Maddie went back to Sydney the day after Jim’s funeral.
Before leaving, she gave me some invaluable advice. ‘Get a budgie, Mum. He’d be
company for you, and budgie’s easy to board with a neighbour if you want to take a trip or
something.’ Knowing my nearly friendless condition, she was absolutely right. I’d lost most
of my friends over two years of caring for Jim.
I got a blue budgie, whom I named Bluey, and provisioned him with a very spacious cage. I
hadn’t been a pet owner since Maddie was in high school. Pet ownership enthusiasm kicked
in immediately as I selected Bluey’s interior décor. My shopping basket soon filled with a
combination of colour co-ordinated luxuries and essentials. It was almost like choosing bits
and pieces for a doll’s house: a mirror, spinning toy, swing, perch, cuttlefish bone and
Bluey settled in between my easy chair and the stereo. As I knitted teddy bears for the
hospital auxiliary, I started teaching Bluey to talk. After months, he succeeded in squawking,
‘Hello, Ruby!’ It appeared that Bluey wasn’t very academically minded, so we promptly
ceased his lessons.
It was a great pleasure to have someone greet me each time I came home. ‘Hello, Ruby!’
At my age, I was still doing three night shifts a week in Female Medical at St Jude’s
Hospital. Returning home, dead on my feet with fatigue, Bluey’s chipper greeting never
failed to put a smile on my face. ‘Hello, Ruby!’
Leaving the house to go on duty, however, was a bit of an emotional wrench. Bluey could
spot my nurse’s uniform a mile off. He’d turn his back on me in despair and empty his
No amount of kind words would soothe his state of mind. Nothing short of my return the next
morning. ‘Hello, Ruby!’
Over time, Bluey could be trusted to fly around the house. He especially enjoyed regarding
himself in the floor mirror in my bedroom. I smiled to myself as he flew back and forth,
admiring his small powder blue body. I wondered idly if Bluey would like a life partner. Or
would another budgie make him jealous?
Two months ago, I was distracted by a load of laundry churning away and completely
forgot that Bluey was flying around the house. On my way out to the Hill’s Hoist, a bit of
damp laundry fell on the floor and I tripped on it at the back door.
In excruciating pain, I thought to myself that it wouldn’t take a nurse to diagnose a
fractured neck of femur. I couldn’t move and certainly couldn’t reach the phone. Almost as
bad, I saw Bluey fly out the open door.
I wasted several minutes in self-pity. My only real friend had decided to move on to greener
pastures. Bluey only pretended to return all that affection that I’d showered on him.
Never mind the damned bird, you idiot, I said to myself, you’re liable to die like a beached
whale on your kitchen lino! A mixture of pain and hysteria induced me to laugh. At least the
coroner would find nothing but clean clothes in the house!
What felt like hours later, Brenda from next door came bowling over. Gasping with pain, I
asked her to ring the Ambos, requesting that they take me to St Jude’s where I’m on staff.
Having completed that essential task, Brenda put down the phone, sat on the floor, and held
my hand. ‘Bluey flew into my kitchen squawking your name, so I knew you were in
trouble. He’s a hero, no mistake. He deserves a medal!’
With that she packed some nighties, undies, toiletries, and knitting for me and waited out
front for the Ambos.
With great relief, the Ambos quickly asked about possible allergies before filling a syringe
with 6.5 mls of pethidine and whacking the lot into my arm. Once I’d settled a bit, they asked
for my personal details and particulars of the accident. As the Ambos loaded me in a
stretcher, I asked Brenda if Bluey was safe. ‘Yes, I shut him in my house. Later I’ll take his
cage over and mind him while you’re in hospital.’ I thanked her. ‘I’ll ring Maddie and let her
know.’ I nodded with gratitude. The pethidine was providing blessed relief. ‘And I’ll come
and see you just as soon as they allow visitors.’
‘Thanks so much, Brenda. You’re a real friend.’ Brenda smiled in reply.
As the Ambos thumped their doors shut, something occurred to me. Maddie was mistaken.
It’s not that I’m nearly friendless. It’s more a question of quality rather than quantity. Brenda
and Bluey worked together to save me from hours of pain or even slow death. What more
could I ask of a friend?