Willie took good care of all kinds of things. He cut grass, took out garbage, washed cars, went to the store, started supper before his parents came home from work and delivered his papers right to his customer’s doors, instead of throwing them into hedges like some kids did. Willie felt warm all over when people were happy with his work.
It wasn’t often that Willie had trouble taking care of all his jobs. In fact, he never had any problems at all until he agreed to take care of Charlie.
Charlie was Mrs. McFee’s parrot. She thought Charlie was very special, and wouldn’t leave him with just anyone. Actually, Mrs. McFee hardly ever got to go away just because she didn’t have anywhere she thought was safe to leave Charlie.
Willie delivered the paper to Mrs. McFee’s house. She was so happy with how well he did his work, that she asked him to look after Charlie while she went to visit her cousin in Minneapolis.
“I’ll only be gone for a week,” she said. “And, I’m sure that I can trust you to take care of my precious Charlie for me. He’ll be no trouble at all.”
On Friday afternoon, Mrs. McFee drove up to Willie’s and delivered the parrot. Charlie looked very peaceful, sitting quietly in his cage. Willie knew he had to take good care of the bird. Mrs. McFee trusted him.
After supper, Willie changed the water in Charlie’s dish, and gave the parrot a piece of banana. The boy stood beside the cage, just looking. Charlie looked back.
Willie’s dad came into the room. “You know, son, that bird looks mean. You’d better be careful how you handle him.”
“Don’t worry, Dad. He won’t be any trouble.”
Charlie did have an odd look in his eyes. But he seemed quiet enough.
And Charlie was quiet—until six o’clock on Saturday morning.
“F-e-e-e-e-e-e-,” screeched Charlie. Charlie liked to call Mrs. McFee’s name every morning just as the sun was coming up. And he kept hollering for a whole hour.
By the following Friday, Willie’s parents were getting a little upset with Charlie. The early morning screech was bad enough, but that wasn’t all Charlie did to make life difficult. Charlie also knew how to get out of his cage. How he did it was a mystery. He zoomed around the house as if he owned the place. The parrot loved to corner Willie’s dog, and refused to let her escape from under the couch until Willie lured him away with a piece of chocolate bar. Charlie didn’t do anything without expecting a reward, and chocolate was his favourite. During that week with Charlie, Willie used up almost his whole allowance buying chocolate bars for Mrs. McFee’s parrot.
Sometimes Charlie would sit quietly in his cage. But no one was fooled. The whole family knew that he was plotting some mischief. Charlie screeched and whistled. He bit. He upset his water dish, and threw his food all over the floor. There were moments when Willie wanted to wring that parrot’s neck. But he had to take care of the parrot or Mrs. McFee would be disappointed in him.
It was Friday afternoon. Charlie had escaped from his cage once more and Willie had just coaxed him onto the point of an umbrella using a piece of candy as bait. He held it just out of Charlie’s reach until the parrot stepped onto the umbrella. Then Willie slipped him into his cage and hooked the door closed.
“Whew. That should take care of you until Mrs. McFee comes home tonight,” he said to himself.
Willie went out to deliver the rest of his newspapers. The sky was dark. A few drops of rain began to fall, and off in the west he could see lightning flickering. He walked a little faster. Willie didn’t want to get his papers wet. His customers wouldn’t be too happy trying to peel open wet newspaper.
When Willie returned home, the sky was black. The lightning was much closer now. The house was strangely quiet. No screeching or whistling could be heard. Willie went to check the cage and what he found made him shiver. Charlie was gone.
Willie looked everywhere. The dog was sleeping peacefully. There was no mess on the floor to tell Willie where Charlie might have been. Nothing was out of place, except— Willie looked closely at the porch door. The bottom corner of the screen had been pulled away. The hole wasn’t very big, but it was big enough for a parrot to squeeze through.
The boy almost cried. Mrs. McFee would be coming home soon. If he lost Charlie, she’d never trust Willie again to take care of anything for her.
He searched every bush in the yard. He checked under the porch. Then, as he passed underneath the elm tree in the front yard, he heard the familiar cry, “F-e-e-e-e-e-e”. Willie looked up and there was Charlie, perched on the very end of the highest branch. Maybe there was still a chance to catch him.
Willie dug into his back pocket for a piece of chocolate and started up the tree. He didn’t even wait to throw off the big canvass bag he usually carried his newspapers in. He could only hope that Charlie didn’t move. So far, so good. The parrot just sat and stared. By the time he got to the top of the tree, Willie was scared. The limb of the tree bent under his weight. If the branch broke, or if Charlie flew away before Willie reached him, what would he do?
“Lord Jesus, help me not to be afraid. And make Charlie be good for a change,” he prayed.
Suddenly, Willie had a horrible thought. Even if he did catch Charlie, how would he ever get him down? He’d be doing well just to get himself down, much less a miserable, fighting, biting, screeching, flapping parrot.
“And please Jesus, get us back down on the ground okay.”
Charlie spread his wings, and the boy held his breath. The parrot settled back on the branch, watching his pursuer. Willie took a deep gulp of air and held out the piece of mushy chocolate.
“Here Charlie, come on, that’s a good bird”, he said as calmly as he could.
Charlie took a step towards Willie. He wanted that candy, but he was too smart to not know what was waiting if he tried to grab his reward. The parrot backed away.
Staying as close to the safety of the trunk of the elm as he could, Willie slowly slipped out of his jacket. Charlie watched every move, but this time he didn’t even twitch a feather.
There would be only one chance. If Willie missed, Charlie would be gone forever.
By now it was raining hard, and Charlie wasn’t happy about being wet. He ruffled his feathers and pulled his head down as close to his body as he could. For one second he looked away from the boy.
Swis-s-s-s-s-h, and the jacket was over the parrot’s head. Willie gently pulled the whole bundle into his lap. Charlie couldn’t fly away, and he couldn’t bite through the thick cloth. At least Willie hoped he couldn’t.
Willie slipped parrot and jacket into his paper carrier, and began the long climb down the tree. Until Mrs. McFee came, he didn’t let Charlie out of his sight for one second. He wasn’t going to lose the parrot a second time.
Later, as Mrs. McFee loaded Charlie into her car, she praised Willie’s good work until he turned red with embarrassment. He felt warm all over for a long time after Mrs. McFee and Charlie had driven away. Being trusted to do a good job was important to Willie, even when the job hadn’t been easy.
Something brushed his face, and he laughed as he looked up and realized what it was. One of Charlie’s feathers, caught somewhere up in the branches of the elm tree, had shaken loose. Willie tucked it into his pocket. He’d keep it beside his bed to remember Charlie by.
“Thank you, Lord Jesus.” And then he added, “And please, could you make Mrs. McFee’s cousin come here to visit the next time?”