Auntie Cheryl’s Birds

by Sarah Venable

Birds behind bars by Cheryl Hutchinson
Auntie Cheryl lived in a big, quiet house by herself. One night she heard odd noises in the roof. It sounded like scratching. And it sounded like ‘eep eep eep!’

The next morning she asked her gardener, Thomas, to climb the ladder and see what was up there. He came down with two baby birds, tiny enough to fit in a child’s hand. The mother of the baby birds had flown off, frightened at the sight of Thomas.

The birds were so young that they did not have feathers yet. They had nothing to keep them from getting cold at night. They could not fly. They could not even feed themselves. The babies needed to be taken care of, and that is exactly what Auntie Cheryl did. She had worked in a zoo, so she knew what to do.

She hoped that they would learn to talk. Parakeets can, you know, and that’s what kind of birds they were. She started with “Hello.”

She asked Thomas to make them a snug little house to live in on the patio. There they would be warm enough, and safe from the neighbour’s cat.

She made them baby food of porridge with mashed banana. The birds opened their beaks wide, and she dropped the food in with a medicine dropper.

When they heard Auntie Cheryl’s footsteps, the parakeets squawked loudly, saying “Feed us! Feed us!” in bird language. They liked to be fed three times a day. It was a lot of work, but Auntie Cheryl enjoyed seeing them grow.

As the birds grew, something happened in their skin. Little things that looked like toothpicks started poking out. These pointy things grew longer, and then fluffy white, then green. These were feathers growing! The birds liked to be scratched softly behind their newly feathered heads.

Auntie Cheryl talked to them sweetly. “Hello, Miss Birdy. Hello, Mr. Bird.”

Those were the names she had given them: Miss Birdy and Mr. Bird.

“Gyawh. Gyawh,” they answered.

Maybe one day they would copy the sound of her ‘hello’. Soon the birds got bigger and stronger. They could now eat seeds and nuts and bits of fruit, all by themselves. They liked to grip a nut in their claws, so they could bite at it.

Auntie Cheryl put them in a cage where they could see a lot more, and climb the bars for exercise.

“Hello,” said Auntie Cheryl when she brought their food. They cocked their heads to the side and listened. Mr. Bird stopped answering “Gyawh.” Now he whistled back: “Wheh-oh.” It was almost like ‘hello’.

Auntie Cheryl by Nakazzi
They still could not fly. Auntie Cheryl took them out of the cage and let them walk on her shoulder. They nibbled her ear lobes. They climbed on her head, and used their reddish beaks to explore her hair. It was fun for all of them.

Over time, they grew beautiful, sleek feathers and long tails. When they grew up, they would have a thin black stripe around their necks. For now, they flapped their wings, practicing to fly. They were no longer allowed to come out of their cage, except inside Auntie Cheryl’s house. They flew across the front room and climbed the drawn window blinds. She had to catch them and put them back in the cage.

Then they began to bite her when she took them in her hands. It hurt. Still, she was gentle and patient. She knew this was just something they do at that age.

The parakeets needed someplace larger to live in. Thomas made them a wire cage, big enough for them to fly a little from side to side. Auntie Cheryl put it in the garden, in the shade of the dwarf bamboo. From here they could watch the wild birds that gathered in the guava tree. There were doves and sparrows, blackbirds and yellow-breasts, coming and going as they pleased.

Auntie Cheryl thought that the parakeets wanted to join them, to fly and see the beautiful world around them. Poor birdies, trapped in a cage. What would happen if she set them free? A cat might hurt them as they slept. Someone might catch them and sell them as pets. Or they might forget all about her and never come back.

Auntie Cheryl didn’t know what to do. Many nights she lay awake, worrying. Finally she decided to let them go. It would make them happy.

The next day she opened the cage door and stood back. Out went Miss Birdy, straight into the sky. Mr. Bird flew from the edge of the door to the guava tree. He took some bites of fruit and then flew away without looking back. “Goodbye,” said Auntie Cheryl in a shaky voice.

The morning after, she took food and water to the cage. She hoped the birds might come home to eat. But they didn’t come, and the other birds ate it.

Wild bird visiting in tree by Cheryl Hutchinson
Three days later Auntie Cheryl heard parakeets squawking. She grabbed some nuts and hurried outside to see. A flock of six perched on the electric wire. Up so high, they all looked alike. Were two of them her birds?

“Hello!” she called, “Hello!”

One flew down—Mr. Bird! She opened her hand full of nuts. He stepped onto it and ate, but wouldn’t let her scratch behind his head. Instead he bit her finger. Then he flew off with his new friends.

A few days later, Auntie Cheryl heard a bird whistling “Wheh-oh!” Mr. Bird was calling her! She rushed out with some food. He swooped down and ate from her hand. She didn’t try to touch his body, and he didn’t bite her.

From then on, Mr. Bird would visit Auntie Cheryl most afternoons, whistling “Wheh-oh” to say “I’m here, come out!” He would hop up on her shoulder and let her scratch behind his head, and show her his happiness by puffing up his feathers.

Auntie Cheryl was always delighted to see Mr. Bird. She knew that he loved her. And she was glad that she had set him free.

Miss Birdy never came back. She probably got busy with babies of her own. Mr. Bird never learned to say the word ‘hello’, but that didn’t matter to Auntie Cheryl. “Wheh-oh” worked just fine.


About the author...

Sarah Venable was born in the United States, educated all over the world, and has lived in the Caribbean since 1992. This broad perspective influences her work as a writer, painter, tutor, and culinary creator. Her poetry, fiction and nonfiction has been published in regional and Barbadian magazines such as Maco and Ins & Outs of Barbados, Poui, in a previous issue of Anansesem, and in The Truth About Oranges, an anthology of NIFCA-winning work. Having come out of the poet’s closet a few years ago, she is preparing to open another door with her collection of children’s stories. Meanwhile, working with children in the WISE (Writers in Schools and Education) programme gives her a pleasurable challenge which sometimes leaves her hoarse. She lives in Barbados.

About the photographers

Cheryl Hutchinson has been photographing since the early 1980s. Her photographs have appeared in Select Barbados, Our Heritage, Life in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and GAA Magazine. She lives in Barbados.

Nakazzi Hutchinson graduated from the Sculpture department at the Jamaica School of Art in 2000. She spent her early years in Barbados and now lives in Jamaica. She has exhibited extensively in museums and galleries across the Caribbean and internationally in places such as Miami, New York and Berlin.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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  1. Sarah, I love this! Wonderful storytelling. Felt like I was raising those birds! Well done, Cheryl and Nakazzi, too.

  2. Having visited these birds since they were tiny babies in the palm of Cheryl's hand, it is wonderful to see the considerable skill of this writer turn it into a lovely children's story. Congrats Sarah! Hope I can read it to my Story Club kids.



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