UPDATE: As runner up, this story won a $1000 donation to AnimalKind, Inc. Congratulations to Pamela Douglas Webster for her runner-up entry “Casting a Long Shadow – A Pet Adoption Story,” and to Robin Craft too, grand prize winner for “Oswald, The Cat Who Made Me A Rescuer.“
His shrill screams pierced through the floor from the apartment below, each one a cry of angst for being caged, for being alone, for being born.
The tenants called him Beelzebub – when they were home to call him anything. More often than not, they just yelled “Shut up!” over and over again. The girl told me once, “I try to hold him, but he just hisses and bites, the little bastard.”
I saw her feeble attempt once, menacing hands reaching in to grab him, cornering him behind a perch. As his wings splayed and bent feathers stuck out between cage rungs, his mirror swayed frantically as its bell rang out in feeble, panicked tinks. Beelzebub’s head snapped back in retreat and then forward, his beak breaking forefinger flesh. The girl jumped back.
“What if you sprinkle his favorite food in your flat, open palm and hold still, waiting for him to come to you?” I asked, doubting she knew what his favorite food was.
“What’s the point?” she replied. She shut the cage door and let the latch spring so fast that the whole cage shuddered, rocking the bird inside.
I had birds in my upstairs apartment. One was called Frankie, a Lutino Cockatiel named after Sinatra. He had been with me for almost a decade and could say “Prettybird!,” mimic the microwave, whistle “The Addam’s Family,” the “Wolf Whistle,” “Charge!” and “Pop Goes the Wease.” (He ran out of RAM on that last song, never learning the “el” of weasel – or anything else for that matter.)
Frankie had a lovebird friend named Winky who, although he didn’t talk, liked to ride the horse on my carousel music box and squee with delight. And then there was Miles, named for Miles Davis, a deep blue yet happy-go-lucky parakeet who was transferred from a friend’s sister to me in a sad case of “no-longer-wanting.”
As friendly as these birds were with Frankie, I was his girl. He’d push the others out of the way to snuggle with me, tapping his beak on the back of my hand as I typed in flirtatious bird language on the keyboard. Sometimes he stood on my head instead, tapping out what felt like water torture in Morse Code love.
My birds were my friends, my best companions. They were even friendly with my cat, Kringle, and were often found preening his ears as he napped on the living room floor. It was while we all laid preening each other, one ear to the floor, that I’d hear Beelzebub shriek. Alone in the dark, he could hear us talking, chirping, purring. He wanted to be with us and was calling out to us. My heart broke into shards of jagged-edged pain with each blood-curdling yawp.
Months passed. My downstairs neighbor – the mom – shared the staircase with me in an unplanned event. I asked about her bird.
“The bird? It has got to go. I’m shipping it out to my boyfriend’s house next week. Tom’s never there so that bird can’t bother any one anymore.”
“What if I take him?” I sunk my teeth into my bottom lip and stilled my breath.
“You want it? It’s not like your birds. It’s not nice at all. You’ve seen it! And, I don’t know. I don’t want to hear it yelling from down here.”
My teeth sunk deeper until my lip flared in pain.
“Ugh. It’s easier than driving it all the way out there. Fine. We’ll try it. But if it doesn’t work, Beelzebub is off to Siberia.”
I flew past on the stairs. “I’m going to prepare the cage. I’ll be down to get him in a few minutes.” And that’s what I did.
My birds chirped with excitement as Beezlebub’s cage was carried through my apartment. Each stood on top of their cage, all doors open, with the freedom to flee or to approach if they so desired. I opened Beezlebub’s cage door. My flock paced and shrieked. Beelzebub did the same. I sat watching from the corner, chewing on a ragged thumbnail growing more ragged by the minute.
Then it happened. Beelzebub flew to my birds’ cage door, climbed inside, and perched. My breath stopped, muscles too tense to exhale. My birds slowly closed in. I fought the urge to shut my eyes against a territorial squabble, knowing that I’d have to move in fast if one ensued.
Frankie moved in closer. Beelzebub bowed his head. Frankie sang a chorus of “Charge!” and Beelzebub laid an egg.
This beast of a bird was just a lonely girl whose longing heart had always belonged to my Frankie, the boy upstairs.
It’s been ten years since that meeting. Ella Yella Bird (which is what I renamed Beelzebub – after Ella Fitzgerald) has long since allowed me to cup my hands around her when she’s out of her cage, welcoming whispers of “I love you” as my warm breath fluffs the feathers on the back of her neck. Her yawp is ever-cheerful and speaks to my joy as well now that I know she is happy. Best of all, Ella has been with her love, Frankie, for more than a decade. Two Lutino Cockatiels sitting in a tree … or at least on my antique snow shoes, happy as can be.
CONSIDER ADOPTING AN UNDER-APPRECIATED BIRD
Petfinder has designated Sept. 17-25, 2011, as “Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week.” There are plenty of lovely birds available for adoption, some you wouldn’t expect, like Washburn, the handsomest rooster. Click his screen shot below to learn more, or visit the other birds – of all kinds – at Petfinder.com.