The Peddler & The Crow : Grand Winner | Season 5

- Lee Alexander Nolan

The wooden wheels groaned with each revolution, their rhythm matching the irregular cadence of the cart’s passage over the fractured pavement. The sound was raw, unvarnished, and honest, like the brush of the elderly peddler’s calloused hands against the rough-hewn handles. This simple symphony of friction was authentic, with no pretence or artifice. It sang only of hardship.

Perched on a nearby lamppost was an aged crow, its dim eyes betraying quiet intelligence. It tracked the peddler’s approach. Dulled talons clenched tight as bitter January gusts blew across the New Delhi sky. The crow’s plumage, once a glistening onyx but now a faded charcoal, chuffed against the cold. The peddler, oblivious, pushed on. He took no mind of the crow, as it looked like all the others that infested the market. Yet the crow took notice of the peddler, despite his looking like all the other old men. Both were solitary souls navigating a world that had moved on without them.

The peddler barked out a phlegm-filled cough. His stooped and frail frame shook violently as he hacked, threatening to dislodge his dingy turban. After wiping the spittle from his silvery beard, the peddler positioned the cart in the same location as the day before, as he had done for countless days before that. With a gentle flick of his wrist, he removed the threadbare blanket covering his wares and then wrapped it around his bony shoulders.

Now exposed are the handful of displayed treasures reflected in the crow’s eyes—a pewter frame on a faded photograph, a dusty pocket watch, and some tarnished jewellery. Each item held memories that had long since lost their shine. The trinkets were like ghosts, echoes of the peddler’s past, not unlike the crow’s collection of shiny baubles it had scavenged over the years. At home, a glint would appear in the old man’s eyes as he rummaged and searched through his belongings for items to sell at the market, as it did in the crow’s when it found something twinkling amidst the dirt and grime during its travels.

The crow hopped from the lamppost to an electrical wire, seduced forward by the gleam of a jhumka. The morning sky was grey, projecting no rays from the sun, yet the turquoise and gold earrings still glittered. Its wings twitched, a breath away from taking flight, but instinct smothered desire. The crow understood it was no longer strong or nimble enough to execute such a daring theft. Not with the peddler so close.

The crow cawed in frustration as, just up the lane, it saw the younger crows dip, soar, and pirouette, stealing chunks of warm bhature from a food stall. The crow’s eyes were shadowed with envy at their youth and vigour. They would have no issue securing the jhumka.

The peddler’s eyes darkened with a similar shade of emerald covet as he gazed at the vast collection of electronic gadgets on the cart that had taken station beside his. The colourful boxes were secured in clear factory wrap and were so bountiful, they threatened to spill from the display.
The market, now fully awake, bustled around them, and the crow observed the peddler’s interactions with his scant customers. Some haggled mercilessly, while others merely glanced at his wares with indifference. It saw how the peddler’s eyes would shine with hope when someone showed genuine interest in his trinkets, just as the crow’s sparkled with desire when it first saw the earring.

As the day wore on, the peddler’s stoop grew heavier. His eyes were more distant, and he coughed into the crook of his arm more frequently. The treasures on his makeshift table seemed to fade away and hold less appeal for those who bothered to look.

In the afternoon, the peddler had his customary chai, but not his samosa. The crow, though not comprehending that the lack of funds in the cash box could not support high tea and dinner, sensed the old man’s hunger. Squatting beside his cart, the peddler sipped from the small paper cup as the crow remained on his perch, lustfully focused on the object of its desire.
The crow’s burning itch for the earrings simply did not outweigh his inability to steal them, just as the peddler’s need for the profit they would bring did not elevate his ability to sell them. The two were growing weary of their struggles. For the peddler, the market was relentless and draining, just as a life of yearning was for the crow.

Neither had a comforting soul with whom to share their burdens. The peddler’s wife had long since passed, as had the crow’s mate. His children had fled south for a better life, as had the crow’s offspring, for a better climate. The peddler slept alone on a thin mattress laid on a dirty floor, surrounded by his trinkets, as the crow roosted under a corroded roof of tin, abandoned by its murder and surrounded by its bobbles. Yet daily, they trudged on. The two continued forward, filled with nothing other than the ingrained impulse to carry on. Both the peddler and the crow, relentlessly pursued by mortality, soldiered towards the end of their dreary paths.

The peddler coughed again, and the crow cocked its head. The cough quivered with a sense of hopelessness—guttural, rasping—an ominous reminder of the fragility of life.

The old crow took flight to scavenge, spotting small crumbs and menial scraps amidst the bustling crowd. Each morsel was a reminder of a time when he was stronger and when he could swoop down to claim proper meals without hesitation. It flew over a small, forgotten alley and spotted a garbage pile. Among the sheets of crumpled newspaper and crushed cardboard boxes, a solitary piece of bhature lay, its golden surface dimmed by a film of grease and grime. The crow’s eyes fixated on it. It knew that hunger cared not for appearances, and in this harsh world, it often found sustenance in the most unappetizing places. The crow descended, landing beside the discarded bhature.

The breeze stirred, carrying with it the mingling scents of spices and sweets and the distant sound of laughter from the market. But amidst the refuse of the alleyway, there came no laughter, only the sombre whispers of necessity.

The crow approached the bhature, and with swift precision, its beak grasped the meagre fragment. The bhature was far from palatable, but to the crow, it was a lifeline, a reminder that in a world indifferent to age and circumstance, one fed where one could.

With the morsel clutched in its beak, the old crow took flight once more and returned to the peddler. It let the air slip from beneath his wings and descended to settle on the corner of the rickety cart.

The peddler raised his arm to chase the crow away, but was overcome by another cough and clutched his chest. The crow cocked his head and focused on the peddler, seeing his illness and sensing his sorrow.

After a tentative hop forward, the crow cawed mournfully and dropped the bhature among the peddler’s faded memories. It stretched its wings in a gesture of empathy and offering, and in that moment, two broken beings connected and shared in each other’s misery.

The peddler smiled a wistful smile and spread his arms wide, accepting the trade. As if understanding, the crow padded its feet and, with a single, razor-sharp peck, snatched an earring in its beak. With its new treasure secured, the crow winged away into the fading light of the evening sky to place it among its other baubles. The peddler removed the blanket from his shoulders and covered the remainder of his trinkets, issued a final watery cough, and began his journey home.

The next morning’s sky broke heavy and grey, and the crow was perched atop its lamppost. It peered along the footpath with unblinking eyes and cocked its head to listen for the telltale groaning of wheels. Yet the peddler never came, and no one acknowledged his absence. Each dawn thereafter, the crow would come and wait, and the peddler did not come until one morning. As a weary sun heaved itself into a dreary sky, neither did the crow.

19 Responses

  1. Appreciate the efforts, good metaphor, but use of language not relatable. Had to force myself to finish reading. Not sure what made this the winner.

  2. Beautifully thought and written. I loved your choice of words and how it synched with the story’s mood. 👏🏻👏🏻

  3. Sweet story, but fairly simplistic. The metaphor was stretched to breaking point, especially when describing the oarallels in their life. I am not able to discern what makes it a winner.

  4. Congratulations to the winner of the competition but I must confess the story not only left me untouched but a little bewildered

    The language appeared forced with excessive use of big words and adjectives that took away from the narrative. The construct was surprisingly immature and seemed to centre on pushing a dismal, gloomy, hopelessness and feeling of despair through words rather than the story making you feel it.

    I found it difficult to get through & skipped parts in the middle to get to the end to figure what the story was really trying to convey. For me the narrative didn’t flow.

    But this is my personal view as a reader and should not in any way take away from the congratulations that the author deserves for his/her win.

  5. A really touching story that showed the power of connection forged across species. I truly felt myself transported into the mind of the crow. He may be gone, but I wished I knew more of him.

  6. I enjoyed this story for i once knew. Man like the peddler way back as a kid growing up in Delhi. Love how the author has set up the mood and the atmosphere, and contrasted the very real want and need of the physical body (including the crows desire for the shiny object) despite inevitable, and in this case, impending death. The only change i would make is to say ‘bhatura’ in the singular instead of ‘bhature’ which is plural but otherwise congrats and kudos to the winner.

  7. I enjoyed this story for i once knew a man like the peddler way back as a kid growing up in Delhi. Love how the author has set up the mood and the atmosphere, and contrasted the very real want and need of the physical body (including the crows desire for the shiny object) despite inevitable, and in this case, impending death. The only change i would make is to say ‘bhatura’ in the singular instead of ‘bhature’ which is plural but otherwise congrats and kudos to the winner.

  8. Beautifully written! Loved the way the author has described both the characters. From their physical demeanor to their mental state to their hope n attempt at survival – the description is raw, yet subtle, disturbing, yet true, reflecting on the crude reality of their fading lives.
    A simple story that’ll stay with you if you get the essence of it.

  9. Unique POV, and parallels drawn between the peddler and the crow made the story stand out. I really liked how the author has described the connection forged between the crow and the peddler. Despite the melancholy of the situations, the story is not sad because the crow and peddler find understanding and sharing; detailing these is not an easy task for an author, but it has been done expertly in this story

  10. The article portrays the poignant interaction between an elderly peddler and an aged crow in a bustling market. Both solitary souls, they share a silent understanding of life’s struggles and loneliness. The author skillfully weaves a tale of hardship, empathy, and mutual connection, highlighting the resilience of two beings amid life’s relentless challenges.

    The Review:

    – The author masterfully crafts a moving narrative, showcasing profound empathy and understanding between two disparate yet connected lives.
    – The article’s vivid descriptions create a deeply immersive experience, evoking emotions of empathy and introspection.
    – The poignant ending leaves a lasting impact, highlighting the profound connection between the peddler and the crow in a world often indifferent to their existence.

  11. What I loved most about the story is the way it engaged all senses in its narrative. The camaraderie between two aging souls, despite having no common tongue between them, was quite touching. A very worthy win, congratulations!

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