Leur voyage (their journey)

They later named him Ulysses in recognition of his journey from Accra to Antwerp to London to Houston, drugged and half asleep in the hidden compartment of a carry-on bag. His arrival, in their seventh year of marriage, became their test of faith.

“It’s temporary. No more than a month or two,” the rescue coordinator told them. “Birds like that get adopted very quickly. I see it all the time.” She would not look them in the eye.

They offered him sunflower seeds through the bars of his cage. He bit at their fingers. They chained him to a perch by the large bay window overlooking the park. He stared at the wall. They talked to him. He flicked kernels at their faces. He whistled incessantly, plucked at his back feathers, threw his feces at the dog.

“He seems to be doing a lot better,” the rescue coordinator told them. It was her last visit. She was being transferred to the large animal division, but not to worry, someone else could be assigned to their case.

In the first week of December, he caught a cold.

“Run a hot shower and let him breathe the steam,” said the new rescue coordinator now available via hotline. “With a bit of luck, it will clear his sinuses.” At least she seemed to know what to do.

Armed with matching pairs of garden gloves, they pulled him out of his cage and locked themselves and him in the guest bathroom. His eyes were half closed, his breath ragged, the bald patch on his spine raw and bleeding and stinking of rot. They sat, side by side, with their backs against the wall and their feet propped against the commode, the bird between them, on the floor.

They had braced themselves for a fight, his death, or a blend of both, but when he finally stirred, it was to hop under the shower. There he stood for a very long time, letting the water run over his head, wings, and tail; stretching his chest and lifting one foot, then the other. They watched him groom his feathers and wash the blood off his back. When he was all done, he looked up and blinked.

“Mon Dieu!” he finally said in an unexpected northern French accent.

They dried him as best they could, opened the bathroom door, and let him fly out into the apartment. He made two full circles of each room and finally settled on what they would forever refer to as “his chair,” between them, at the kitchen table.

When the rescue coordinator next called to check on him, they put the phone to his ear and let him answer.

“Adieu, Pepette!” the bird said.

They showed him how to hang up.

“Leur Voyage” is the third story of Project 105 — illustrated flash fiction. The 105 hand-embroidered original illustrations of Project 105 are being given away to people who might not otherwise have access to art, fiction or both. Each art recipient is also given a free original copy of the story. To learn more about Project 105 or to sign up and become eligible to receive a piece of art visit www.pmneist.com