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first person

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Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

I am in the kitchen, washing my hands in the sink, when all of a sudden the budgie comes flying in from the living room and lands on my wrist. He eagerly stretches his neck for a drink of water, flapping his wings happily under the shower.

“Huh,” I think, “he’s never done that before.” I quickly turn to tell Vladi all about it, but of course, he’s not there. The sobering reality sinks in once again. My husband of 56 years died several months ago.

Papa was always the bird whisperer in the family. I don’t know if it was the mustache, the prominent nose or the deep voice but they all gravitated toward him, granting him special favours the rest of us didn’t get. It was quite the super power since there is a long line of budgies in the Tiosavljevic family.

Bubi is a beautiful green and yellow male budgerigar. A fragile little package of feathers and song and attitude.

His name comes from the German endearment for “little boy” and is pronounced “boobie,” which often leads to smirks from those who don’t speak German. But I don’t care, and that’s why this Bubi is our fifth “Bubi.”

Our love affair with budgies began in the early 1970s when we lived in a condo with our two young children. “No dogs allowed,” was the policy, but our children were begging for a pet. We had to choose between a fish or a bird. We chose the tiny, social budgie. In fact, we brought two home – Kiki for our daughter, Ricky for our son.

The birds became a part of family life, hopping on their crayons when the children were colouring, sitting on Papa’s shoulder when he took an afternoon nap in his chair, following us around, singing all the while.

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After about three years, Kiki became unwell, not eating and just sitting silently under our spider plant. It was touching to see Ricky cuddling up to her, chirping encouragement. Sadly, Kiki did not recover and soon after Ricky died, too, most likely of a broken heart. It broke our hearts as well. We never expected the connection to a little bird would be so strong and that their deaths would cause us so much pain. We weren’t prepared to go through this again.

It wasn’t until the children had left home and Vladi and I had retired, that we noticed how quiet our condo had become.

We decided to get another budgie – a pale blue young male we named Bubi.

He was a shy little bird at first. Although we left his cage door open, he didn’t dare come out. Vladi went to work coaxing Bubi to hop on his finger as he carried him out of the cage. Eventually, he would fly out.

But most surprisingly, he could talk! With a thick Slavic accent, no less, imitating my husband, repeating “Pirrty birdie” over and over again.

We had a wonderful four years with Bubi No. 1. One day, however, our expert flyer missed a bar on his front perch. The next day we detected a slight limp in his right leg, which grew more pronounced. Alarmed, we took Bubi to the vet. An X-ray and blood samples showed kidney inflammation. The vet then asked us if Bubi had ever laid an egg. An egg? We were speechless. That meant our little Bubi was female. Go figure.

Bubi never regained her strength and was not able to use her leg. And yet her desire to be close to us was as strong as ever. She could not land on us without falling onto her stomach and tipping over. It pained us to see her like this.

On a grey winter day, a most tender, loving and trusting relationship between two humans and a little bird came to an end. Our Bubi died.

Bubi No. 2 was also pale blue but had a lot more spirit.

He was a strong flyer. He liked to bite and chew. His cuttlebone was hacked up in one day. But most of all he loved to peck away at our leather sofas. Blankets did not deter him. Instead, he went under the covers and hid there for hours without a peep. We did not dare sit down for fear of crushing him.

Aside from these quirks, he did all the normal budgie things, like eating, tweeting, spending time with Papa. Bubi No. 2 also was with us for only four years.

By now we realized budgies were fragile birds with a short lifespan. In fact, Bubi No. 3, another pale blue bird, was sickly from the beginning and lived fewer than two years.

But we were not deterred, and soon after came Bubi No. 4. Our granddaughter chose this beautiful little bird – yellow with a green heart-shaped design on her chest.

Bubi No. 4 was loving, gentle and smart. She followed us from room to room. She loved to hop on the rims of Papa’s glasses or the mirror when he was shaving. She would sit patiently on the edge of his iPad when Vladi was reading or on his shoulder when he watched TV.

Four happy years passed, but then one day we noticed Bubi wasn’t herself. Papa took her onto his chest, covered her with his hand to keep her warm and held her there all day. By the end of the day, she was looking better and eating again. A month later, she was breathing heavily and losing chest feathers. One morning we found our gentle bird dead on the bottom of her cage.

Papa was so distraught about losing his Bubi that he wanted another bird right away.

Bubi No. 5 was Papa’s bird, his pride and joy in his old age. Bubi was protective of Papa, too. When the two of them were “smooching” and I tried to touch Vladi, Bubi would bite me.

When Vladi died, Bubi wasn’t himself and stayed in his cage for a few days. He focused on my son, sitting on his chest and nibbling on his mustache instead.

Now, with only the two of us left in the house, Bubi has taken to protecting me. He is loving and affectionate and I am fortunate to have him.

But Bubi is already three years old and I am dreading the day when I will have to say goodbye. I am hopeful, though. I have read that budgerigars can live up to eight years.

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful, Bubi?” I ask him.

Helga Tiosavljevic lives in Toronto.

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