattern, his tail streams behind him. The body is warm and shows no sign of any injury; until I turn him over and a single drop of shimmering red blood drops from his beak to the road. That's all.

In the partly loose mud on the edge of the road, I dig a shallow roadrunner sized hole. Pick up this beauty whose life I have just snuffed out, lay him there, then cover him with more scooped out mud. Once again without thinking, as I kneel there, I find myself saying quietly: "I'm so sorry."

It's odd how unaccountably sad I am. I feel a desperate urge to speak to someone about what has happened. With time differences, the someone must be fast asleep. This being the age it is, I send off a text message instead.

Perhaps fifteen minutes after a perky bird bounded onto this road, I get back in the car and drive on. In all that time, not one sign of human life has passed, or has even been visible somewhere.

The one sign of life there was, I managed to snuff out. It's a long time since I've been so lonely.


Pankaj said...


I have been reading your posts for quite some time now. I don't always agree with everything you write. But I do appreciate two things about your writing:

- your tenacity in persistently highlighting human issues close to your heart
- the simple but evocative use of language, especially in your travel related writing

Beautiful post. More power to your pen (or keyboard).

Enjoy your trip.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Thank you, Pankaj. Makes the writing worthwhile.

Sidhusaaheb said...

The feeling of guilt can be overwhelming, when an innocent creature dies like that.

May the little one's soul rest in peace!