Tales of You and I: A Collection of Short Stories

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Maybe We Can Try

“Arrow! Come see!” Mama holds out her hand. I take it, not sure what she wants. Dropping my spoon back in my cereal bowl, I get up from my chair and follow her. I look back at my breakfast, hoping the corn flakes won’t get too soggy while I’m gone.

Christmas lights meet my eyes as Mama leads me into the living room. Our Christmas decorations are always different every year--Mama somehow finds a way to lose them right after New Year’s. This year’s theme is pink. She decided that, since her new favorite color is pink, she should decorate the tree and the rest of the house with pink lights and wreaths. She thinks it’s cute and different. I think it’s the opposite of what Christmas is supposed to be.

I gaze at the spray-painted pink tree, which is made of plastic. That’s the only decoration we’ve kept for more than three years in a row, although Mama likes to spray paint it different colors every holiday. It’s tiring, and the paint costs more money than we can afford.

My thoughts are interrupted by a loud squawk from the corner of the room. I turn my head, my light brown hair brushing against my shoulders. I like the way it feels, but there’s no time to think about that. There, sitting in a much too-small cage, is a very large grey parrot.

“Oh, Arrow, isn’t he wonderful?” Mama throws one arm around my back and hugs me tight. “I bought him from the exotic pet shop in Chicago. Remember when I went on that business trip?”

Business trip meaning sneaking away to take a break from motherly responsibilities while she leaves her ten-year-old daughter at her grandmother’s house.

“I don’t understand,” I say. “Why did you get the bird?”

Mama looks taken aback. “Baby, he’s yours!” she says, though a little uncertainly. “His name is James... I think. That’s what it said on his label. Now, why don’t you take the little guy up to your room?” She takes the cage off the floor and plops it into my arms. It smells like bird poop--unsurprisingly. I’m so befuddled I don’t even say thank you.

Slowly, I go upstairs, into my bedroom. It’s a cozy little place, and the only room in the house that has stayed unchanged and unpainted for a long time. Mama likes to change things, and she’s been doing it more and more since Daddy left.

I look at the bird’s cage. The parrot is a large African Grey, and his eyes are large and sad-looking. His feathers droop and the bottom of his cage is littered with droppings, implying he hasn’t been taken care of very well at all.

I set the parrot on my desk, feeling pity slowly slipping into my heart. I want to clean him up, but I can’t bear to look at the waste down there. It’s much too disgusting. I go downstairs to finish my breakfast, resolving to take care of James later.

A day passes, then two. I feed James bowls of cashews and an occasional banana or two. I clean out his cage once every three days and keep his water bowl filled. But the bird makes an awful racket. He knocks his beak against the cage and caws something awful. It’s like he’s trying to murder me with his squawks and screeches.

Then I get busy with schoolwork. I’m so busy studying for my exams that I forget all about James. On the second day of forgetting to feed him, I hear a feeble caw. Getting up from my desk, I see James, half-laying on the bottom of his cage, sitting in his own waste and looking like the most pitiful creature I’ve ever laid eyes on. He was calling me for help.

Guilt and compassion for the poor desolate thing overwhelms me. I slowly walk over to my poor pet, tears threatening to spill. I’ve neglected and abused this poor creature, leaving him to starve and wilt like a dry flower. How could I have been so cruel?

The world is a cruel place, and I notice now that we all have a little bit of cruelness inside our hearts. But some have more than others, and I’m ashamed to say that I probably have more cruelty in my soul than you do right now. Hunters were cruel enough to capture James from his forest home and sell him to a pet shop. Mama was cruel enough to buy him when she had no proper education on bird care. And I was cruel enough to accept him, to not take care of him like I should have.

I open the cage door and take James out, feeling the softness of his feathers for the first time. Tears spill out, and I weep. I cry for a long while, then place James on my bed and go downstairs. I get a bucket full of water and a sponge and clean out his disgusting cage. Then I fill up his food bowl with fresh sunflower seeds and put water in his bottle. Then I carefully wipe off the droppings from James’s wings. The parrot munches on seeds and fruit hungrily as he nestles between my pillows.

I look at the tiny cage. I don’t want to put my beautiful bird back inside there, cramped up as it is. I gaze into the eyes of my parrot. “Hey,” I whisper gently. “I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry for how I treated you.” I close my bedroom door, which I had left open, and go back to James. “You can stay here and fly around in my bedroom,” I said. “I’ll never leave you alone for one moment. You’ll have me, and I’ll have you. I’ll tell you all about my Daddy, okay?”

James nippeme affectionately with his beak. I kiss the top of his head and he jumps off my bed, flying around my room. Then, as if by pure instinct, I open my window. I have no idea why I did it, or what was the purpose. I watch as James flies out, free and wild, back to his home.

I’m going to miss him. I begin to cry again, knowing I just lost another friend. Just like I lost my daddy.

But wait. There’s a shape in the distance. I see a large grey parrot, flying back into my room. A wave of relief washes over me, and I cry tears of pure happiness. I kiss my beautiful James over and over again.

“Hey,” I say between tears. “I’ll take care of you, remember? We’ll hold each other up. I’ll never be so cruel again. Maybe... maybe we can try.”

James’s eyes agree with me.

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