“Hello dear – my little budgie needs his nails clipping again, would you be able to come around and see to him for me?” the old voice was familiar, one of my old clients. Old in several ways – firstly because I saw her every month or so, and secondly because she had at least one foot in the grave on a bad day.
“Of course I can,” I replied.
“What did you say, dear? I’m a bit deaf, really…”
“I CAN COME AROUND TOMORROW MORNING,” I shouted as gently as I could down the phone.
“Ooh, that would be perfect, see you then, dear,” she said, and hung up the phone with a thump.
The next day I pulled up outside a block of generic public housing flats, with straggling gardens out the front, and a healthy dose of poverty on the inside. I walked up along the path, and knocked on her door. The little budgie squeaked and chirped away inside.
“Hang on dear, I’ll be just a minute, I can’t move too fast these days,” she shouted from inside.
She tottered to the door, unlocked it and let me in. There were two threadbare chairs, a TV, some faded knickknacks, and a cage with the bird inside. She tottered back to the chair and eased herself carefully back down into it’s grasp. I sat on the other chair, and got my nail clippers out.
“She’s such a lovely little bird,” the old lady told me, smiling gently and rocking in her chair. “She talks away to me all day long, keeps me company, she does!”
I gently extracted the little budgie from her cage, making sure that I had her head held gently but firmly, so she couldn’t bite me. I carefully clipped off the long and twisted nails and then set her free in the cage. She fluttered up to the perch and sat there grumbling and chirping away, putting her feathers to rights, glaring at me now and then.
“She’s all done,” I told the old lady.
“Oh, thanks dear, I can rest easier now I know my little bird’s alright again,” she said. “How much is it then?”
“Same as always, twenty dollars,” I said.
“Are you sure that’s enough, dear?” she asked, peering at me through her glasses.
I looked at her, thinking of the first time I came to see her bird, and the delicate balance I had to find, charging just enough to conserve her pride, but the absolute minimum that I could, because I knew that she was as poor as a church mouse, eking out an existence on the pension. That little bird was the brightest spark in her life and I just wanted to help out without making her go hungry this week.
“It’s plenty, it was only a quick job!” I assured her.
“Very well dear,” she said, as she fumbled a well worn twenty dollar bill out of a very old and worn purse. “There you go, and thanks so much for looking after my little friend.”
I picked up my bag, and went back out into the steaming hot sun. Behind me I could hear the old lady chatting away to her little bird, and the bird chirping back to her. It warmed my heart.