“Did you have a good night’s sleep, Milady?”
There was a squawk as Colonel Dastoor pulled aside the drape and let the morning sun flood in. The parrot fluttered her wings and settled on her perch while he fed her a chilli.
He slurped his tea and shared the biscuits with Milady, who clattered around in her cage. She then perched on his shoulder while he read the newspaper. After breakfast, he’d sit by the window and watch the world go by.
She had actually been a present for his daughter’s fifth birthday. But the daughter had grown up and flown the nest. His wife too had passed on, and Milady had remained. His faithful companion.
It was the Colonel’s birthday today. There was the usual phone call from America. He couldn’t hear much of what was being said. He stroked Milady’s soft white feathers and made appropriate sounds down the telephone.
“Today, I have a treat for you,” He smiled, offering her three pistachios. “We have shared this long and wonderful journey together. Okay, sometimes hard, especially when Dina would tie a string to your feet and fly you around the garden.”
Milady squawked in reply.
“I’m eighty today, you hear?” Colonel Dastoor laughed out loud. “Who would think that, eh? I have survived two wars. I have shot men down and been rewarded for that. Missed a bullet by a hair. For what? To live all alone in the twilight years. This war against loneliness is the hardest, Milady, and you have helped me through. Who knew, when I bought you, that you’d outlive us all? ”
Colonel Dastoor placed her in a smaller cage. The watchman helped them down to the waiting taxi.
“They don’t allow pets where I’m going, only boring old folks,” he explained to Milady, peering through the bars. “And what would happen when I am gone, eh? I’ll make sure you are looked after. I promise you. I will visit.”
Milady flapped her wings and squawked.
“Don’t worry, Colonel Dastoor,” the manager of the pet sanctuary said in a soothing voice. “Milady will spend the rest of her days in happiness.”
The Colonel nodded. “That’s all I can do for her, really”
He returned a week later to see how Milady was doing. She immediately flew to the front of the cage, fluttering her wings and cocking her head. He offered her three pistachios and smiled.
A week later he went back to visit. But this time Milady did not come to him. She followed another parrot around the cage.
“She has found a mate,” the manager said. “She is happy.” He noticed the Colonel’s downcast expression and hurriedly added, “Parrots don’t have a memory like humans.”
“Indeed, she has found a mate.” He looked at her hopping on the perch, playfully landing on the other parrot and nipping his feathers. They bobbed their heads and called to each other.
“Fifty years together and yet in two weeks she doesn’t remember me,” the Colonel smiled in a resigned fashion. “A wise decision, I must say. I should have learned a thing or two from her.”
“It is time for me to move on,” he said, to no one in particular. He turned around and moved slowly towards the door.
* * *
Susmita Bhattacharya is a writer based in Plymouth, UK. She has an MA in creative writing from the Cardiff University. The Normal State of Mind is her first novel due for publication in 2014 by Parthian Publishers. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, anthologies and online in the UK and internationally including Rarebit-New Welsh Fiction, Structo, Planet, the BBC, Wasafiri, Litro, ElevenEleven (USA), Commuterlit.com (Canada) and Penguin Unplugged (India) among others. Her poems have been published in the Cardiff University Lifelong Learning broadsheet, Anterliwt and in Roundyhouse, a Welsh poetry magazine. She facilitates creative writing workshops at local community groups in Plymouth.