My pet budgie had been sick for a really long time: for about a year or so.
She became this little blue cloud sitting in the highest vantage point of her cage: between her mirror and one of her toys. It got to the point where the only time she would chirp would be when she climbed down–still possessed of her surprising agility–and either attacked her cuttlebone or ate from her seed cup.
Even when she was well, she barely ever talked to herself and when she did, it was this quiet, faint little chirp or two. Later on, she would be quietly and excitedly chirping to herself when we covered her cage for the night. She slept so much during the day that she became a nocturnal bird of sorts and she would always “go to sleep” whenever we left her for the night.
Personally, I don’t think she liked me very much. She would sit on my finger but then eventually lean away from me and go back onto her perch. I could never find the right whistle to match her chirping pitch and I suspect she squawked because she hated it when I clapped. It also probably didn’t help that I would threaten to eat her every day like I was some kind of Dread Pirate Roberts with budgie on the menu: with the caveat of “not today.”
That, and I liked to point at her and growl, “You.”
She got used to that after a while: so much so she started to ignore me as most sane sentient pieces of fluff tend to after a while. In fact, our whole owner and pet relationship was pretty much me asking my family how she was doing, occasionally putting her on my finger–which she would entertain the notion for a while–and feeding her her millet when she got too lazy and learned that she could get humans to do more things for her, and later when she got too exhausted and anemic to get for herself. When she was well, I enjoyed getting her to stretch out her neck and reach for the millet that I would move gradually away from her. Sometimes she would peck at my finger when she realized it was in the way of her food: even though it was the very thing keeping it there for her convenience.
I never said she was smart: in that way anyway.
Towards the end, which had been coming for over a year–because she was too stubborn in general–she vomited up probably about as much as she ate. She was thin and cold underneath her blue puffiness. The heating pad stayed on her cage all the time and only got shut off when it was time for her to sleep or we had to leave the house: because we didn’t want her to get accidentally cooked or incinerated. When she threw up, it was more of an annoyance to her than anything else: just something she had to get out of her way before she could do her birdy things.
For all I sometimes deluded myself into thinking that she was groggy like a drunk in her fluff and hungover enough to just say “leave me alone” to the rest of the world, she really was sick. Even so, whenever she moved she would preen herself and chirp quietly: letting us know that she was still here. She was still here.
The day before Saturday, she sat on my finger. She was exhausted and we stared at each other a bit. Eventually, I just put her back on her perch and left her alone. She ate, she cleaned herself, she talked and sat on my brother’s finger and slept. That bird always loved my brother: she’d kiss his finger and his lips and warble at him in an attempt at communication. She seemed no different and no worse than any other time.
I was in bed when I heard that they found her at her seed cup. She was gone at that point. Unlike our other birds, she wasn’t on the floor gasping or squeaking in pain from cancer or whatever ultimate complications happen when you inbreed budgies for prettiness in cages. She never seemed to be in pain: at least, I hope she never was. She just got tired and tired and, one day, on Saturday, she just stopped.
But more than that, she died pretty much the way she lived: eating.
For all of her simplicity, she knew there was something wrong with her and she just kept going until she couldn’t anymore. There was no complex thought or visible fear: it just was. That night, mostly avoiding the living room and that empty space near the wall where her cage was–as though she were just on vacation or upstairs in my parents’ room as they did some oven-cleaning–I still swear I thought I heard some of the small, quiet chirps that she made at night.
There is one other fact about all of this. When I talk about that wall, I have to mention that this is where all our birds were placed when we moved into this house. In our old house, they used to sit right next to the TV or a window. Essentially, the bird would sit in the corner of this room and watch us from a distance whenever we didn’t visit her. She also rarely ever came out. Some budgies fly around all the time. But not this one. Most of the times she would come out, it would be disastrous. She could fly, but her landing skills sucked. After a while, we didn’t let her come out for fear of her killing herself and eventually she didn’t even try.
And sometimes I wondered. I wondered what it would be like to have no contact with anyone of your own kind, placed in a cage you never came out of–that became your home–in corner of the room where you had to make yourself heard all the time. I sometimes wondered if her sickness was just physical.
I also realized that, looking at myself, I didn’t have to wonder that much. Over the years, we had a lot in common. Both of us probably felt confined and bothered by people. Sometimes neither of us wanted to wake up and eventually night time became a blessing for us: because no one would bother us and we could do our own thing. We were also both lonely: I’m pretty sure. And we both sat in our cages for so long they became our mostly comfortable homes and we forgot at times that we could fly.
When my second budgie Carni died, I felt a disconnect with the birds that came after him. That affection and tactility was gone or more distant. I felt like I couldn’t get close to any pet like that again, and even though I played with the other two, it wasn’t the same. By the time we got this one, I was in the process of working and eventually moving out. I visited from time to time these past three or so years but I guess it just wasn’t the same for her.
I’m not sure if we are going to get another budgie. They have played a long role in my life. They were the first pet I never had as a child: as my Dad is allergic to everything else. I even made a primitive childhood mythos or a chant for them: ranging from addressing human with “The budgie will eat the world” and “They’re coming for us all!” to the budgie “You will be devoured, it is your destiny!” or even some weird tautologies like “The Budgie’s name is Budgie.” It’s going to take some getting used to not doing that anymore. In retrospect, it’s much the same way some writers will start rhyming all the time just to get into a creative or hyper-mindset. Sometimes I’ve joked that I had “budgie turrets”: if only because I liked to say the word “budgie” so many times. It is such a silly, ridiculous word for a bird with a dotted happy face below their beak: as though they are happy all the time.
Budgies are also very good imitators when they want to be.
It gets to the point where you wonder whether you trained them to be crazy, or if they trained you to be more like them. All of this must sound very weird, I’m sure. I mean, it’s just a bird right? I also never said I didn’t have some issues. But I just want to say that if I ever get another bird again, somehow I will show them that it is okay to fly. I’ll play with them as much as I can and spend more time with them. Or something. Or I will get out of my own cage a lot more often.
I don’t know. Right now, after burying myself in work, all I know is that I will never get the chance to point at Squawkes again and simply accept my craziness for whatever it is. May she be in the largest cage there is: made from the cuttlebones of the sky.