Parrot Fever

part 2 

A week later Steve returned to Guatemala City to buy a second parrot. Lorena went along, vowing not to let Steve out of her sight.

“This time I’ll buy a little one,” Steve promised. “It’s a lot harder to get attached to the little ones. Don’t worry. Little parrots just don’t have the personality of a mature bird like Arturo.”
After they pulled away, I closed the garden gate and went back down the path toward the lake. It was a deliciously quiet morning and for the first time in months I had the house entirely to myself.

“Carl?” “Carl?” “CARL!!!”

Well, almost entirely to myself.

“Yeah, Arturo. What is it now?”



“Café? ”

“Alright, alright!” I sighed, detouring toward the kitchen. “Keep your shirt on, I was going to make another pot anyway.”

While the coffee water boiled, I fixed myself a couple of pieces of toast with mango jam. On second thought I buttered a third slice for Arturo. “Remember,” Steve had cautioned me the night before. “He won’t eat margarine. Use real butter.”

When I came back onto the veranda Arturo was strutting excitedly back and forth on the arm of his favorite chair — formerly my favorite chair. The bird gave a curious yodel of contentment as I served his toast and coffee (“Cream,” Steve instructed. “And warm but not hot. But no sugar. Sugar really isn’t good for him.”)

The bird tore into his breakfast with characteristic gusto, occasionally tossing his head and flipping bits of buttered toast far over his shoulder. Turning to his cup (“The blue ceramic one with the jungly flower pattern; that’s his favorite.”) Arturo took coffee like a real stevedore, plunging his beak deep into the cup and muttering to himself as he gargled the rich brew.

As we shared our morning repast, thick fleecy clouds wreathed the distant summit of the Atitlan volcano. Once the sun had finally warmed the bricks beneath my bare feet, Arturo walked sleepily across the table and settled himself into a comfortable perch on my left knee. Yawning hugely, the bird ducked his head and fanned the feathers on his neck, imploring me to scratch his bare skin.

“What the matter, Arty?” I said. “Dandruff bothering you again?”

While Steve and Lorena shopped for parrots in Guatemala City, I planned to take advantage of the peace and quite and get some writing done. Coffee cup in hand, I went into the bedroom/office, closing the door firmly behind me. Now, I could finally focus my mind on the work at hand. I rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the Olympia portable....



Toenails clicked impatiently across the tiles as the parrot came down from his kitchen perch and searched the house from room to room for his mentor. After several seconds of silence, I tried cautiously typing my name at the top of the page.

“Steve?” Steve!” With an excited cry the bird changed direction and headed directly toward the bedroom.

“Steve’s gone and I’m busy, dammit!” I shouted. “Go outside and play with the crows!” Ignoring the babbling, unintelligible Spanish outside my door, I stretched my arms and swiveled my neck to improve the flow of creative juices. Ready at last, I stared expectantly at the blank page before me, then raised my hands to the keyboard ....

“St.. st... st.... steeeeve?”

“St.. st... st.... steeeeve?”
The confounded bird was actually whining !

Arturo’s pleas were worthy of a soap opera, but the bedroom door remained firmly closed. Turning back to my work-in-progress, however, I couldn’t help noticing that the parrot’s histrionic cries were gradually beginning to change. From whining and pathetic snivelling, Arturo skillfully segued to a tone of peevish confusion — “Steve? Steve?” — and when even that failed to bring results, he switched to cynical, head-on barks of exasperation — “Steve! Steve? Steve!”.

Pushing away from the typewriter, I kneeled down and put my ear next to the door. On the other side of the wood, the parrot paused for breath, muttering darkly as it searched its memory for more persuasive sounds. I didn’t have long to wait. His calls for his big buddy now trembled with an imploring, infantile warble. I chewed my knuckles to avoid laughing aloud as the parrot’s quavering voice dredged the low end of the emotional scale. Disappointment, disillusionment, betrayal: in the end, the crafty bird settled for a heart-rending medley of bottomless grief. I held the door firmly closed.


“Gloriaaaa?”Anguished cries for his former mistress also proved hopeless. Though our little house reverberated with maudlin echoes of loss and dislocation, dear departed Gloria did not appear.

Arturo gradually abandoned all hope and broke into inconsolable, hiccuping sobs. Rising again to my feet, I was amazed to find that my eyes were actually beginning to sting a little.

I jerked the door open. Arturo fluttered back in surprise.

“Now what do you want?” I barked.

Looking me square in the eye, he breezily chirped, “Steve?” and charged past me into the bedroom. By the time I’d regained my composure, the parrot was chortling happily from the back of my chair.

Steve’s first words when they returned from Guatemala City were an anxious, “Did you miss me?” It took me a few moments to realize that he wasn’t talking to me, but to the parrot on my shoulder.

When Arturo yawned noncommittally, Steve’s face showed a flicker of disappointment. Turning back to the van, he quickly regained his enthusiasm when he saw Lorena climbing down from the front seat. “Wait’ll you see this!” Steve said, rubbing his hands excitedly.
Lorena approached us with a small lidded straw basket held gently in her hands, as though bearing some rare gift.

“Careful,” she cautioned as Steve reached out and tugged at the lid. “It’s still asleep.”

Curious, but also slightly apprehensive, I leaned forward for a better look. Based on past experience, I half-expected to find a coiled snake or some equally startling natural wonder. As our travels through Mexico and Guatemala lengthened from months to years, our van was gradually filling with offbeat curiosities and irresistible collectibles that one or the other of us “just couldn’t pass up”.

“My god! What is it?”

Continued with part 3 ....

Excerpted from
The People's Guide to Mexico
©1972-2000 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens
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