When I was a youth – a callow, craven, cowhearted thing of 15 or so – my father had a bright yellow budgie called Tina.
Why my father chose to christen this bright yellow budgie Tina is anyone’s guess, but in truth, it never struck me as a particularly unusual name. Whenever I tell people the story of Tina, however, the mention of her name always causes something of an incredulous kerfuffle, like he’d christened a baby girl Lumbago or Cockring. Anyhow, apparently foolish name aside, Tina was a delight.
Her cage door was open all day and she’d forever be out and about, flying hither and thither, chattering away, perched on picture frames and shitting on the faded Turner print we had hanging in the living room. Amongst her other tricks were tightrope walking (on a line of wool from my mother’s knitting), sharing apples with whomever happened to be eating one, and speaking the words ‘help me’ in moments of apparent distress.
We ignored her.
Unfortunately, six months or so into Tina’s short life, she developed a growth, on her back, where the wings meet. The growth grew, as growths do, and what began as a harmless if unpleasant-looking scab transmogrified into a veritable cigarette butt of what we could only hope was not cancer, but was just some weird budgie-scab. Of course, there was no internet in those days, so people without money for avian vets would just stumble around in the darkness like Homer Simpson in a room full of rakes.
After a while, however, the growth became so cumbersome that, in a moment of activity, it just dropped off. We were relieved. However, when it then began to grow back again, my father felt that the time had come to act. At that time in his life, he was attending some kind of day centre for the physically distressed once or twice a week. There he shared Tina’s symptoms with another attendee, one who claimed some level of expertise where caged birds were concerned.
What happened then was that my dad brought the birdman to our flat to see Tina, the birdman took one look at the scab on her back and nodded his head knowingly. Then, with my father’s consent, the birdman took Tina carefully into his hands and he strangled her.
Apparently, Tina’s last words were ‘help me’.
(To be fair, her only words were ‘help me’. And to be absolutely fair, they didn’t sound that much like ‘help me’ either. Although slightly more convincing than that dog that said ‘sausages’. And we didn’t have to manipulate Tina’s beak in order to get her to do it, so I suppose we come out of the whole thing smelling slightly less tawdry than Esther Rantzen.)
Anyway, that day when I got home from school, Tina was gone. (Down the rubbish chute).
Five years later, it was my dad’s turn. (Yep.)