HANNAH KNIGHT

Just before my 12th birthday, we visited a flea market deep in Georgia. We found ourselves in an enclosed stall with cages filled with colorful birds stacked up to the ceiling from wall to wall. The birds came in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and watched us talk curiously. Many of the cages were crowded, and the birds screeched and squabbled and screamed.

The birds were intended as my birthday gift, and my father had picked out the shop. I wasn't well educated enough to take issue with the quality of the shop then, but it makes me grimace now. The condition of some of the birds was acceptable - they had their own cages or were kept in sufficiently few numbers. The budgies, meanwhile, were crammed into one cage. The enclosure couldn't have been longer than 4 feet, but 30 budgies must have been inside! They bickered furiously, and many were crowded on one of the few perches or around the food dish. Others ran around on the floor.

I observed the budgies for a while, and then when I was ready to pick out my birds I asked for a pretty blue cage so that the man working the shop could catch them and put them into the cage. The first one I spotted was a big white budgie, pied with ice blue. I named her Blizzard. My mother pointed out a small pastel green and yellow bird, and we asked for her, too. She was named Pineapple. It occurred to me then: I hadn't picked out a male budgie. There was a plethora of male blue budgies, but they were too similar to distinguish. I asked the man to simply catch a blue male.

Mordecai was the bird that the man caught. He was named for the blue jay from Regular Show. We paid a small sum for the three birds and the cage, and left the store. The drive home was quiet. I and my sister held the cage on our laps, and the window was clearly visible to the birds. Blizzard and Pineapple were fixated on one another, while Mordecai sat near the window, looking outside. Compared with the constant screaming and fighting he must have experienced in that shop, I can only imagine he enjoyed the peace and the beautiful world laid out before him.

Mordecai had a nervous personality. He wouldn't allow me to touch him. He would often shriek if he found something surprising or disconcerting. He found comfort in Pineapple and Blizzard, who would chatter with him. Sometimes, he would groom Blizzard. They eventually became a pair. Their birdcage was situated such that they could see out the window across the room, and they would always become excited and chatter happily when they saw a leaf fall or cars drive down the dirt road outside.

He flew decently, and was rather slim. A tuft of feathers always stuck up on his head - I assumed it had been pulled and grown in oddly. As we eventually adopted more birds, I began to notice how old he was. The skin around his eyes was wrinkled, and his demeanor more closely resembled that of an older bird. The color of his eyes was light, and his feathers were always a beautiful dusty blue. He was well groomed, but the tuft sticking up on his head made him look endearingly messy.

The first new bird we adopted was Sprite. Sprite and Pineapple became a pair, as did Blizzard and Mordecai. We adopted more birds over the years. Observing how well paired the birds were, we eventually decided to purchase 3 nest boxes and allow them to have chicks. Mordecai and Blizzard had four chicks together - Fullstripe, Halfstripe, Cyan, and Mira.

Mordecai adored his chicks. He would often enter the nest box and not come out for a long time, instead feeding and paying attention to his babies and partner. When they were old enough to embark outside of the nest box, there was seldom a time where you would see Mordecai separate from at least one of his chicks. He would often sit beside them, chattering and singing. I believe his chicks brought him fulfillment.

His four chicks were beautiful. Halfstripe, Fullstripe, and Mira all inherited his dusty blue color, and Halfstripe and Fullstripe resembled him greatly. Halfstripe and Fullstripe were named because they both had white patches on their stomach - Halfstripe's patch extended halfway across his stomach, while Fullstripe's patch extends the full length. Mira was the same color as Mordecai, but more closely resembled her mother. Cyan resembles his father, but is the same beautiful cyan blue as his mother.

We spent four long years together. We never became particularly close, and he never wanted to be handled, but he became much more trusting. Rarely, if I had millet or another treat to offer, he would fly onto my hands and be one of the first to have a treat. And when I used my laptop, he would often fly onto the monitor and just observe what I was doing. He could sit there for a long time. We didn't need to interact, and sat together peacefully.

I don't know what his last days were like. I had to leave my birds in the care of my parents during a time of economic hardship where I had to live with a relative much closer to my school, as we had no car or transportation. I received a call one day and was told that he passed away. It is one of the uncertainties that I will always find difficult to wrap my head around, but I rest assured that he was happy. I can't imagine him anywhere but with his chicks.