African Gray

I went to Petland pet store the other day to buy food for my fish.  While I was there, I stopped, as I always do, to view the birds for sale.  I can stand in front of their cages, rapt, for many minutes.  The birds are so beautiful to me that I can hardly stand it.  Even the commonest finch or parakeet enchants me. 
            In one cage was an African Gray.  I could tell it was an adolescent by its size and the fact that its tail wasn’t fully red.  I crouched in front of the cage and held still.  The gray fluffed the feathers on its nape and took me in with its eyes.  Contact.  Now we were experiencing each other.  I looked at the individual feathers on its face, the magnificent and sensitive beak, the reptilian feet, covered in scales.  I could see it breathing, watched its breast rise and fall.
            “Hello, sweetling,” I whispered.  “How are you, precious?”
            The gray cocked its head.  It seemed to be considering.  Then, after a minute, it started to walk on its perch to the front of the cage.  As I sat there, frozen, it grabbed the cage bars with its feet and started to climb towards me.  Then it stopped,  directly in front of my face.
            “Hello,” I said.  “You are wonderful.” 
            We looked at each other.
            “Would you like to be touched?”  I held my hand in front of her face so that she could see it.  Then I slowly stuck a finger through the bars.
            The gray lowered its head for a scratch. 
            My heart melted.
            Its feathers were soft and slippery.  There is nothing like the feeling of feathers.  They feel magical. I scratched the parrot’s head behind its ear. 
            A shop employee, a teenaged boy, walked behind me and paused.  “Uh, miss, you might want to be careful with that!  That bird is mean!”
            Mean?  There is practically no such thing as a mean animal.  I asked the boy if he knew anything about the bird.  He told me that it was female and had lived at the store for nine months.  I winced.  The pet store was an awful environment for a bird.  Especially an impressionable adolescent.  I was seized by a burning desire to rescue her.  
            I looked at the price tag on the cage.  She cost eleven hundred dollars.  I had the money…but the cost of a new cage…vet bills…and an African Gray was a huge commitment—the bird could live for fifty years…
            I apologized to her and withdrew my hand.  When I turned my back on her, she was still hanging on her cage bars, looking at me. 
            I don’t go to that pet shop anymore.  I’m worried that she’ll still be there.  I’m also worried that she won’t be.  It’s funny, the strong emotional reaction I had.  I’m embarrassed to tell anyone about it.  But I will tell you.

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