They were invited to a showing at the local theatre. Attendees were told nothing about it, only to come with a set of open eyes. Not everyone had a pair of those, and it was easy to see who did and did not, once the show began. Fifty parrots in bronzed cages — wearing name tags such as “Suzanne” and “Lucy” and “Bill” — were behind the curtain and when it opened, the squawking commenced. In no time, the auditorium became a racket, an overlapping waterfall of messages like this: When I was sixteen / when I was twenty-four / when I was seventy-six / it was someone I knew / it was someone I didn’t know / it was someone who knew me / and it went on as such. Most attendees became uncomfortable. Several became confused. Others, who couldn’t hear very well, were more than confused. They had come for entertainment and had gotten nothing but noise. A few wondered when it would be over, or if there would be a second and third act, or if they could get their money and time back, or if any pretty ladies — possibly named “Suzanne” or “Lucy” or “Bill” — in pretty bird costumes would come on soon. But before anyone could find someone to complain at, the noise ceased. Subsequently, a spotlight made its way around the black stage and one parrot at a time was given a moment to speak, while all others remained deadly quiet. First was the blue and green parrot. The largest of the bunch. With wide, teacup eyes and a rasp in its throat, it sang: When I was thirteen / it was my pastor.
One apricot-haired teenage girl in the audience had gone to the show with her parents. Her step-father, who was a banker and whose jaw hung unglued, was perhaps processing, and her mother, who was an artist and seemed all too comfortable with the show, as if it were nothing new, was perhaps feeling numb. Checking her email, for instance, when attendees were instructed to leave their phones at the door. At the end of the show, after fifty parrots had said their piece, the birds were offered up for auction. The biddings started at four hundred dollars and all proceeds would go to the cause. The teenager decided to bid the entirety of what she had been saving for the last year, which was about four hundred twenty-three dollars and some change. She bid on the apricot-colored parrot in the back, the one whose squawk was quiet, whose beak was broken and scarred. It’s an obvious match, she said to no one. On the taxi ride home, sitting between her mother and step-father, the bronzed cage sat heavy on her lap. The teenage girl and her mother and her step-father all remained silent, the soft beat of the taxi below them, cool air from the cracked window sweetening the vehicle inside. The teenage girl opened the cage with a prayer and a tremble. She took the parrot out and whispered something into its ear, and then, with her words, it spoke.