Not a lot of people know this, but I'm actually a huge animal lover, especially when it comes to birds. I've always found them to be the most loving, charismatic and majestic of all creatures.
My whole life I've always wanted a cockatoo, but unfortunately as a youngster I had no real money or, to be honest, the maturity needed to raise such a bird. Early in the year 2000, after years of raising budgies and a few love birds, I finally convinced my mom to let me get a cockatiel. Not quite the cockatoo I'd always wanted, but I was happy nonetheless.
I remember walking around this enormous Aviary surrounded by all kinds of beautiful and exotic birds, many of whom seemed happy to greet us. In the corner of my eye I spotted a little fellow lying on the ground. Still young and looking a little scared, I kneeled over to him and spoke gently to him. I eventually gathered the courage to pick him up, the breeder suggested holding him against my chest - my heart beat apparently calming him down. I looked into his eyes and knew right then that was the bird for me.
For years I woke up early every day before school so that I could take him, now lovingly called Cobba, and hold him against my chest speaking and whistling to him. I would rush home after school every day and try train him to come to me, climb onto my finger and sit on my shoulder.
He loved to explore. We'd often walk through the house and yard, I'd put him somewhere and watch as he walked around exploring - the pitter patter of his little feet against the ground - his head feathers shot straight up, until he got fed up and found his way back to his cage.
He was a real fighter. He didn't like being touched by other people and would often hiss and attempt to attack people who got too close to his home. Not me, however. He would always run up to me and would often eat out of my hand. He was never fond of touching, so I could never scratch his head, but he loved to cuddle or climb under the covers and explore before popping up by my head and playing with my hair.
After my mom died, and after leaving school things changed quite a lot and I was forced to grow up rather quickly. Before I knew it work became my life, getting up at 4am and coming home often after 11pm. Although we spent less time together, I would come home every evening and whistle and talk to him, letting him know I still cared. While most of you went home to your parents, siblings or lovers, I went home to my bird. In many ways he got me through the tough times, listening when others wouldn't, cuddling when other couldn't.
Over the years he aged gracefully, becoming that little bit more grey but always full of energy. Cockatiels can live for quite some time, on average 15 years. I very much took this for granted, often thinking he'll always be around and that there'll be plenty of time to spend together when things settle. Settle they never did.
A few weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I was running out to have coffee with a friend. Passing his cage as I normally do, I stuck me head in to say "morning my boy, how's my little man doing?" to my now 13 year old friend. I was horrified to find my poor little Cobba shivering, weak and covered in blood. I quickly got him out of his cage but could not find how or why he was bleeding. I wrapped him in my jacket and called to my aunt to drive us to a vet.
As she drove I whispered to him, mostly trying to calm myself down, saying he'll be alright, and that I loved him very much. I was truly petrified I was going to lose my little boy. As we rushed him into the emergency room, I sat there in the waiting room realising how old he had gotten and for the first time contemplated the fact that he wasn't going to live forever and that this was probably the beginning of the end.
Luckily, it was nothing serious. He somehow cracked a nail and, as those of you know, can lead to a excessive blood loss if not dealt with quickly. This was the first time in 13 years, his whole life, he'd ever gotten sick or hurt. So I laid to rest my concerns, thinking he's still got a few years left in him.
This past weekend was the Top Gear Festival in Durban. Being an avid fan of both the show and the festival I had booked my tickets, flights and accommodation at the beginning of the year. Having left straight after work on the Friday I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Cobba, leaving him in the care of my aunt.
I returned home late the Sunday evening to find a weak, shivering and wheezing bird fighting to catch his breath. Once again we rushed him off to the 24 hour emergency clinic. Cape Town had been rather cold the last few weeks, I feared it may have been a chest infection.
The vet gave him some antibiotics and recommended we leave him in and oxygen tank overnight. While I was not allowed to stay, I called periodically to follow up on his progress. I fell asleep with the impression he was doing well, so much so when I called in the morning they said I could pick him up.
On arrival the vet told me that they had turned off the oxygen after I hung up, and while en route he'd gotten worse. I went through to visit him, the sight of which broke my heart. Never before had I seen my little man so weak, wheezing, with each breath in and out gasping for air. I wasn't allowed to hold him because he was in the oxygen tank, so I softly spoke to him just letting him know I was there.
While the vets were doing their best, they were not exotic bird experts and they recommended I contact an expert in Paarl. After consulting with the expert it was decided he was too fragile to move so they would need to continue treatment there and keep him in the oxygen cage for the rest of the day to see if he would improve. Once again I was sent home.
Not 3 hours later I received a phone call, Cobba had not gotten better, in fact he had gotten worse. The vet said that she did not think he'd survive the hour, and that if he did survice the humane thing to do would be to put him to sleep. After hanging up I did something I've never done before, not even when my mom died: I burst into a frenzy of tears.
I quickly rushed to the vet. As she lifted the cover off the oxygen tank I saw my little boy lying almost lifeless in the food bowl, his head tilted up gasping for air. I quickly unzipped the oxygen cage and peered inside, he turned to look at me. He tried to move towards me but was too weak. I gently picked him up, his little feet that would normally wrap around my fingers just resting on my skin, motionless. It was time.
I wrapped him up in my hand and cuddled him up against my chest. He pushed his head into my neck and closed his eyes as I whispered to him how much I loved him and how he was my boy. While I knew I was prolonging his suffering I wasn't ready to let him go just yet. I burst into tears once again, trying my hardest to fight it.
Old age had finally gotten the better of him, so much so he couldn't fight the infection any longer. He was, however, able to hold on long enough for me to say goodbye. I knew this day was coming, I just wasn't prepared for it to be so soon.
He's breathing became more and more faint. I stroked his head and kissed him gently before begging the vet to end his suffering, handing him to her to administered the injection. I asked to hold him in my arms till he was at rest, I didn't want him to die alone and scared. I rested him against my cheek and continued to whisper to him till his last breath was drawn.
I stood there, my faithful little companion lying lifeless in my arms with tears pouring down my face. After all these years together, after all the highs and lows, there I was, left all alone to face the world without him. Heartbroken.
While I'm not ready to say goodbye to my loving friend and companion of over 13 years, say goodbye I must. He was by no means perfect, but I know he loved me and I hope he knew just how much I loved him. He leaves a hole in my heart nothing and no one else will ever be able to fill.
Rest in peace, my boy. I'm going to miss you oh so very, very much. Thank you for being my little man.