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Her green miniature Hahn’s macaw was on the loose, and she was beginning to despair. But her heartfelt prayer brought a prompt answer.
The couple passing me on the street did a double take. So did the lady sitting on her front porch. I gave her a smile and a wave. In the hazy summer sun, maybe they thought they were seeing things.
But then my traveling companion greeted them, her loud, singsongy voice cutting through the briny ocean air and echoing among the overhangs of the Queen Anne-style houses. “Hello, Macalaina, hiyyyyy. Twee-hoo!”
No doubt the green miniature Hahn’s macaw perched on my shoulder was an odd sight in Ocean Grove, a quaint town about halfway down the Jersey Shore, not far from where I live.
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Founded by a Methodist minister in the nineteenth century, it’s known for its Victorian beach houses and the colorful tents that surround the main church, called the Great Auditorium. The streets are lined with antique shops, art galleries, homey restaurants.
In the summer, Methodist worshippers from around the country come for the annual “camp meeting.”
I’m Jewish, so no camp meeting for me, but I love taking the short drive to Ocean Grove to get an ice cream sundae at Nagle’s, photograph the charming architecture (a hobby of mine) and enjoy the sea breezes. Ever since I adopted Macalaina, she’s joined me.
I’d been surprised by Macalaina too, when I first saw her at the pet store. I lived alone and was looking for an affectionate friend to keep me company. I was a little unsure when the saleswoman suggested the hand-raised, three-month-old parrot.
Undeterred, she let Macalaina out of her cage. The bird stepped right onto my finger, walked up my arm, hopped onto my head and nuzzled my hair!
“These birds really bond with their owners,” the saleswoman explained. “Once they get comfortable, they’ll perch on you and won’t leave your side, even outdoors.” Unless, of course, she added, something spooked them.
I was sold. Macalaina became my best friend. For the last two months, we’d gone everywhere together. In crowds, she’d nest atop my head, reveling in her role as alpha bird. On long walks, I sang to her softly and reminded her that I’d keep her safe, no matter what.
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Sometimes she got scared and took off, but she always circled back. I even took her to my tax preparer–“If I mess up your taxes,” he told me, “it’s because that bird on your head distracted me!”
Now I stopped to snap a photograph of a particularly stunning Victorian. Adjusting the camera’s focus, I felt Macalaina’s tiny talons grip my shoulder.
Honk, honk! A car horn blared. I almost jumped out of my sandals. Macalaina flew off...disappearing into the trees.
“Macalaina!” I called. “Macalaina!” No sign of her.
The woman I’d waved to left her porch. “Did you lose your bird?” No, no, I couldn’t have...but I didn’t see her anywhere. Not in the trees, not on a rooftop, not in the sky.
People came out to help look. Someone spotted her on the eave of a three-story house, near an attic window. I begged the owners to let me in. By the time I got to the attic, Macalaina had flitted to a tree. “Macalaina,” I called, sweetly. “It’s okay, Momma’s here.” I sang. I whistled. Nothing worked.
Finally I got my car and parked it beneath the tree, waiting for Macalaina to fly down. It started to get dark. I’m not leaving. I can’t. I slept in my car that night.
At 5:00 a.m., I started the car and drove home. I filled Macalaina’s food dish with sunflower seeds–her favorite–and rushed back, just in time to see a green flash emerge from the branches above. I parked and got out.