Sample Chapter

Chapter 26: The Surfing Parrot

My new hosts, Jan and Clive, said they’d pick me up at the Lancaster train station. Most of the last two months had been spent moving from place to place to place. Never being in one place long enough to feel settled or any semblance of stability had taken its toll.  

Finally after a two-and-a-half hour journey from London, the train pulled into the town where I’d stay for a luxurious fourteen weeks! Until the end of June! Watching a parrot called Stinkki and five backyard chickens. 

“Christine?” A large, kind-faced woman said. A little skewed as if one of her legs were bad, she stood next to a very skinny man with a drawn, kind face. Both dressed casually and smiling, as happy to meet me as I was them. Unlike most of my clients, Jan and I had already started a friendship on Facebook, as she seemed to spend as much time socializing there than in real life (IRL). 

“Jan! Hi! It’s so great to meet you in person.” I also stood a little askew, balancing the ridiculous pack’s weight on my back once again. 

“That looks heavy,” Clive said. “Let me get it.”

“It’s okay, I’m used to it.” 

“The car’s just outside. We can just pop it in the boot,” Clive said.

The boot. I love this country. 

Wide-eyed, I took in as much as I could on the drive to theirs, feeling out my new home, excited at what was to come. Jan had used her mad social networking skills to find me a nearby stable at which to take riding lessons, a place that rented musical instruments, someone to give me private cello lessons, and the schedule of Lotus Dance, the little local dance place where I could take some tap lessons. 

They lived walking distance from the town center, thankfully, even though they would be leaving me a car in case one of the birds needed to go to the avian vet down near Manchester, ninety minutes away. It would also get me to the glorious Lake District, just an hour away If I learned enough in my lessons, I hoped to ride there in a few months. Lifelong dream, that. 

Clive insisted on carrying the burdensome pack up the stairs to their home. It was the last one in a line of row houses, abruptly ending at the dead end street called Bellevue Drive. Next to their home, an empty field stretched out to meet a forest, so it would be pretty quiet. Once inside, Stinkki chirped a hello, and they greeted him warmly. 

“I’ll show you your room,” Clive said, then climbed another set of stairs to the upper story He led me into a small room with a single twin bed and foldable night stand. It was perfect. The adjacent room was empty, save a solitary wardrobe and exercise bike. He said I could use the wardrobe for my things. The third room was theirs and then the bathroom. 

“You have a beautiful home,” I told them when we got back to the main level. 

“Thank you. We’ve been here thirty years already!” Jan said with Stinkki on her shoulder.

“Wow!”

“Raised our son here. We’ll leave his number in case you need anything or there is an emergency. Hungry?”

“Yes. Thank you.” 

“You’re vegetarian, right?”

“I am. Nearly twenty-five years now.”

“Me, too,” she said. “Well, vegan. Clive’s not, but when we eat together, we eat vegan.”

 She shuffled down the length of the long living room, past a long leather couch and wood-burning stove. She turned into the kitchen, just before reaching the dining table situated against the large back window that mirrored the front one. A lot of windows, thankfully with a lot of shades. 

As she passed through the door, Stinkki fluttered up onto the top of it and cocked his head at me. “Hey buddy,” I said to him. He shuffled his feathers uncertainly. “We’re going to be great friends!”

He dive-bombed me, his feet grabbing my hair and beak attacking my hat. 

“Stinkki!” Clive scolded and shooed him away. “Sorry ‘bout that. He doesn’t like hats.”

“Good to know,” I said, doffing my pageboy cap as Stinkki settled back on the top of the door and pooped. 

“Yep. Birds,” Clive said, wiping the poopy plop off the floor with a piece of toilet paper. They kept a roll right on the arm of the sofa. “We just keep this handy. If you get it right away, it doesn’t harden. Gets like cement when it hardens.”

Dinner was a smorgasbord of vegan delights like pita bread and hummus, dolmas, edamame, and steamed veg. Stinkki apparently loved Hummus. He sat right next to Jan on the table, dipping into the hummus tub to get a beak full of chickpea goodness. 

“He’s not spoiled or anything,” Clive said.

“I think it’s great! I love that he eats with you!”

“Oh he eats, all right. Take food right off your fork if you let him,” Jan said. “Here Stinkki.” He wiped the hummus off his beak by rubbing one side and then the other on the wooden table, making new scratches on it, preparing to take the next treat: an edamame bean. Although he took it with his beak, his little foot came up and grabbed it. He folded his talons around it securely, then proceeded to nibble on it a little at a time, never taking his eyes off me. Blinking with that same uncertainty after each new bite. 

After dinner, Stinkki went back up to his favorite door-top perch while the humans got to know each other. They told me all about Stinkki and how they’ve had him for nearly eighteen years. 

“How did you come up with Stinkki,” I asked, not sure if I wanted to hear the answer. 

“He was already named when we got him. We just never changed it,” Jan said. “He doesn’t say many words, but he loves to whistle Magic Moments and the theme to Hawaii Five-Oh!”

“He’ll even surf sometimes,” Clive said standing up. “Watch.”

“Oh this is fun,” Jan said. 

“C’mon Stinkki. Surf!” Clive stood on one leg with his arms spread wide like wings and tilted left, whistling the first six notes of Hawaii Five-Oh. Then he’d tilt the other direction, changing legs, while whistling the second five notes.

Stinkki blinked.

“C’mon, Stinkki!”

Clive did it again, then Jan joined in, save the balancing on one leg, but her arms tilted in tandem with Clive’s. It was quite the sight seeing the big woman and skinny man mimicking a surfing bird while Stinkki looked down and did nothing but tip his head to one side, then the other.

Of course, I joined in the fun! Although I normally got very concerned about people looking in from the outside, I really hoped someone, somewhere saw that. 

After dinner, Clive cleared the table and Jan limped over next to the wood stove and uncovered a cage I hadn’t noticed. There was a chicken inside. 

“This is Bluebelle.” She kneeled on the floor and gathered the beautiful brown chicken into her arms. “She can’t walk anymore, so she stays inside with us. The rest are out back. Clive will show you their routine in the morning. They’re already closed up for the night.”

After scooting across the floor, Jan settled next to the couch and held Bluebelle like a football, cradled in the crook of her arm and tucked close into her side. “Clive?” But he didn’t even need to be asked; he emerged from the kitchen with two soufflé bowls. The small white ceramic sides contained water and seed, with a few blueberries on top. He set them down next to Jan. 

“She loves blueberries. Watch.” Jan held the seed/blueberry mix up to Bluebelle’s beak, and after a second of mental processing, the chicken gobbled up the blueberries, barely swallowing one before grabbing the next. “She won’t eat unless you cuddle with her.” 

Bluebelle kept pecking at the seeds, knocking as much over the sides with each thrust of her little bobbing head. After Bluebelle’s dinner, Jan held up the water, and Bluebelle gathered some in her beak then tilted her head back and let it trickle down. 

Fed and cuddled, the chicken started to purr—like a cat!

“Is she?” 

“Purring. Yep. Didn’t you know chickens purr? They love to be cuddled. Even those up there,” she said, pointing into their back garden. I spend some time each day and snuggle with them. They love it. 

Who’d have thought?

Exhausted from travel and overwhelmed with human interaction, I politely excused myself for the night and went into my safe bedroom.