Henry and the Odd Guy
A Chance Story
By John Pirillo
My name is Chance. Mom was drunk. Dad had abandoned us. She wasn't a happy puppy. So she flipped open a dictionary with her eyes closed and stabbed the first word her finger came to and named me Chance. Lucky break? Maybe.
Mom died several months later. Her liver had given out from excessive drinking and maybe why Dad had abandoned us. Maybe. But I suspect that it was more likely that he was a drinker too and just one day woke up and forgot about us, his life and his purpose. Being a Dad.
Several months in a home with strange people trying to be nice to me, pretending they knew how hard I'd had it. Hey! For a five year old, being nice isn't all that hard, but being sincere reads all the way through. I could read them like books, even if they were only picture books at the time. They were doing it for the money. They always had my best interests at heart when the social worker came to visit, but when they left, I was on my own. Both of them drank too.
Do you like my sob story so far? Well don't. It gets worse.
A long lost relative from India came to claim me, saying they would make everything right in my world again, that Krishna, whom they worshipped, had come in their sleep and demanded that they take care of me.
So off to India for fifteen years.
I learned a lot.
A real lot.
Women were treated like second class citizens, and they better not ever, ever speak up in public.
So I did.
I got beat a lot because of that. By my teachers, my parents, my relatives. Well, pretty much anyone I had learned how to offend. I was never one to go by the rules. Maybe that's another reason why my real Dad had left. He had seen the writing on the wall. I don't know. I don't think about that so much anymore these days. I'm too busy trying to save the sorry asses of people who don't even deserve it sometimes.
Yeah. My name's Chance. And I'm lucky. Lucky for everyone but me.
Rishikesh is one of the furthest places from civilization and its there that all my rebelliousness and anger finally came to a head and found some kind of sanity at the same time. I lived on an ashram with my adoptive parents. I won't tell you their names, because it doesn't really matter in the scheme of things. They were a means to an end. They brought me from insanity to craziness. But I survived it and became a better human being for it.
I was strolling the banks of the Ganges one bright April. It was still very cold. We did live very high up. Rishikesh is in the Himalayas, about seven to eight thousand feet above sea level. It has extreme cold and very hot summers with heat and humidity so high you think you're going to pop from it.
I didn't. I got tough, then tougher.
I met him...the Odd Guy...on one of my excursions. Single women were supposed to never go anywhere without an escort, so naturally I did. My parents would bawl me out when I got home, give me extra work to do around the house, sometimes even beat me, but I ignored it. I had my mind up. If fate was going to deal me a bad hand, I was going to learn...somehow...somehow...how to make it a good hand.
He was seated at the edge of the Ganges below the hanging suspension bridge. A scary wooden bridge that rocks up and down, sideways and back when you cross it. Some have even been known to fall of it and drown. I don't know if that's true. But it's possible.
Anyway, I was doing my usual rebellious sojourn when I spotted this Odd Guy. Not his real name, but close enough. He had his legs in the freezing waters and was playing a flute. Seated on his shoulder was a parrot. A pure white one. It had a huge comb of white feathers over its nose and eyes, and looked kind of like Elvis might have had he been a bird.
I came to a stop and watched the man play his flute. The music was very odd and unusual. Not typical Indian at all. Not even American, which was very popular at that time. My right foot began to tap to the rhythm of the music, then my left and soon I found myself swaying and dancing to it, not even knowing why. I don't dance to anything. At least I didn't then.
"You dance well." He said to me in a very thick Hindi accent.
"Thanks." I said and pulled up a rock next to him, ignoring the glares of passing citizens, carrying food items from the village on our side.
He set down his flute and plucked a cookie from a bright red pouch affixed to his belt on his left side, then offered it to the parrot.
The parrot rolled its eyes thoughtfully a moment, then reached out a large clawed foot and gently took the cookie away. It rolled it around carefully in its grasp, and then began to nibble on it. "Hello!" It finally said with great satisfaction.
The parrot lowered the cookie and eyed me thoughtfully, then said. "Pretty boy!"
I laughed again. "I'm not a boy!" I protested.
"Pretty, pretty boy." It said the next time.
I finally could laugh no more. My sides were aching from the pain of it. I slapped some water on my face, and then felt something tiptoe onto my left shoulder and begin to nibble on my ear. "Pretty Boy!" It whispered.
I reached a hand over cautiously, cupped with cold Ganges water. It leaned its head down and licked the water with its tongue, as if testing it for flavor, then it dipped its head and whipped a slurp of it into its beak and drank. I watched it repeat this several times, then it stopped and wriggled closer to my ear and stayed there, saying nothing.
The Odd Guy, whom for some reason, I'd totally forgotten I was seated next to rose to his feet. "It seems my friend has found a new friend to be with."
I gave him an apologetic look. "Look, he's not my bird. You..."
He gestured with his flute to me. "Chance. The gods smile on you. No man or woman has ever been allowed this close to Henry before."
The parrot on my shoulder woke up from its quiet and barked. "Henry! Pretty Boy!"
It then began to cackle in a weird sort of bird laughter.
I stroked its head gently, then rose carefully so as not to startle it.
"Don't worry. It won't fly away." The Odd Guy explained to me. "Once it makes a friend, it never leaves."
"It left you." I pointed out.
He smiled. "But I was never here."
"Chance!" A voice hollered at me.
I turned to look and my Indian Mom was hurrying over to me.
"Mom!" I said. "You've got to meet the man who gave me Henry."
"What are you talking about, you stubborn girl?" She ranted, exasperated at me. "There's no man near you."
I turned to look and he was no longer there.
That night I sat in my small, but comfortable room, a blanket about my knees, watching Henry preen himself on my only chair. He had made it his home. Mother had insisted I spread paper about the seat and floor to catch its droppings. I had done so, but even so, the droppings were always in the same spot, no matter where the bird dropped them from. Strange. Right?
It finished and looked up at me, while raising its right foot. "Hello!" It greeted.
"You naughty bird!" I told it. "You're not supposed to look at a girl without her clothes on.
In reply it said. "Pretty Boy!"
I laughed and it flew to my shoulder and began chewing on my hair. I laughed. It hurt, but what the heck, a friend's a friend.
And that's how the dreariness of my life began to change for the better.
As Henry chewed on my hair I began to thank again about next year. Next year my parents were returning to America. They said they were going to send me to a nice school to study. I told them I wanted to be a musician. They told me I wanted to be a Doctor. I told them I loved art. They told me I would be a great lawyer. I told them I wanted to write science fiction stories. They told me I would make a wonderful accountant.
I went to bed that night with my window open. The wind was blowing very hard. It always blew hard. We were high up in the Himalayas and it was always something strong. I became drowsy. Henry chose to perch on my headboard, but even though he did, I didn't complain. Somehow his droppings always ended up in the same pile. Small miracle? I don't know. You tell me.