At sunset, The girls and I stand on the balcony watching the sky darken. First the birds head home. It’s not like Fairbanks, where all the ravens head in the same direction late in the day. The crows here caw and swoop in every direction. Unlike ravens, they don’t seem to roost together.
After a little while, the sky clears of their silhouettes, and we only hear them. Then the small bats come. So tiny exactly the size of the mice, they dodge and swoop, flapping with effort the whole time.
We point out every bat to each other, “Look there against the white house,” until there are too many bats for words. That’s when the bigger bats come. At first I refuse to believe they are bats. They look like birds.
We begin a debate. “Mom,” says the eleven-year-old, “look at their wings, how they flap. They don’t glide like birds. Bats don’t glide.”
They don’t glide. Every stroke through the air seems a struggle. Birds make everything look easy. The nine-year-old says, “Look at their wings. You can see the points.”
Then I see one above me, outlined against the orange of the sky, and I hear a voice, “Have you bought the apartment?” my new neighbor asks from the roof of the white house across the street.
I say, “No, renting.”
He asks, “How much do you pay?”
I answer, 30,000 rupees, for a second he seems confused, and then he understands despite the confusion of my American accent, and says, “You rent! For how long?”
All day we have been watching the workers’ progress on painting red trim on his house. He seems to have come to the roof to inspect the painting. I say, “We like your red paint. It looks good.”
And we have a conversation above the street, above the parked autorickshaw, above the running pack of dogs, above the people coming and going from the cement gate that surrounds a group of tumbledown houses, some with tin roofs, some with thatched roofs, one with a giant tarp banner featuring political candidates repurposed as a roof.
Before we go in I ask him, “Are there two kinds of bats?” And after the while it takes him to decipher my accent, he says, “Yes, bats! We have two models. One very small. One very big.”
If you zoom in on the photo, you will see that this is not a bird. It’s a bat. The very big model.