|Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
by Truc Chi
It was Sunday, so I had no school. Uncle Be asked me to go downtown with him. At a junction, under a row of towering big hardwood trees, I saw a lot of people surrounding cages with birds of every description. Immediately, Uncle Be stopped. Then he proceeded to a bamboo cage with two birds billing and cooing to each other. He observed them carefully for quite some time. Then he turned to me.
"Shall we get one and a wire cage and we can hang it on the veranda and have fun?"
"Good idea, Uncle!"
He asked the seller for the price of either bird with a wire cage.
"Which one do you want?"
"The bigger one, please."
"Oh, both of them will get severely depressed," she said. The deep emotion in her voice made me look at her and I saw the sad look in her eyes.
She wiped a few tiny tears from her eyes with a checkered scarf usually worn by Cham women and tidied her hoary hair with it.
As she put her right hand into the cage to take the bird out, both of them jumped down on to her hand, chirping incessantly. "They're saying goodbye to each other, perhaps," I told myself.
She put the chosen bird into his new cage.
"Which ring do you want?" she asked.
"A red one, please."
She put a red plastic ring on the parakeet's leg.
At home, Uncle Be hung the cage on a low branch of the guava tree close to the veranda. He watched the lively bird for a few minutes and then, with a satisfied nod, went into the sitting- room. I placed a small bowl of water inside the cage and another one full of grains. Then I stood and watched it jumping up and down on to a small curved rod placed across the cage. Sometimes, it looked out for a few seconds, then stood motionless.
A few moments later, I walked in to the house. Suddenly, I heard Uncle Be shouting loudly.
"Oh dear God! Where's my bird?"
He examined the empty cage closely. On the top, there was a large gap between two slender lengths of wire. "Kreg, kreg… kreg, kreg!" The bird chirped from above. He looked up. The escaped bird was on a low branch of the magnolia nearby. He grabbed at it, but missed. It flew away and in a few seconds, was just a tiny dot in the blue sky.
"OK, tomorrow morning we'll get another one," he said. I am not comfortable seeing the empty cage."
The next morning, we went downtown on his bike to where the old woman sold her birds. She was sitting under the big hardwood tree. When we reached there, we were surprised to see the lost parakeet standing beside its partner inside the familiar cage
"What… my bird!" Uncle Be whispered. He cast a suspicious glance at the old woman.
"I know your problem," she said to him in a sincere voice. "That's the bird you got yesterday," she said, pointing at the escaped bird. "I knew that sooner or later it would return here to its cage."
"Really?" his voice was doubtful.
"Parakeets always live as a couple. So how can you live alone in a cage for good? You can take it home again," she said, putting her hand into the cage.
"No, no! I'll get the other one as well."
"Good idea! They always live and die together in nature. Come what may, they'd only stay with you for some time. Later, they will return to their island."
"Really? For how long will they stay in my house?" he asked in surprise.
"God knows." she replied briefly. She put a red plastic ring around the leg of the newly-bought parakeet. Again, out of the cage, the two birds jumped onto her shoulders and uttered their joyful notes. She told him that he should let them stand on his shoulders while he was on his way home, and that nothing serious would happen to him, for they had already been side by side. Sitting behind him on the luggage-carrier I looked at them. It seemed to me that they were like two weird yellow epaulets.
To our surprise, when we reached home, the birds automatically jumped into the cage that had been hung on the guava tree. After rubbing each other's legs with their curved beaks, they chirruped their sweet song again and again.
Two months later, Uncle Be visited my Dad when I had just returned home from school. He told me that both the birds had already flown away, leaving two red plastic rings in the empty cage. I did not feel sad or surprised.
Translated by Van Minh