Looking at my budgie Birdie, I admire her shiny blue and white feathers. She is sitting at the highest point in her cage and staring back at me through her sad, black and all-knowing eyes. In her cage, she cannot fly. Thin white wires are caging her in and I wonder what it must be like for a budgie to go back to its natural habitat in Australia. Would Birdie even recognize that she was home there? Or would she miss the narrow confinement of her hard, wiry iron cage sitting on the cold oak desk in my tiny room? White wires confining Birdie, plain white walls confining me.
My hands are shaking in my lap. I shiver. I pull my grey woolen cardigan tighter around my torso, hoping it would protect me from the cold air surrounding me. The radiators do not work anymore. My breath is the only warm thing in this room. I hear my mother’s screams and my father’s slurred voice. “Where is Linda?", hearing him call my name makes me feel nauseous. "Why didn’t you two fine women cook my dinner tonight?”, he shouts and again I hear the sound of his leather belt hitting my mother’s soft pink flesh and the ugly hatred in his voice.
“Please, Vernon, stop!”, she is pleading with him. I shiver and shake. Cold dread is spreading inside of me, gripping my frantically beating heart in its iron fist. I wish he would stop! Mum and I wanted to have dinner ready for six o’clock sharp when he would come home. We wanted him to be pleased. We wanted him in a good mood. We desperately wanted to avoid his brutal violence and unleashed anger.
I hear my mother’s agony, and yet, I sit still and frozen on the wooden chair at my desk, staring at Birdie, who is staring back at me. Her blue feathers and the brown color of the desk, chair and bed in my room are the only colors in my white cell of ignorance and passivity. What can I do? Run away? He would find me. Speak up against his tyranny? He would beat me. Help my mother? He would beat the both of us.
All I can do is sit and wait. Try to stop breathing. Stay still and vanish. Make myself small, tiny even until I fit into the cage with Birdie, hide under her fluffy feathers and vanish from his evil eyes.
“Where is my dinner?”, I hear him holler. “It is your ONE damn job to keep my house clean and cook my frickin’ dinner!”
“There was no money, Vernon,” mother almost whispers now, but I can still hear her. “They wouldn’t give me anything. Electricity’s off, the radiators are turned off, there is no hot water …” My mother Emilia is soft and gentle. She is sweet and obedient and never talks back to my father. My mother knows her place and she knows his hard and unforgiving fist.
When did it get from bad to worse? Two months ago, when he lost his job at the factory. We can only speculate, he doesn’t talk about it. We think he was fired because of his constant state of drunkenness. The one thing my father loves most in life is his liquor. When there is no money for food and warm water, there is still money for his drink.
I hear his steps come closer to my door. Loud and wooden. I feel panic rise. Birdie’s black eyes watching me, mirroring mine. I stay still. Absolutely still.