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  • From the second I entered the store I knew it was quite unlike any pet-shop I'd ever visited before. Pet stores back home were huge department stores; big chain brands like "Pet World" had pushed all the smaller shops out of business. These stores were huge, and neatly organised with rows of shelves containing animal food and accessories… if they sold live animals there was normally a separated corner somewhere with couple of tired-looking lop-eared rabbits in a wire-top hutch, suffering the torment of small children’s prodding fingers… or a plastic tank, far too small for an enormous litter of baby rats who had recently been born there.. some of those animals would never live to know life outside the walls of that store...

    This place however was stuck in a time warp.. more like what pet stores might have been like years ago; it was small, dimly light, and crammed full of cages and tanks of various sizes, with an unpleasant smell quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. The whole store was alive with the clamour of a hundred different animals of all types. There were no signs on the shelves to indicate what was for sale, and no visible logic behind how the items were stored. I made my way towards the back of the shop where I saw the vague dark shape of an old woman, sat huddled on a tall stool in the middle of a dark alcove in the back of the room.
    “Excuse me?” I said, raising my voice over the din of the animals, there was no answer, the woman didn’t stir to look at who had entered, I was about to speak again when a screech and a flurry of wings and feathers fluttering straight at me took me a-back. With a thud, a small, yellow bird hit me squarely in the chest then plopped to the floor like a stone. I looked down, shocked, at it’s fragile little body lying on the ground at my feet and found myself suddenly racked with guilt; Had I blocked this little beast’s desperate reach for freedom?

    I bent down and scooped the bird up gently, it wasn’t dead, I could feel it’s heart beat thought my finger tips, but it lay quite still in my hands. I thought it must be unconscious so I peered closer to get a good look at it, it was then that I realised the animal had no eyes. Not only that but it seemed to have never had any.. not even empty sockets where eyes used to be. The bird had a thin chord tied around one of it’s feet which seemed to trail back to the direction of the old woman in the dark… then I noticed; she was surrounded by these strings, leading away from her in all directions… was each one connected to a tiny blind bird?

    “AH! She find you! She yours now!” The sudden voice made me jump, I looked around, to see a small, slight woman with short, dark hair, who squinted up at me from behind her thick fringe.
    “Ur, sorry?” I stammered. She tottered towards me and, grabbing a hold of the cord she snapped it with one swift movement. The bird instantly flittered to life and clambered it’s way up to my shoulder, where it sat, and chirped happily.
    “You buy her, five dollar.. she like your voice..” the woman twittered irately, much like a caged animal herself. I felt flustered as I tried to explain that I had no interest in buying a pet, and that I had only come into the store to see if I might be permitted to photograph some of the animals there to use as reference to draw from later when I got back to my hotel…

    I later found out from a helpful old man on the street that the species of bird was born completely sightless, they came from a land with few natural predators and lived in colonies so large that self-defence wasn’t really an issue for them… they were popular with pet shops in the region not only because they were very easy to catch, but also due to the instant and personal bond they formed with their owners based solely on the sound of their voice; this little girl would be with me now till her dying day, never wanting to stray away from my side for as long as I talked to her…

    I left the town with my unwanted new companion feeling quite confused and unsettled.. I couldn’t even bring myself to name the bird, but found myself thinking constantly of her brothers and sisters who were stuck there still in the store.. tethered to that strange old woman who had presumably captured and bound each one of them, and was now their mistress until some other unwitting customer came and bought them too… Despite the little bird chirping cheerfully at me, I couldn’t help thinking how horrible it must be to exist in that clamour, hiding amongst the boxes and tins, completely imprisoned, and bound… sightless and flightless.
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