Laura was the first girl I met when I moved away who kept birds. She only had one; a little sparrow which sat on her shoulder like a pirate's parrot. It was there all the time. She didn't even have a cage for it. Everyone knew all about it too.
"You've seen Laura and her sparrow? Isn't it so cute. Like a little child. Lovely to be around."
I was wary at first. I'm pretty good with birds because of all the time I spend with them, but sometimes they can get so arrogant if you leave them out permanently. They grow a kind of overcoming confidence, a dirty reliance. They're not stupid animals. They have minds of their own.
But Laura's sparrow was nice. It sat there on her shoulder and it sang songs, played along with people. It didn't seem to misbehave very often. Sometimes it got over excited and it might overwhelm her for a bit, but I never saw anything too out of hand. I didn't tell Laura that I kept birds right away. I suppose it was kind of selfish and introverted of me, but she found out from other people eventually. I think she was pretty excited when she found out - you would be. She wanted to talk to me about it. I remember the first time when we had a talk.
It was around 2AM, I was wide awake still. My whole sleeping routine was messed up from nights out and the tireless birds in my room; which would keep me up until the early in the morning with their calling and shuffling. Laura sent me a text asking if I wanted to go for a walk in the park. It was easy for me - I could go for a walk whenever I wanted at night, but Laura was a small girl, she had to be a bit more wary. She told me to meet her outside in ten minutes. I put on a scarf and a coat and went and sat on the wall outside my place.
She'd been out earlier that night and was feeling down. Some guy she fancied had told her to leave him alone. He'd hit the sparrow off her shoulder -- or so I'd heard.
Laura walked down the road with a half-stoop, as if she was trying to hide from me. Her shoulders were hugged in, and she wrung her hands around her waist. The sparrow nestled up to her neck, it's head turned so as not to face me. She smiled at me when she got near and I picked up her pace, walking alongside her.
We turned right at the end of my road and walked into the park. The street lamps blushed over the path. The air was still and cold. It was very quiet. We chatted for a while. She told me about the boy who had hit the sparrow off her shoulder. She smiled at me, sheepish and embarrassed. She was fairly sure I would understand, being a boy who keeps birds myself, but I couldn't quite bring myself to give the sympathy needed. To be honest the whole situation somewhat entertained me. I laughed and she looked back at me confused. She couldn't understand how I could make jokes, be bashful, when I kept birds myself. I'd slipped already. Typical.
"I can't read you at all." She said. "You don't make any sense, there must be some big thing. You keep a sparrow too right?"
I did keep a sparrow, she was a more timid, weary thing than Laura's but she was smart too. I told her a couple of stories about my birds to reassure her. I wanted to make up for earlier.
I was starting to feel tired of walking and suggested we sit down on a bench under a tree, coming up ahead. She obliged and we sat down. She rested her head on my shoulder and the sparrows was forced to switch positions to her other side.
"I get on really well with you." She said. I was pretty sure she wasn't just talking about the birds this time.
She told me about her ex-boyfriend, how messed up she was about the whole situation. She told me all of the details and this time I suppose I felt true empathy. She looked into my eyes. She was very tense. She told me about what had happened to her sparrow after they'd broken up.
"She just didn't take it well at all. When we're alone she is so skittish and she wont stop calling. I can't deal with it - I can't deal with looking after her along with everything else. I thought about getting a cage - you have cages don't you? - but I can't. I need to have her here with me. I just don't know what to do."
The sparrow had turned and was looking around at the park. I knew it was listening, and it could understand, but it wasn't allowed to intervene with Laura doing this.
"You know about birds, you've kept them for so much longer than me. Surely you would know what to do with her. Can't you just look after her, just for a bit?"
She didn't understand. I told her I couldn't. I didn't know her bird and I already had my hands full with mine. I couldn't even give her advice because I only knew about my birds. These things aren't transferable.
"You have to. You don't get it. Sometimes she can be horrible, I can't do anything. She'll claw and peck me and I can't do anything back. It's breaking me down. Sometimes she screams all night, she wont let me get any sleep. She seems okay now but she can be so horrible. I need her, I've been with her so long now - you understand that much. You have to."
She pulled up a sleeve and showed me some cuts and bruises. There were marks on her neck too. The bruises were dark and blotchy like faded tattoos.
"You're strong, you're not messed up like me. You're probably one of the most stable people I know. Come on, just for a little you have to look after her!"
She was practically in tears but I couldn't, I really couldn't. We both knew the bird wouldn't come anyway. Her sparrow didn't love me like she loved Laura and she was was too strong. She was a big and bold bird, but beautiful, and unique. Laura began crying and I gave her an awkward hug. The most convincing I could pull out. I felt so sorry for her but it wouldn't come out of me, I couldn't express my sympathy. It looked pathetic in comparison to her - it all just dripped from her shoulders and enveloped the bench. The bird could have been in tears itself. I hoped she would understand and that next time I would be able to help.
Eventually she stopped crying, it didn't take long, she was a hardy little girl. We got up. I held her hand as we both walked home.