One night when I was fifteen, I was woken in the early hours of the morning by a mysterious croaking. The sound was mournful and constant. Our dog, a husky that normally preferred to howl, would not stop barking. Something strange was going on. I had a vivid imagination and a fondness for ghost stories, so instead of investigating, I hid in my room.
At first light, my mum and I went out into the backyard, bleary-eyed from a lack of sleep. Our husky, Indy, was sitting at the foot of an olive tree that had never flowered, focusing intently on something nestled in the leaves. Perched on one of the branches was a rainbow lorikeet.
We approached carefully as the little bird continued to caw. My mum reached forward, her hands cupped. Without a moment’s hesitation, the lorikeet hopped down from the branch and into my mum’s arms. And that was that.
It was a different time. There were no Facebook pages for you to post about your lost pets. When no photocopied fliers asking for a rainbow lorikeet appeared on the telegraph poles around our neighbourhood, we decided he was officially ours. We borrowed a little aviary from a family friend and named our new feathered friend Paulie, after the old 90’s movie that always made my mum cry.
One evening, my family was watching TV and I coaxed Paulie over to where I was sitting, thrilled when he came right up to me…and bit me hard on the face. I shrieked and he shrieked too, beating a hasty retreat to the other side of the room. Tears of pain had sprung to my eyes and I cradled my cheek in my hand while my face throbbed.
Several minutes passed, then we all became aware that Paulie was making his way back towards me, hopping determinedly along the back of one of our lounges. Was he back for round two?
When he reached the armrest of the lounge directly opposite of me, he came to a halt, his head bowed as if in shame.
‘Sorry,’ he croaked, to the astonishment of everyone in the room.
That was his first word, but it certainly wasn’t his last. Once he had settled in and gotten over his initial shyness, it became clear that the lorikeet had quite a devilish personality. Paulie didn’t suit him and soon he became Jackass.
He would sit on my shoulder while I worked on the computer, finding joy in the way he could make me laugh in pain when he dug his claws into my bare skin. He would imitate me mockingly and soon our shared computer time was just an endless cycle of hysterical human and parrot laughter.
Jackass took a particular dislike to my sister Isabel for no discernible reason and poor Isi would have to wear hoodies with the strings pulled tight so that he couldn’t get his claws in anywhere that would hurt. While he learned everyone else’s names in the family, he would only ever refer to her as ‘Bitch’ or ‘Bitch Isi.’ Whoever he had belonged to before us had obviously taught him many swear words. He once stunned a family friend by screaming ‘Fuckity, fuckity, fuck, bitch, shut up!’ when she paid us a visit.
We moved him into a much bigger aviary under one of the pine trees. His new home had a direct view of my bedroom window, so in the morning when he thought it was time for me to wake up, Jackass would shriek ‘Manda! Manda! Manda!’ over and over again until I opened my curtains. He would then act coy when I came over to visit, pretending he wasn’t interested.
His biting remained painful – and it was a multi-person operation to change his food and water. One person would distract him with grapes or yoghurt – and while he was busy sticking his weird pipe cleaner tongue out to sample these treats, the rest of the team would be frantically swapping out his water bowl and food dish.
One night we brought him inside in his smaller cage while the aviary was being cleaned. He managed to escape – and proceeded to celebrate this victory by running laps around the outside of the cage. Each time he completed a lap without being caught, he would cry ‘woohoo!’ and set off again.
He was extremely fond of a red lid that must have been from an old jar of pasta sauce. Not only was it his favourite thing to cuddle up to at night, it was also one of his favourite things to play Piggy in the Middle with. My family and I would roll it to each other along the carpet while Jackass hopped around trying to intercept.
During the day, the backyard was Jackass’ kingdom. He would amuse himself by whistling to the dog or calling out ‘Puss, puss, puss’ to the cat. When they came over to investigate, he would of course pretend it hadn’t been him that had called out.
He was a surprising champion of body positivity. In the summer holidays when we would all venture outside in our swimmers to brave the too-cold water of the pool, he would never fail to greet us with a wolf whistle.
Our garden had a wattle tree that had always been extremely popular with wild rainbow lorikeets. In the afternoons, the flock would fly over the yard, chirping and trilling away. Once Jackass had been set up under the pine trees, they seemed to make a special effort to detour past his aviary. They would sing to him and he would sing back, and there was always something a bit sad about that. They were free and he was not. Was it something he regretted? Did lorikeets think that deeply?
Jackass was in our lives for two and a half years. I think of him whenever I hear rainbow lorikeets outside (although there don’t seem to be any here in Canberra and I really miss their cheerful chatter). When we reminisce, my family and I always regret that he came along before camera phones were ubiquitous. He would surely have been an internet star.
Manda Diaz is the co-creator of The Regal Fox.