In the holidays before my final year of high school, a very special little creature came into my life.
I gave my birds a nesting box in the spring, knowing Tina and Alex would waste no time in laying a clutch of eggs. I timed it so that the babies would be growing up during my holidays. I would have six glorious weeks to spend with the chicks, taming my favourite to become a pet.
I chose the youngest. It was a bit of a runt. I tried to hand feed it on occasion but it always kept its head to one side so it was almost impossible to get a spoon in its beak. As the older babies began to leave the nest, the little runt would sit at the nesting box door, poking its head out, but never having the courage to leave. Eventually, I had to take it out myself, and sat the fat little baby in the seed dish, forcing it to learn how to perch.
I named it Bernard Fanning, as I was a huge Powderfinger fan at the time. It takes a year to know the gender of a cockatiel, so in the event that the baby didn’t lose it’s yellow feathers, I would change her name to Bernadette.
She was always just Bernie, though.
Bernie was by nature an anxious bird. She never liked sitting on shoulders or being left to her own devices in large open spaces. She preferred to be held, or to nuzzle under your chin, or find a nice little corner of the couch to claim as her own. For some reason though, she found heavy metal music and violent television calming. She was weird like that.
Bernie never really seemed like a real bird. The fluffy feathers on her tummy always stuck out at the sides, giving her a decidedly non-aerodynamic silhouette. She was more like a plush toy.
And I could cuddle her just like a plush toy, too. She would let me hug her and squeeze her and put her head in my mouth, all without complaint. She returned my affections by trying to bite off my freckles and chew on my eyelids. It was her way of preening me.
She had better luck preening my boyfriend’s beard. He would tolerate her until the gentle preening turned to hair pulling, which it always did after a few seconds.
She liked to look at the world from strange angles, flipping her head upside down over her back like something out of The Exorcist.
In the spring, she would become clucky, but didn’t really understand what it all meant. She would do this bizarre mating dance where she would flatten her back and whimper seductively, hoping to entice a male. Sometimes she would do this under my chin, despite me telling her repeatedly that I just didn’t feel that way about her. But most of the time she did her dance while submerged in her water dish. One time she went straight to the seed dish after performing her sexy dance and ended up getting seed stuck all over her soggy undercarriage. You could see the conflict in her little face – discomfort vs. portable snacks.
Despite lacking a partner, she would still lay eggs from time to time. She didn’t know what to do with them once she laid them though. I once saw her attempt to incubate an egg by clasping a foot over the egg and licking it.
My favourite memory of Bernie is the time she laid an egg on the couch. She had been happily watching tv with me when suddenly she became distressed. She hurried to the corner of the couch and huddled there, fussing over the upholstery as she tried to create a nest. Little eyes bulging slightly, she lifted her tail, shuffled backwards, and popped out an egg. This in itself was incredible to witness, but the best was yet to come. Suddenly finding herself a whole egg lighter at the back end, she lost he balance, and tipped forward like a see-saw right onto her face.
Besides failing at reproduction, Bernie’s other favourite hobby was eating things. Especially things you didn’t want her to eat. I spent many meals passing my plate from hand to hand as she ran up one arm and then the other, trying desperately to get to my food. Her favourites included brioche, pizza and sherbet. We gave her a little bit of sherbet once to see what would happen and she got so excited you could almost see her pupils dilate like a scene out of Requiem For A Dream. We didn’t let her form a habit.
Weekends are the hardest now. That was when I spent the most amount of time with Bernie, watching TV together as she sat contentedly on the coffee table, enjoying the breeze from the fan. Sometimes we played video games together, but she would get annoyed that I wasn’t petting her and would bite me until I stopped playing and gave her more attention. She could be really annoying sometimes. Even my other birds seemed irritated by her. But that was what made her so awesome. She had no fucks to give. She was weird and unconventional and completely unique. She did things birds weren’t really supposed to do.
When I was home alone I would tell people I was having a girls night in, which actually just meant me and Bernie, taking silly photos together and hanging out like two best friends.
She was my best friend.
I bought a rose bush to plant over her grave. It has flowers that change colour, from pink, to yellow, to white – all colours that were part of Bernie. If I ever leave this house I can take the rosebush out of the garden and take the rose, and part of Bernie, with me.
People understand the heartache of losing a cat or dog, but few people realise that a little bird can hold just as much love in its delicate body as any animal five times its size. She was small, but her character was gigantic. Her loss has left an incomprehensibly huge hole in my heart. Yet I am glad to have known her, and loved her. I will remember her always.