“Bro, calm down,” I said, desperately trying to keep my iPhone from falling off my shoulder with my cheek. “Wait a sec,” I hastily set down the cardboard boxes I was holding, causing the cages within to rattle. The noise of metal against metal unleashed turmoil among the many parrots sitting in their own cages. Cages not bound by cardboard boxes. And they were all falling asleep just a few minutes prior. Luckily for me, they calmed down pretty quickly. My hands were now free to hold my phone. “Listen, Joe. I can’t come over. I’m really sorry. I just can’t leave the shop unattended now, there’s so much to unpack.”
Joe sounded drunk. He was sobbing uncontrollably. It was the worst he sounded since the last couple of months. Since the divorce. The sun setting beyond the shop’s large window dyed the place a deep crimson. A young couple passing by stopped to watch the bald rats snuggling in a cage that was deliberately placed there to attract customers. I couldn’t tell if their faces expressed intrigue or disgust, but I always felt bad for the poor rats in such cases. That was a pretty calculated move on the boss’s part, but I doubt the rats liked that.
I could barely understand what Joe was saying through all that sobbing. “Listen, I got a day off tomorrow. Maybe we can go cycling? At the usual spot. I know,” I said as he kept insisting he had something important to talk about. “I know you have something to say, but I want to hear it from you when you’re sober, okay? So just get yourself together and we can talk tomorrow. See you there, man.” With a defeated Okay he hung up. I put my phone back in my pocket when I heard a flutter of wings. Bradley the cockatiel was sitting on my shoulder now, staring at me with his beady eyes, whistling Fly me to the Moon, just like Veronica, my co-worker, had taught him. He bowed his head, as he usually did when he sat on my shoulder, urging me to give him a cheek-hug. And so I did. He was nice enough to return to his cage on his own, though I still had to close it.
Of course, Bradley was what we called him at the shop, but we all knew he’d get a new name once someone bought him. I was seriously considering doing just that – buying him with my own hard-earned cash, but I don’t think Ginger the cat would be pleased about that. Or maybe she’d be too pleased, it’s hard to say. I went back to take care of the boxes at the back of the shop, when I heard a commotion in the bird cages again. This time, it was the lovebirds. A pair was clawing at each other, it looked pretty serious. I had to reach in and separate them. I put the one I had in my right hand in one of the empty cages, not sure if it was the male or the female. Everything went back to normal again. It was bizarre. I’d heard of this happening from the other co-workers, but I’d never seen it myself. Apparently, this couple would fight viciously, but when you separated them, they would just keep pining for each other. When they’d get back together, it’d be fine for a while, but then they’d scratch and peck at each other again, feathers flying all around the place. And indeed, the bird in the empty cage was staring back at the cage where his partner was. It was kind of a sad view. None of us could ever get to why this was happening. I didn’t even know lovebirds could have arguments.
It was completely dark outside when I was done with unpacking all the new stuff. As I rode back home, I kept thinking about Joe and his failed marriage. That was so bizarre. They always looked like such a happy couple when we all got together, Joe and Marie. They’d been married for five years or so, before they divorced. And it really seemed like they’d split up on good terms. And yet we could never all meet again anymore. It’s like none of them ever wanted to be around the other anymore. Joe was holding up and we met up often. He was my best friend, but he never really told me anything about why they got divorced. And I’d heard some nasty gossip – that they’d been cheating on each other that whole time, or that one of them was secretly gay, but I never believed any of that. What I did know, however, was that they really wanted to have a kid, but couldn’t conceive. But was a couple of miscarriages really what ultimately ruined their marriage? I kept thinking about it for a couple more hours, as I lay in bed, ready to sleep, stroking the cat that kept purring and rubbing her face into mine.