The Falling Silent
by Tim Craig
My mother gave me the small pots and pans, while she took the large ones, and together we went outside to kill the birds.
When we got down to the street, most of our neighbours were already there, gathered under the trees and the lampposts. I saw Mei Zhen — the girl from down the hall — carrying a colander and a ladle. I waved to her, but she turned away.
At the given signal from the loudspeakers, everyone began banging their pans together. Across the city, the sky filled with the noise.
My arms began to tire, but each time I slowed, my mother nudged me to redouble my efforts. I looked up at her and saw the determined expression on her face and the patches of damp on her blue headscarf.
Soon the exhausted starlings began to fall from the sky. Some were dead before they reached the ground, some died at our feet, in the gutters, in the grass in front of the apartment block.
Finally, when I thought my arms could take no more, the loudspeakers gave the signal for the noisemaking to stop.
It came like a great sigh, or the tide sucking back across the pebbles. The silence that followed was even greater than the simple absence of sound, for all the music had been removed from it.
We all went back inside to fetch brooms, with which we set about sweeping the birds into piles by the roadway. The municipal hygiene teams would collect them later in their familiar yellow trucks.
Afterwards, I asked my mother if I could go and play with Mei Zhen, but she told me I needed to help her prepare the dinner. Life isn’t all about having fun, she said, banging the pots down on the stove.