The sun was finally setting in a stubborn haze of coal smoke, dust, and fatigue. He sat in the passenger seat, foot braced hard against the vinyl-covered floor in anticipation of the unexpected variances of the road, and watched the sky turn orange and pink before the dark shroud of night fell. A faint emotion, one of unfulfilled anticipation crept into his mind as studied the empty jungle, the sandy dirt track. He had arisen with the sun, a thing that he had done for years beyond number, and had made himself ready for the day to come. In the beginnings of faint light had managed to extract his warm and sleepy wife and child from their blanket cocoons, their protection against biting insects. This was no mean feat in itself for his wife had a fondness for her bed and a particular hatred for mosquitoes and the child seemed to be following in her mother's footsteps. Armed with chocolate bars and chai that was hotter than hot he had managed to coax the sleep-stunned women out of the flat and down into the warmth of waiting four-wheel drive Sumo.
The wife had sat in quiet waiting in the back of the Sumo, camera in hand, for the majority of the day. They were hunting tigers in the modern style and she was rigidly vigilant. She had stared hungrily at the trees for the entirety of the day, gaze rarely wavering but to admonish her child for antics that would likely leave the girl maimed. The anticipation, hopeful, unfaltering, was waning with the setting sun and all that remained was a vague thought that maybe a tiger would make an unexpected appearance.
And then it happened, suddenly, without warning. The wife sat up, her orange dupatta sliding to the floor in the frenzy of movement.
"Oh, oh!" she cried, her entire arm rigid out the open window of the Sumo. The husband turned suddenly, staring past the driver and into the fringes of the jungle. "Look there! Do you see it?"
"What? What?" the husband cried in reply, seeing the excitement of discovery lighting his wife's face up from within. A tiger seemed unlikely but unlikely things happened when his wife was present. The driver slowed the Sumo down, peering out the window in vague anticipation.
"There!" she cried in reply, almost crawling out the window in her excitement. "Over there! Oh, see, there it goes!"
The child had been hanging upside down from the handholds in the farthest reaches of the Sumo and decided to turn herself upright. Her mama was a forgiving woman but would likely be displeased that her orders were being so blatantly disobeyed. Besides, there was the off chance that Mama had spotted a tiger.
"Where?" The husband asked.
"The hoopoe, that bird over there, the one that's the same color as an American Avocet in breeding plumage." She smiled widely, her face pink in her happiness. "Oh, it's smaller that I thought it would be. The hoopoe, I mean, not the Avocet."
After determining there was no tiger to be seen, the driver started the Sumo down the rough track again, a plume of yellow dust following in their wake. The husband shrugged internally, not sure what an American Avocet was, but trusting that wife's unflagging zeal and history of accuracy were not far off the mark. A distant movement, yet unnoticed, caught his attention.
"Dear," the husband cautioned, looking down the track and then back at her. She looked at him quickly, puzzled. "Dear, you should pull in your arm before you knock the man off his bicycle."
"Oh!" she said, aghast, retracting her arm immediately. "A hoopoe." She said simply, smiling while she pulled her dupatta off the floor. "I saw a hoopoe. Didn't know they had them here."
The man glanced back at his wife and child. The child was again hanging upside down from the bars at the back of the Sumo like a monkey. His wife sat unconsciously radiating the quiet glow of extreme satisfaction, peering out the window as she clung to her camera. They had not seen a tiger and that portion of their hunt had been in vain, but to see his wife so obviously happy at the sighting of a small, rust colored bird...A joy filled him as the last of the dying sun's rays disappeared. It had been a fine tiger hunt, indeed.
© 2003 Karen H. von Bargen