*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
How can anyone be afraid of a tiny bird? Just ask my aunt. As a teen, she was terrified by the family parakeet.
"Ornithophobia is a fear of birds. A scary experience with birds may make you fearful of them," according to Cleveland Clinic. "A person with ornithophobia may be afraid of: All birds or only certain types like birds of prey (hawks) or household birds (parakeets)."
Every Sunday, my grandparents packed up their four children and drove them to visit their grandparents, my great-grandparents. Once my eldest aunt began dating her future husband, she was excused from the weekly family visit.
My aunt left the house with her beau early on Sunday afternoon, while my mother, their parents, and their remaining siblings returned in the early evening. Until my aunt left for her date, she would be alone with the family's beloved parakeet, beloved to everyone except my eldest aunt.
She was terrified of the family parakeet. No one could figure out why. He was a delight.
My aunt didn't like the little bird at all. She seemed to think he was an evil bird, but he wasn't. He was just an ordinary parakeet.
The feeling was mutual. Whenever my aunt approached the parakeet, he would screech at her.
According to my mother, the look of terror that crossed my aunt's face whenever she heard that sound was priceless.
The rest of the family didn't know what went on between my aunt and their precious parakeet, but when they got home from their Sunday travels, the bird didn't fly to greet them as he usually did.
The bird was missing, and his cage was nowhere to be seen. No bird? No cage? Had someone broken into the house and stolen a tiny, mischievous, brightly colored parakeet? Somehow, that made little sense.
Who would steal a parakeet in a cage but leave the rest of the family's possessions in their place?
My aunt had long since left on her Sunday afternoon date. So the family could not ask her about the bird's whereabouts.
Puzzled, the rest of the family sat down at the dinner table for supper. That's when they heard it, a muffled bird noise that sounded like it was coming from a distance.
They got up from the table to investigate and realized the sound was coming from the coat closet. When my mother opened the closet door, the sight of a sad and lonely parakeet who had been banished to the closet by my eldest aunt greeted her. His feathers were all ruffled.
My aunt had locked the bird in the closet in fear while she was home alone with him and hadn't bothered to let him out before going on her date.
When she arrived home, my grandmother questioned her about her actions.
My aunt was unruffled. "I always put him in the closet when you leave because I want him out of my sight," she said. "Only this time, I was in a hurry when I left, so I forgot to take him back out of the closet and return him to his spot."
"What a birdbrain," my mother said.