With Clipped Wings

Nirav twitches slightly, glaring at the projector screen. The sine of the cosine of what…? Limits? Cusps? None of this makes any sense. Normally, he'd be able to follow the lesson, but, well, he's a bit distracted at the moment. If stupidly going to school with the throbbing of his heart pounding constantly in the back of his head hadn't been enough, he just had to catch the sight of it.

It is a mosquito, crawling on the glossy tiles beside him, crippled and unable to take flight. This, to most, would be considered a good thing, and Nirav agrees wholeheartedly.

The cursed bloodsuckers should die.

However, today, Nirav's head is ringing, and each and every step that tiny monster takes makes his eyes vibrate in their sockets. Licking his lips, he takes several heaving breaths, his shoulders trembling with each gust of air, and gently sets down his pen, lifting his thumbs to either side of his nose and carefully massaging it. He squeezes his dark, bloodshot eyes shut, wincing at the teacher's obnoxious voice. For the millionth time, Nirav finds himself regretting his choice to procrastinate on his essay until two o'clock that very morning. Yes, that was definitely not one of his brightest ideas.

Nirav's lashes flutter as he forces himself to focus on the projector, blinking several times and rubbing his wide eyes. Then, taking up his pen again, he stiffens, directing his attention to his notes. The root of the square of x plus y to the seventh minus the cosine of pi over three…

He can't do this, not today.

Praying that a strong espresso and some Advil will magically manifest itself before him, Nirav glances down again at the pitiful bug, its shredded wings still mimicking the movements of flight. It reaches a leg out, then another, and another, before pulling itself forward and repeating the process.

Where does it think it's going? Doesn't it know that it can't possibly escape?

It must be trying to find a decent place to curl up and die in peace, Nirav decides.

Then, Nirav pauses, realization dawning upon him.

Oh. Nirav looks at his soft, slender fingers, and then, he looks back at the dying mosquito. These fragile arms and wrists like teetering vases, thin and lean with only the slightest hint of muscle, suddenly seem small in comparison to the mosquito's bloodstained, bark-like, rooted limbs.

An unfamiliar feeling wells up in his chest, a tempest of sea foam bubbling and frothing, springing within him but having nowhere to flow. He clutches his swelling temple—red, shiny and about to burst—as it slowly expands and fills with the technical nonsense his teacher spouts. The shuffling of papers, the scraping of pencils, the bouncing of knees, and the wails of an utterly insignificant mosquito...each and every sound sears his ears, and his forehead begins to sizzle as his brain fries.

Nirav has the power to grant mercy, to spare the mosquito.

Such a pitiful creature ought to be left in peace in its last moments. Surely a being so determined to survive would find a way. Yet obligation demands that he slaughter it; mosquitoes are a plague upon mankind, tiny vectors of disease. How dare that vampiric beast flaunt itself so openly before him!

Decisions, decisions...Nirav turns away from the projector. In his right hand, he holds a pen. His penmanship is remarkable, the epitome of focus and aesthetic. Can that gentle hand bear the sins of harming another in cold blood? With his left hand, he scratches his shiny, bulbous nose and wipes away the sweat pouring from his brow. Reaching over, he scratches his right shoulder with that empty hand of his, restraining himself whilst tapping his fingers. He mulls this over with an innately neutral expression, incapable of outwardly portraying his own internal disquiet.

Which of the two is the greater mercy: letting it suffer as it slowly bleeds out or killing it outright and quickly ending its pain? Nirav stares intently at those hands of his, unmoving.

Then, the teacher stands, walking to the front of the class to scribble more of his nonsensical drivel on the whiteboard, meaningless words flowing from his mouth all the while. The raised shoe lowers itself, a boot-shaped shadow cast over the unnoticed mosquito's prone form, and the bug goes into a panicked frenzy. It hurries to drag itself clear of the foot and its unassuming owner, its horrified squeals going unnoticed by the rest of the class. It holds up its broken branches defensively, but then, recognizing the hopelessness of the situation, turns aside, reaching for the light.

Nirav meets the mosquito's gaze. He opens his mouth, lips parting in a silent defiance, but they seal themselves shut as he turns away, unwilling to watch the mosquito's untimely demise. He has never been one to make superfluous comments, and he has no reason to start doing so now. The squelch of gooey guts is masked by the rest of the teacher's lecture, and Nirav carefully glances back at the creature's remains. There is nothing left, as if the mosquito had never been.

Nirav does not mourn the mosquito's loss. Why would he? He had no personal connection to it. Indeed, it had done nothing to him, and he had done nothing to it. There's no reason for him to feel upset, or guilty, or responsible in any way for its death, not at all! Nirav does not frown.

With that unfeeling face of his, Nirav keeps his emotional distance from the crime scene, instead returning his focus to the projector, or trying to do so at the very least.

Nirav glances back at the grimy tile, nervously scratching the back of his head and sighing softly at the slow release of pressure in his temples. His tense muscles loosen, and he sinks into his desk, setting his chin on his left palm and shuffling his feet.

It is over.

As the headache fades, he catches the eye of a classmate, a girl. He doesn't know her name nor has he met her personally, but she stares at him and only at him with the very same emotion in her eyes as he had when he gazed longingly upon the mosquito. To be under such close scrutiny makes his skin crawl. He quickly turns away but finds himself subtly glancing back at her. Their eyes meet, and she offers him a condescending smile, just as understanding as unforgiving.

She knows what he did.

Nirav lowers further into his seat, hiding behind his binder.

Behind him, his best friend makes a joke, and he laughs softly, a wry smile gracing his lips. In that moment, he forgets the mosquito, forgets his indecision, forgets his sins, and, most of all, forgets the face of judgment. Humans have a funny way of putting things out of their minds like that.