“Hey, Charity! What you doin’?”
“Girl… my momma is moving in with me next week. She’ll be down here from Detroit. Just tryin’ to get the house ready.”
“What’s with the cage?”
“Oh, these? These are my birds. Momma hates birds. She says they stank.”
“Hahaha! Well, let me leave you to it then. Catch ya later.”
My neighbor’s mother moved in 4 days later and our neighborhood was never the same after that. In North Fulton, you get accustomed to certain noises. Woodpeckers, crows, finches…the occasional cat in heat, even. Nothing prepared me for the continuous chirping of the two parakeets that now called Charity’s carport their home. It’s not that their song was unpleasant – it’s just that it never ended. They chirped all day, late into the night and early in the morning. I didn’t notice it until my husband pointed it out one day this winter, and I haven’t been able to un-hear them since.
My kids adored Charity’s parakeets. Since I mistook their beta fish for a dying cockroach and beat it to death with a broom, they have had no pets of their own. That was not my fault. It was late and the frikkin’ fish startled me. If it wanted to live, it should have stayed in its bowl.
“Can we go over to Ms. Charity’s house and look at her birds?” they often requested.
“Sure. If she’ll let you.”
Moments later they would scramble across the cul-de-sac where the parakeets chirps were mingled with Liya’s own shrill cries of delight.
Hi birdies! Hiiii biirrrrdieeeees!!!!
Every once in a while, Charity would let the kids sprinkle some bird seen in the cage. You would think she had given my tribe the password to the Matrix, they were so excited.
People were always coming in and out of Charity’s house: Cousins, aunts, nieces, nephews who had managed to escape the long arm of the law and on their way to community college. One day, a woman who possessed a girth so large that it could have been acquired by a lifetime of Southern cooking and a refusal to indulge in minimal exercise came by to visit Charity. I do not know her relation to the family. All I know is that her enormous buttocks knocked the cage over and set the two parakeets free. They seemed stunned for a moment and then they hopped away. Charity screeched. She loved her little birds so.
My husband saw the whole thing unfold and went over to assist. He crept (as well as a man of his stature can “creep”) up behind one of the birds that had perched on the trunk of her car. Sensing his approach, the parakeet flew away. Its cage mate followed suit. They were never seen or heard again.
Marshall and I have surmised that there is no way that either bird lived beyond that day. They were domesticated and used to eating birdseed. They had never had to build a nest or find shelter in the wild. Never mind that we have our own Crazy Cat Lady just down the road who has accumulated a host of feral felines. And then there are the hawks.
“This ain’t Rio with no happy ending where the two of them find a new home and start a new family. Them birds is dead.”
“Mmm hmm. Dead.”
All the same, I couldn’t help but think the final moments the winged creatures might have experienced. What was it like to see a human approach you, and then suddenly for the first time in your life, be able to spread your wings and fly away? Fly anywhere you wanted to go, even if you didn’t know where exactly you were going. How frightening and exhilarating that must have been for them.
But was it worth it? Was freedom worth losing the predictable comfort and security of their cage? What about you? Would you return to your cage, or would you choose to live free – even if it was only for a day? I think these are the options we are faced with every day: in business; in love; in any thing that requires a risk. What kind of bird have your instincts made the person you are today?
And I’ll beat the first person who replies with “Ah. But I am not a bird.” Beat you, I say! ;)