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by Kaj Tanaka

And this morning another omen — 6:30, at the place where we were supposed to catch the first bus out of here — a dying owl. We noticed it only when the bus (in a powerfully symbolic representation of the future) came into view about a kilometer away, rolling toward us as the sun rose. We put our faces down at ground level, as close to the owl’s face as we dared. We thought it was dead, but then it lifted its head to look at us, its eyes focusing and refocusing wildly — dilating so rapidly that later we would feel fairly confident that it didn’t see us at all, which was (for some reason) a small comfort to us. We thought, then, maybe we should kill it, step on its head or something to end its suffering, but then the bus pulled up and we boarded and we never killed the owl.

We decided we did the right thing — maybe one of the villagers rescued it and nursed it back to health, we said — an old woman who kept the owl in her tool shed feeding it milk and raw meat, and then one day she awoke to find the owl gone. And even if it died, we said, it is not so bad. Owls are only birds, after all, not so smart or sensitive or deserving. They do not feel pain in the same way you or I do. The pain we feel, for example, when we hurt each other, or when we purposefully ignore one another’s suffering. We just keep running from town to town, not quite knowing why we are running. Owls are nothing like that. And anyway, the owl didn’t see us. You could tell from its eyes. No one saw us that morning. The bus driver didn’t even look up. What I’m saying is this: we might not have been there that morning at all.

Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, The Master’s Review, NANO Fiction and Midwestern Gothic. He is the nonfiction editor at BULL Magazine. He tweets @kajtanaka.