“Sol, I have a question.”
Sol tilted his head mischievously. “Listening.”
“Could you … would you mind letting us out of these cages? You seem very good at it,” she added quickly, in case a little flattery was needed.
As it turned out, it was not. Sol let out a string of sounds that Olivia had never heard from a bird before, but she got the distinct impression he was laughing.
“Days, days, days, Paloma not ask! Funny little birds.”
Olivia looked at him suspiciously.
“So … can you help us?”
Still chuckling, Sol shuffled to the other side of the cage and began to pull at a small metal bar.
“Wouldn’t the wood be easier, Sol? You don’t want to hurt your–”
Suddenly there was a soft click, and the front of the cage swung away. Sol remained hanging on the wire, chattering gleefully in what Olivia assumed was Parakeet.
“How … how did you do that?”
Sol stopped swinging back and forth on the contraption long enough to stare at her.
“Door. Open, close, lock. No doors in city?”
He chattered again. Now Olivia felt like Sol might be making fun of her, but she still didn’t quite understand. Paloma, however, spoke up sternly:
“Don’t be so hard on her, dear. Not all city pigeons live on buildings, you know. Maybe she’s from a park, or a bridge.”
“Yes, that’s right! My flock lives Under the Bridge. It’s kind of wet, but it’s nice in the summer. The park is where we find our food. And I’ve seen doors before, Sol — they’re what humans use to protect the entrances to their nests, right? I just didn’t realize cages work the same way. I’ve never been in a cage before, you know.”
Olivia realized she was sounding a bit defensive, but she didn’t like the idea of being rescued and made fun of by this annoyingly-clever parakeet all at once.
“Okay, okay. Out! Now!”
If Sol wanted to change the subject, Olivia was fine with that. She was about to leap to freedom when she felt a sharp pain in her left wing.
“Ow! Oh … oh, no.”
Paloma cooed sympathetically.
“Are you sure you’re able to fly, Olivia dear?”
Olivia dropped her wings to her sides. Of course! How had she already forgotten? She couldn’t possibly fly far enough to escape this human place, let alone find her family and Paloma’s. She would just have to stay in this cage in Quarantine until she could escape again, or try to hide from the humans while her wing healed. How long would that be? She had never hurt a wing before; would it ever feel the same again?
“Wing-hurt? Sorry, sorry.”
Sol hopped and fluttered until he was perched on the front edge of Olivia’s open cage. Olivia noticed, now, that Sol had not flown at all since she first saw him.
“Did someone hurt your wing too, Sol? Will I be this way for a long time?”
“No, not like Sol. Feathers gone.”
Sol stretched his wings out to show off the tips. Where Paloma’s and Olivia’s wing feathers were long and came to a graceful point, Sol’s were short and flat-looking, as if they had grown halfway and given up. Olivia couldn’t imagine flying far with wings like that.
“Good at climbing. Good at hiding. Not need to fly.”
Sol didn’t seem ready to say more than that, so Olivia didn’t ask if this was the “problem” Paloma had mentioned, the one that had brought him to the Quarantine in the first place. She was about to ask if he knew how long it would take her own wing to heal, when Sol leapt onto the door, pushed it back against the front of the cage, and slipped the lock back into place.
“Sol! Wait, I didn’t–”
This was Paloma. Olivia stopped, surprised. But as she quieted, she realized what had startled the other two birds. It was a strange whistling sound — not smooth and clear like a grown song-bird’s, but slow and labored, like a fledgling just learning the notes.
It wasn’t a bird, though. Even Olivia had heard this call often enough to recognize the source. Olivia, Paloma and Sol softly spoke its name together.