The Bookish Bird

by b

“你好”? “你好?” “恭喜发财”?

“你妈的逼,” screamed 文文 the black parrot in response at the three Chinese older women outside the bird shop, who had tried to engage him in a light conversation. They looked at each other in disbelief, looked at me for some kind of explanation, then again at 文文 the black parrot, now quite and uninterested. I could hear the fat and bald shop owner giggle from the back of the shop. The big black dog gave off a big bark from his undersized cage placed right beneath the bird cage, next to a big carton box containing baby rabbits.

I was used to walking through the animal market every afternoon on my way back from work, and had gotten used to spending 20 minutes or so with 文文. He was mostly a very polite little creature, and greetings and nice phrases such as “欢迎光临” was all I had ever heard him say. Odd. The ladies walked off shaking their heads. I felt puzzled, yet oddly encouraged; Shanghai apparently still held surprises for me.

The next day I came again, and was greeted as usual with a screechy “你好.” Hi yourself Wenwen, I said. The shopkeeper came out to make chit chat about the weather, all the while polishing his bald head with a dirty grey rag. “才三月份已经这么热我操,” he said. I nodded, fucking horrible. “我操,” added 文文 in a high pitched, all-penetrating voice. We looked at him. He looked at us. “真你妈热,” he added, almost in a thoughtful tone. The shopkeeper sighed. “The bird’s mind is going I’m afraid, he’s getting worse everyday, last night he called the passing 城管 a pack of stinky pigs asses. I have no explanation really where he gets it, 他妈的.” I had my thoughts where he might be picking up the foul language, but kept my thoughts to myself.

The next afternoon I was distracted by a pretty dramatic car accident on 新闸路, and arrive at the little store quite a lot later than usually. “你好文文,” I tried. “You’re late you stinky foreign cock sucker,” was his reply in pitch perfect English. This was getting confusing now. The shop owner just looked at me and shook his head. “You see he said, it’s not my doings.” So it would appear, I had to agree.

“文文,” I said, directly addressing the little black bird, what’s going on with you? You used to be such a polite little creature.

He looked me straight in the eyes, his tiny eye balls an impenetrable black. He glanced back at the show owner, head turn 180 degrees, seemingly to confirm that no one was listening. “Come closer,” he whispered. I took a step forward towards the cage. “Closer”, he insisted. The cage was hung too high for me to get any closer like this, so I pulled out the black dogs cage from the wall, and stepped up on it. My face was now directly in front of the cage, a mere couple of centimetres from Wenwen’s beak. “You’re right B,” he whispered gently, with an almost feminine voice. “I have warmness for the world in me too, I promise. I could recite poetry and passages from the 庄子 instead, I could give compliments to the pretty girls walking by, and I could encourage the ugly ones by singing to them. I would comfort you B. when you’re tired and lonely, when the world is all too much for you, when this city that you hate has ruined yet another promising day for you I’d lay my little beak on your hands and sing lullabies for you until you go to sleep.”

I could feel the black dog moving around nervously in the cage I was stood upon. In the eloquent little feather friend’s eyes had taken on a lighter colour now, almost bluish it seemed.

“Let me out of this tiny cage B. Please. I can be a good bird, but never from in here.”

The black dog was jumping up and down in his cage now, barking like mad, and the shop keeper had spotted me in this odd position, on his way now out of the shop, no doubt to ask me what the hell I thought I was doing.

I didn’t really think about it; with one swift manoeuvre I opened the latch, and Wenwen shot straight out of the cage, bumped into my forehead and sending me flying backwards into the ground, overturning the black dog’s cage as well, throwing it open.

I just laid there on my back, in the midst of the chaos I had created. Not really hearing the mad dog start tearing apart the rabbit babies from the shop next door, not being able to acknowledge the bald shop keepers horrific insults directed at me, and only vaguely aware of the steady trickle of blood emanating from my forehead.

Straight above me Wenwen performed two slow and elegant circles, all the while looking straight at me. “wrheeeeee!” he screamed, “whreeeeee,” his eyes again black as the night. He looked away, up towards the marvellously blue sky and disappeared.