'The Lost Head and the Bird': A Short Story and Photo Essay


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The Make Believe Issue

'The Lost Head and the Bird': A Short Story and Photo Essay

A short story from the ongoing work "The Coast," by Magnum photographer Sohrab Hura.
September 11, 2015, 7:59pm

A short story and photo essay from photographer Sohrab Hura.

The sound of the cage crashing to the ground tore through the house. The crow had escaped. A light came on, and on the bed Madhu tottered from left to right trying to find her head. Her hands clasped at the smooth top of her torso, her fingers feeling for any trace of a stump of a head before falling still for a moment and then again repeating the motion, frantically. Even now she kept forgetting that she did not have a head. It had already been a year. An obsessive lover had stolen it while she had fallen asleep to the rumble of the waves outside. She should have seen it coming. The fortuneteller had warned her that it would happen, and there had been other signs too. Every time he made love to her he bit her really hard. It wasn't something unusual for a man to do, but with him it was different. He would try to tear the flesh off her breasts and when he didn't manage, he would smile and say, "I just wanted a piece of you so that I wouldn't miss you when I leave," and then he would slip the money down beside her.


It was a hot and sweaty night. The wind had strangely stopped blowing in the evening and with it the sea had died. Madhu rubbed the sweat off her body. The day had been long and boring. An idiot of a photographer had come over from the nearby city of Chennai. He had heard about this woman who had lost her head and wanted to take photographs of her. He had said that he wanted to take photographs of all the wonderful and vicious things that happened along the Indian coastline and that he had started on his way through Tamil Nadu. "Why on Earth would anybody waste his time on something like that? Anyway he had a strange accent," she thought.

Madhu had started to feel her way to the living room. The tottering had now turned into a dance. "If only the asshole had let me at least keep my cerebellum, now I have to buy myself a whole new head." She had been saving money to buy the new head that the fortuneteller had promised her. But for now she had to make do with the ear that her sister had loaned to her, which she had attached to the front of her right shoulder, the more auspicious side. She missed the ordinary things: looking at herself in the mirror, wearing makeup, combing her hair, sticking her head out of the water when in the sea, you know… the usual.

She needed to hurry, the pill was starting to get slippery in her moist hands. A couple of months ago she had bought the bird cheap because it had come with a terribly loud, and supposedly temporary, cough that had not yet been fixed. But she persisted. From the familiar edge at the end of the wall she realized that the she had forgotten to shut the window. She already knew that the cage had fallen. There was a string tied to it, its other end she tied around the big toe of her right foot every night while she slept. She picked up the cage and shook it hoping to feel a movement inside but only the open door rattled wildly against the frame. Loneliness put her arms around Madhu from behind as she stood with the empty cage. "Damn, I will have to buy another parrot from the fortuneteller tomorrow."