Saira's talking parrot
Children's stories for adults (1):
Saira saw the parrot for the first time when she was walking past a pet shop in the market. The green bird, with its sharp beak and clawed feet, flapped its wings in a long iron cage. Catching sight of the bird stuck in a cage, she let go of her Amma’s hand and ran into the shop to set the parrot free. When she discovered that it was locked, Saira turned towards the owner of the shop who had an ajrak curled around his shoulder.
‘Open the bird’s cage,’ she protested. The little girl’s mother finally caught up with her, tightly held her hand and put a finger to her lips to shush her.
‘I can’t do that, beti,’ the owner said. ‘If I do that, the bird will fly away.’
‘Shouldn’t all birds be able to fly?’ Saira asked the owner.
‘They should,’ he nodded. ‘But this parrot is special. It can talk.’
‘Really?’ Saira’s eyes widened with surprise. ‘What language does it speak?’
‘It speaks Sindhi because that’s the language I’ve taught him,’ the shopkeeper said. ‘But since I left my village in Ghotki and set up my pet shop in Karachi, he has learnt some Urdu words too.’
‘Parrots are intelligent birds,’ Amma told Saira. ‘They can understand things better than any other birds.’
‘What can the parrot say?’ Saira asked.
The owner walked over to the cage, tapped on its iron bars and whistled at the bird.
‘Tell the little girl your name,’ the owner said.
‘My name is Mithu,’ the parrot squeaked in Urdu.
Saira smiled. She asked her mother if they could take the bird home with them and Amma agreed.
The iron cage was placed farther away from the window in Saira’s room.
‘If we keep him close to the window, Mithu will fly away,’ Amma warned her. ‘You mustn’t open the door of the cage.’
For the next few weeks, Saira and Mithu became friends. She taught the parrot new words and sentences that she learnt at school. Mithu was an obedient pet and enjoyed repeating the new words that Saira was teaching him. One night, Saira told Mithu that she didn’t want to go to school the next day. When Amma rushed into Saira’s room the next morning to wake her up, she heard her daughter’s cheery voice.
‘I don’t want to go to school,’ she heard Saira say.
Amma walked towards Saira’s bed and noticed that she was still asleep.
‘If she’s asleep, who just spoke in her voice?’ Amma wondered.
When she heard the words repeated in her daughter’s tone for the second time, Amma realised that Mithu was mimicking Saira’s voice. She clicked her tongue and walked out of the room.
Saira always found it strange that Mithu struggled to say her name.
‘It’s sigh-ra,’ she repeatedly instructed him. But Mithu became silent whenever she asked him to repeat her name. Even so, Saira continued to teach him new words.
One day, Saira left the room to get a glass of water from the kitchen. Just then, Mano the cat entered the room, jumped onto the table next to Mithu’s cage and tried to attack the bird. Mithu squeaked in fear and fluttered his wings.
Saira rushed into the room and pulled the cat away from the cage. After that day, Mithu stopped repeating the words Saira had taught the bird.
‘Why aren’t you talking, Mithu?’ she asked the bird. But the parrot remained quiet, as if he had forgotten how to speak.
When Mithu didn’t speak for a week, Amma decided that the bird should be taken to the pet shop so they could ask the owner what was wrong with him.
‘Mithu is just scared,’ the pet shop owner told them. ‘But parrots are intelligent. Give Mithu some time. He will get better and start talking soon.’
But when Mithu didn’t get better, Saira realised that the parrot no longer wanted to remain in his cage. One morning, she decided to leave the door of Mithu’s cage open before she left for school. She also threw open the window of her bedroom.
When she returned from school, Mithu had flown out of the window. Though she missed Mithu, Saira knew she had done the right thing by setting the bird free.
One afternoon, she heard her name being called out in a parrot’s squeaky voice.
Saira peeped out of the window, hoping to find Mithu perched on the palm tree in the garden. Instead, she saw that the tree was empty. When Saira looked into the blue sky, she saw crows circling the tree. Among them was a green bird – her friend Mithu. Saira took a deep breath and shut the window. She asked Amma to remove the cage from her room because she didn’t need it anymore.