The Parrot by Eleanor Platt

The Parrot seeks the shade of a tree. For the harsh afternoon sun is beating down on the rolling fields over which the Parrot has flown, and even on the vegetable garden of Signor Lucan who lives in a bright painted house with a red terracotta roof. But the Parrot has travelled far enough for now, so it chooses a branch to sit on in an olive tree, nearby, and watches the children play, and the mothers lazily keeping one eye on their families and trusting to older children to keep the younger in check. They are resting, these mothers, in the heat of the day, and chatting; sharing their news of the week and planning what they will wear to the fiesta in the square that evening; waiting for the cool night and its festivities. While the children don’t seem to mind the hot sun, the women have retreated to the shade much like the Parrot. They are wearing loose summer dresses whose patterns have long since faded, sitting on low chairs, their sandalled or bare feet extended, iced waters, lemonade, tea in one hand, fans in the other.

As the afternoon deepens, and the shadows get longer, the Parrot watches as the chickens start to come out to peck at the dry ground of the courtyard and the near-baked grass in the garden. Signor Lucan watches too, ready to shoo any bird that tries to nibble at his prize tomatoes. The mothers eventually get up from their seats to check the food, and the children stop their play, enticed inside with the promise of something cool to drink. That evening there is to be a gathering, fiesta, a feast and a dance; and there are things to do. Tables and chairs will need to be set up near the fountain in the square, food needs to be carried. The children will help of course, particularly to taste the food and make sure that their fathers tune their guitars properly, perhaps to carry drums and tambourines. The fiesta is in honour of Signor Lucan’s grandson, who has passed the exam to go to university, for it is his last night before he moves to the big city.

So the Parrot leaves the olive tree in search of water and a bath, and finds one in the fountain in the middle of the piazza, the village square, silent now, before the storm of the party to come. No one is out in this square as it lacks the shade of trees during the heat of the day. If anyone does come out before it is cool enough to set up the streamers and lamps and celebrations, it is to walk quickly through the shadow cast by the church, to the Caffe, on one corner of the square, to sit and play chess or drink something refreshing or buy cigarettes.

The Parrot is seen by one member of the village, however. Opposite the little Caffe is a little house with a vibrant garden. The Priest, this village’s padre, is sitting in his little house writing his speech for the fiesta that night. For Signor Lucan’s grandson had once been his pupil, and it will be his job to give him advice before he leaves, as much as anyone else in the village. Yet writing is thirsty work in the slow quiet afternoon, and the Priest can see the heat in the air like a mirage hovering over the white stone of the square. And he can see the Parrot beginning to frolic in the fountain. The Priest decides to take a quick walk outside in the heat to go and get more cigarettes and a bottle of lemonade. He gets up from his little writing table in the window, takes one last swig of his -now- cold coffee, and as he walks past the mantelpiece he picks out a couple of water biscuits from the tin and puts them carefully in his pocket. He puts his hat on, and ventures into the sunshine.

The Parrot is enjoying his drink at the fountain and doesn’t quite notice the Priest walking up the garden path towards the square. But the gentle squeak of the gate makes the Parrot turn and cock its head to one side. It sees the dark clothes and the white dog collar of the man walking towards the fountain and its little heart wonders what to do. It thinks its feathers would be found to be too bright by the Priest. The Parrot fears being sent away. But the Priest laughs at the way the Parrot has cocked its head to one side and gently sits beside the bird. He entices it to sit on his finger, and to stand on his shoulder, and to nibble a bit of a water biscuit. The Priest laughs again, which he does a lot, and for which there are little wrinkles in the corners of his eyes. He laughs at the Parrot, as it had frolicked in the fountain, as it was now on his shoulder, and as it ate the water biscuit. His laugh is a musical laugh, this Priest, and the Parrot likes this laugh as much as he likes the water biscuit. It is bright and full of life, and fun, and hope, and the Parrot knows that it has found a kindred spirit in the Priest. The Priest asks the Parrot where he is from, imagining exotic lands filled with adventure. He wonders how long the Parrot had been flying for, and what had brought it to his little village. The Priest looks closely at the Parrot and quietly thanks God for birds, for colour, for hot days when the fountain might be of more use than idle beauty.

Eventually, the Priest coaxes the Parrot back off his shoulder and onto his finger and then onto the edge of the fountain. He smiles at the bird and nods his head at him, wishing him a good journey where he is going. He turns around and walks to the Caffe for his cigarettes and lemonade. And the Parrot waits. The Parrot waits for the Priest to walk back across to the church, to pass the fountain again. The Parrot watches carefully, and waits for the Priest to smile at it as he passes to go through the side gate which leads to his garden and his little house. And then the Parrot makes a move, for the children and the mothers and the fathers start coming out to prepare for the fiesta. It flies towards the church, towards the gate the Priest is going through. The Parrot has made up its mind, determined that the Priest and the Parrot are going to be friends; if it was welcome, and even if it isn’t. It has flown far and needs a rest. The stare of the Parrot as it sits on the gate slightly disconcerts the Priest, but he understands the question in the slight tilt of its head, and laughs his musical laugh and holds out his finger to the Parrot, who happily steps onto it. The Priest turns up the garden path and hopes the Parrot won’t mind his writing at the little table in the window, or the tuning of his mandolin to play that night for the party.

The Parrot sits on the gate again during the fiesta. Sometimes it flies to the groaning trestle tables for a nibble of a water biscuit, or to the chair the Priest sits on with his mandolin. The Parrot watches as the villagers dance and sing and laugh and play and eat and love, and hears the half scared whisper of the girl dancing with Signor Lucan’s grandson: ‘I suppose you’ll fall in love with a city girl while you’re away’ – and hears the promises of eternal devotion in return. The Parrot stays to watch until the music and the fire dies down, and the Priest and Signor Lucan’s grandson have shaken hands for the last time, and promise to meet again for a chess game in the wintertime. It waits as the Priest packs away his mandolin and waves a hand at those still awake, and walks slowly back to his little house, pausing only briefly for the Parrot to fly to his shoulder.

About The Author

Recently rediscovering a love for jigsaws, Eleanor spends her days drinking copious amounts of tea and enjoying the slow life. An Australian theatre maker and writer currently based in Scotland, she has a background in classical languages, and ancient history, and currently works with children. Her bookshelf is an eclectic mix of obscure texts and well-loved tales for all ages.

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