1 - Chaos in the Pet Shop

The Wait

The little blue parakeet paced his perch. On one side of his cage, two yellow canaries tweeted and flirted; on the other side, a crazy green parrot bobbed his head, up and down. The tiny blue bird was the only one left in the large parakeet cage at the pet shop. He was more aware that he was confined now that all the twittering and fluttering was gone. All of my brothers and sisters and the other birds went home with people. Why didn’t someone pick me? he wondered.
“Do you think no one took me because I came out of the last egg, and I’m the smallest? Or is there something wrong with me?” he asked the parrot.
“No,” the parrot answered. “It’s just that someone has to be last.”
“But I’m tired of staying here. I want to get a home. Maybe nobody is ever going to take me!”
“Oh, you’re little and cute. Someone will take you,” the old bird assured him. “I’m old and ugly, and I pulled out half of my feathers. No one would want me. I’ll probably have to go to some kind of a shelter.”
“Mama told me that going home with some people would be the most wonderfulest thing in the world. I didn’t want to leave her and Daddy, but she said the people would be my new family. And she said they would love me and take care of me and give me treats. I can’t hardly wait.”
“Yes, that’s good if the people are nice. I just hope you don’t get a mean kid like I had. He was always screaming and yelling and beating on his drums. He used me for target practice and threw rubber balls and beanbags at me, and he squirted his water pistol right in my face. And he did lots of other bad things to me.
“But the worst was when he got his new dog,” the old parrot continued. “He wasn’t interested in me anymore. He left me alone in a dark room with hardly any food and water. No wonder I went crazy and started pulling out my feathers.”
“I sure hope I get somebody nice and quiet who will be good to me,” the small parakeet said.
He darted his head into the feeding cup and then looked up, making soft crackling sounds as he separated the seed from the husk. Just then the bell over the door of the pet shop jingled, and someone came in.
“Hey, look,” the parrot cried. “The little man is back!”
“I sure wish I could go home with him. He’s nice. He wouldn’t throw things at me. I think he likes me. Do you think he will take me?”
“I don’t think so. He’s been here sooo many times. I think he would have taken you before now.” The old parrot paused and then added, “Well, anyway, we’ll get some nice treats. I hope he brings me some cashew nuts this time.”
A very short man, dressed in a sailor cap and wide-bottom jeans, was headed for the parrot’s cage. His T-shirt had a picture of a desert isle on it.
“Here’s something for you, big guy,” he said as he reached into his windbreaker jacket and took out a cashew nut. Then he pulled the cage door down. The large parrot squawked “Hello” and “Thank you” as he came out on the door to get his treat.
The little parakeet paced his perch faster.
“And here’s a treat for you, little fellow,” the man said, moving over to the parakeet cage. He put his hand into the pocket of his jacket again and drew something out.
The little bird looked up. Oh boy, apricot, my favorite. The man opened the cage door and gave the piece of dried fruit to the parakeet, who pecked at it eagerly. Then the tiny bird hopped out on the man’s finger and began singing loudly.
“You’re really excited, aren’t you? You know I’m going to take you home with me today, don’t you?”
“He says he’s going to take you home with him!” the old bird, who understood people talk, told the small bird.
The tiny bird’s heart beat faster. “Wow, it’s just like Mama told me it would be! I’ m going home with this wonderful man! Hooray! This is my lucky day!”
Just as he was warbling and trilling a song of joy, the bell of the pet shop jingled again. The door burst open. “Yay, I’m going to get my bird!” a high-pitched voice screamed.
A little girl with dark curls and dark blue eyes rushed toward the bird area. Following behind her was a woman with brown hair, pushing a baby in his stroller.
The girl went to the man and looked him right in the eye, as they were about the same size. “That’s my bird,” she cried. “You can’t have her.”
The shopkeeper came over. “I promised the bird to this gentleman here,” he explained.
“Elissa Rosen! Shame on you! Quiet down! I know how disappointed you are, but this man claimed it first,” her mother said, her blue eyes flashing. “You apologize to him right now.”
The little girl looked down and muttered, “I’m sorry.”
“But, Mom, Dad promised me a bird,” she pleaded, looking at her mother. “I cleaned up my room every day, and set the table, and everything. That’s not fair!” she screamed, exploding into tears.
“I can’t break this little girl’s heart,” the man said softly to Mrs. Rosen. He turned to the little girl and said, “Don’t cry. It’s okay. You can have the bird.”
“Thank you! Thank you! I’m so glad to get my birdie. I wanted her so much,” Elissa replied.
“That was so kind of you. Thank you so much. I’m sorry about the way Elissa acted,” Elissa’s mother told the man.
“That’s all right,” the man assured her. “I like the little bird, but I have a dog. And I’m very busy, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take care of two pets, anyway. You’re going to like this bird. He’s a friendly little fellow.” He said to Elissa.

The Chase

The girl put her finger out to take the bird from the man. The tiny parakeet drew back and shrieked. I’ve got to get away. I can’t go with this little girl. She’s not nice. She’s noisy and rude. I want to go home with this little man. He’s nice; he brings me treats. I haven’t learned how to fly yet, but I’ve got to trynow! Fly! Fly!
In a mighty effort he flapped his wings. This lifted him up a little bit, but he crashed right into the parrot and then flopped down onto the floor.

The nervous old parrot screeched and took off flying. He flew around and around in spirals, higher and higher. The shopkeeper and his wife gasped as the old bird bumped into a blade of the ceiling fan. This knocked him lower. He flew down and landed on the shopkeeper’s wife’s head. His claws sank into her hair. When he took off again, he lifted her wig right off of her head. Then he flew around with the wig dangling from his talons.
“Mercy! Mercy!” the shopkeeper’s wife screamed as she put her hands up to cover her naked head. “Stop him, Ed! Stop him!”
In the meantime, when the terrified parakeet felt his feet on the floor, he took off the only way he could. RUN! RUN!
Scurrying down the main aisle, he turned at the pet food section. The little girl and the shopkeeper’s son raced behind him. The shopkeeper’s golden retriever that had been dozing near the dog food counter heard the commotion. He joined in the chase, wildly barking all the while.
The people were more desperate now than ever. They not only feared the bird would get away or get hurt, but he could wind up caught in the jaws of the dog.
The little girl turned a corner, running after the bird, and knocked over a box of “Bouncy Bunny Rabbit Food.” It spilled onto the floor. Coming behind her, the shopkeeper’s son slipped on the pellets and fell.
As the bird ran on to the fish aisle, the girl upset a goldfish bowl. The goldfish sloshed out with half of the water. The poor goldfish flopped and gasped on the floor. Luckily, the little man picked the fish up just in time and put it safely back into the bowl. Then he raced on after the dog, barely missing the stack of “Dr. Barker’s All-Purpose Dewormer and Mange Medicine.”
While the other people were chasing the parakeet, the shopkeeper was after the old parrot. He got a long-handled net and leaped onto a table. Dashing down the table, he overturned three bags of “Bowwow Dog Chow,” five cartons of “Puppy Grow Pep Pellets,” and seven bags of “Tweet Treat Birdie Yum Yums.”
At last, the large bird flew—kerthump—right into the net, and the wig fell down to the floor. The shopkeeper put the rattled old parrot back in his cage and shut the door. The shopkeeper’s wife picked up the wig and put it back on her head. She did not seem to know that she had put her wig on backwards, as she patted it down and tried to look dignified.
On the other side of the shop, the dog was gaining. Finally, the tired little bird ran into a corner. The people held their breath as the dog headed toward the bird. But the shopkeeper’s son snatched the helpless parakeet up just in time.
He took the shivering bird and dropped him into a small box. At first the parakeet was stunned. When the young man closed the lid, the tiny animal was terrified. It’s dark in here! I can’t breathe! I’m smothering! He tried to claw his way up the sides of the box, but he couldn’t get a good hold. He tried to jump up out of the box, but the lid was fastened tight.
The small bird soon found the box had airholes—that was relief! But he was still frightened. He squeaked and squawked. “Help! Help!” he was crying in parakeet screams. Why doesn’t the little man come and get me? He’s my friend. Why doesn’t he help me? What are these people going to do to me? It’s not supposed to happen this way! Mama told me going home with “my people” would be the happiest day of my life.
The shopkeeper’s son waited with the box at the checkout counter. “Ma’am, you will need birdseed, grit, and a cuttlebone for your bird,” he said as he assembled those items on the counter. “Will you need a cage?”
“Please ring up the supplies, but I won’t need a cage. Our neighbor gave us one that should do just fine. Thank you so much for your help.” Mrs. Rosen gave the young man her Visa card.
Elissa’s mom took a last look back at the pet shop. The shopkeeper’s wife was sprawled out on a stool, fanning herself. The little man was bringing her a glass of water. The shopkeeper was busy picking things up. The place was a wreck with boxes overturned, pet food spilled, and a puddle of water on the floor.
“What a mess,” Elissa’s mom sighed. “I’m sorry for all the trouble we’ve caused.”
The shopkeeper’s son smiled, wearily. “That’s all right. Don’t worry about it. We appreciate your business, Mrs. Rosen. I hope your daughter is happy with her bird.” He handed Elissa’s mother the bag of the bird supplies. He handed Elissa the box with her bird.
As Elissa and her mom headed toward the door, the little girl bumped against the baby.
“Watch what you’re doing, Elissa. You’ll hurt Timmy,” her mother cautioned her. She rubbed the auburn-colored fuzz on the baby’s head as if he really had been hurt. Little Timmy looked up with his soft brown eyes. And he smiled a smile as vacant as his almost toothless mouth.
“Ah, you’re always worrying about the baby. I didn’t hurt him,” the child grumbled.
“Just be careful, Elissa. Babies are delicate.” her mother reminded her.
As they walked out the Perth Amboy Pet Shop sign over the door swayed slightly in the autumn breeze. They went on down Smith Street, where a small green car was waiting for them.
Mrs. Rosen fastened the baby in his seat in the back and then helped her daughter get into her booster seat. Bouncing the box up and down on her knees the little girl chanted: “I’m so happy, I’m so happy. I’ve got the prettiest little bird in the whole wide world.” The scared bird felt dizzy and sick even before the car started.
As they drove along the streets of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, thoughts tumbled through the little parakeet’s head like clothes in a dryer. Why am I in this box? Why am I going home with this noisy girl? Why didn’t the little man take me with him? What is going to happen to me? Is this little girl going to be mean to me? Her mother seems nice. Will she be good to me? And, more important, where am I going?
Soon the car stopped in front of a small white house with green trim.