Arnie is – well, it’s still hard to say – was, my canary. My yellow-breasted bird that has been my companion for more than five years. That bird was a real twitter. I got him because I wanted to nurture a life that would give nothing back to me.
Well yes, it did give me songs every morning. It sang its little lungs out every day, mornings most especially. When the weather got windy or began to rain, no matter how late in the night, I would drag myself from bed to bring in my little bird who would have been whining in its cage.
There was a night I brought Arnie in and forgot to put off the light. Arnie mistook the light for day and sang throughout the night. The following day, when I put its cage outside, I found a cranky bird. Its feathers fluffed and it behaved quite erratically. It took me time to realise my Arnie didn’t sleep and so was upset.
On some days, when Arnie got fussy, I would start whistling a song. My little birdie would cock its head aside, listen for a while and cue in.
Did we have a bond? I like to think we did. I like to think that the small spurts of whining sound it made when I woke up in the midnight to bring its cage in on windy nights were sounds acknowledging its gratitude. Those same sounds meant appreciation when I cleaned its cage. And when I changed its water and poured fresh bird seeds in its cup.
Arnie had a special place in my heart
I like to think that on the days I bought tatase and opened its pod to Arnie to peck at its juice and Arnie would instead go for my fingers. I like to think that was him playing with me, asking why it took me days to bring the chili.
My kids and partner weren’t too impressed with my ties to Arnie. ‘If you truly love Arnie, you will set him free…He just may come back to you.’ My kids scoffed every time they saw me cooing over Arnie.
Why would I do a crazy thing like that?
I never planned to set Arnie free. I was always afraid he wouldn’t come back to me. That he would fly high and wide and even if he wanted to come back, he would never be able to find me again. So, I kept him locked up; no point giving both of us a heartache.
That’s why I named it Arnie, after Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But even though Arnold always said, “I’ll be back!” at the end of most of his movies, I knew this bird won’t come back if I let it go, so I named it Arnie…
Every time I traveled, I would always call to inquire about Arnie. I would leave him with one of our staff, who received the same instructions every time Arnie stayed with him.
‘Check on him frequently; don’t assume anything. Don’t give him that kind of seed, only this type. Bring him in when it gets windy…’
This often ruffled my partner’s feathers.
‘He’s a wild thing for God’s sake. Why are you treating this bird like a child?!’
Little birdie survived several crises
I never listened to him when it came to Arnie. I never paid attention to his comments until one day when I came back from church and found Arnie had fallen from its perch and had dropped into its bowl of water. Strange, what’s more, it looked like something had attacked it.
I panicked and called my partner. He didn’t pick my call, so I texted.
‘Arnie is sick, he fell into its bowl of water.” I took a shot of a shivering Arnie and sent to him.
“Quick, use your dryer. Dry its feathers quickly. It will also provide some warmth.’
That was what saved Arnie, that day. In no time, my yellow breast was singing as loudly as its lungs could muster.
‘So you love Arnie after all?’ I texted back. He didn’t reply.
After accusing me of loving that bird more than the humans that surround me and saying to me several times, ‘Keep that wild thing outside’, whenever I brought Arnie to his home and I would reply, ‘He is not wild, he loves you, he is a child…’ to which he always responded: ‘I know my children and Arnie isn’t one of them.’ He loved the bird!
Arnie lived even after a hawk tried to unhook its cage from the wall of the balcony and fly off with it. I screamed loudly, even though I was scared of the huge wings flapping over my bird’s cage. The hawk wouldn’t let go and I wouldn’t let it have my Arnie.
Thankfully, a neighbor threw a stone at the hawk and it let go.
Another time, I heard plenty of squawking, wings flapping. I raced to catch a falcon shaking Arnie’s cage violently.
My birdie left me!
It pecked several times at the cage, trying to pick Arnie in its hooked beak. Again, I screamed for help as the bird and I fought for Arnie.
The poor darling was so frightened in its cage. I feared it would die of a heart attack as it flapped wildly.
Why do I have this bird?
I chose Arnie, a canary, because he stole my heart. At just two-weeks old, I pointed him out among the birds in the aviary where I went to get one.
He’s just two weeks old, the man selling told me…’
“He’s what I want.’
Arnie died when I wasn’t looking. I came back from work and wanted to clean its cage and give it fresh seeds like I planned before I rushed off for a morning meeting earlier that day. I came back, whistling at it and expecting its happy response.
There was none. I looked up and the bird wasn’t in its perch. It had dropped to the floor of the cage, one bony leg stuck out from under.
My heart sank. I knew Arnie was gone! What could be responsible? Did a bird of prey attack? Did Arnie fall into its water? Very unlikely but it had happened once and must have been due to an external force…
I’ll never know.
I called for help. I couldn’t even go near the cage. In fact, I didn’t want to remember my little twitter dead. So, I refused to look when it was carried away from the balcony.
Arnie, my darling canary, has flown away at last.
I loved it too much to set it free!