I’ve a territorial, defensive soul. There’s nothing like a visit from the landlord to put me on the back foot and then some. 8am came, finally, and I was spilling with contagious rage. I'd seriously considered burning the bastard house to the ground. It seemed a logical means of preventing any complaints about coffee rings on the Ercol table.
I put Mabel back in her transformed, super-clean room. She jumped onto her perch, and then looked and was like whaaat? Blue masking tape? Aaaaargh! and bated. Onto the lining paper, and her talons punched through the paper, and she stared down and was like whaaaaaaat? What is THIS? Where is my carpet? Bate bate bate bate. Meanwhile upstairs The Birdoole is making his special noise over and over again, half starling churr, half white noise, which is the most annoying noise he can make and well he knows it.
It is at this point I wish – and I swear, fretmarketeers, that I have never thought this before, which may seem strange, but there you are – in the midst of this crescendo of hawk bells and paper tearing and beating remiges and yelling parrot – I wish for a VERY LARGE DRINK. Gin-based. Or gin, solely.
By eleven, things are calmer. I’m upstairs marking essays at my desk, though fractiously. It’s soothing air; the window opens onto cool grey. A red Ford draws up. A man and woman get out.
The prospective tenants have a son, and he is autistic. I know this from my landlord. He must be, what, eight? No sign of him. But these are parents; they’re moving with the imperceptible restraint of manner that is born of care so he must be in the back of the car. Yes. And as he climbs out of the car, my heart folds and falls because he is wearing a stripy red and orange jumper and is grasping in each hand a model sea-lion.
Downstairs the grown-ups are talking, and the boy is bouncing about in the semi-darkness of the hall. He is totally bored. I look down at his hands. Each of the sea-lions has chips of missing paint about its nose where it has interacted with the other, or with something hard, and I ask him if he wants to see the parrot. His eyebrows rise and he waits. A brief, wordless ok from his parents, and we ascend the stairs. He counts each step out loud. And we stop in front of the cage. The bird and the boy stare at each other.
They love each other. The bird loves the boy because he is entirely full of joyous, manifest amazement at the bird. The boy just loves the bird because he is a bird. And the birdoole does that chops-fluffed-little-flirting twitch of the head, and the boy does it back. And soon the bird and the boy are both swaying sideways backwards and forwards dancing at each other, although the boy has to shift his grip on the plastic sea lions to cover both ears with his palms, because the bird is so delighted he’s screeching at the top of his lungs.
It is loud says the boy,
That’s because he's happy – he likes dancing with you I say.
And then, after a few moments, I tell him that I like his sea lions very much.
He frowns as if he’s assuming upon himself the responsibility of my being one of the elect, and says, ‘lots of people think they are…’ he pauses contemptuously ‘…seals’.
But of course they are sea lions! I say.
Yes, he says.
We glory in the importance of accurate classification.
His parents are here in the room. One look at my tiny lawn was enough; far too small for their son. So much for my week of cleaning purgatory.
His mother looks anxious. Come on Tomas! We are going now.
There is, suddenly, one of the most beautiful moments of human-animal interaction I have ever seen. Tomas nods his head gravely at the birdoole, and the birdoole does a deep, courteous bow in return.
A minute later I hear the front door open, and just before they cross the threshold, I can hear clicking that I suspect might be the collision of sea lion’s noses, and then Tomas makes an announcement. “I am going to sleep in the room with the parrot, when we live here’, he says. Such hard words to hear, uttered with such certainty, in the hall.