But after we had our parrot for several weeks, we decided to rename him, because try as we might to get him to mimic any phrase at all--even a simple “hello”--we could only get him to whistle and, occasionally, to emit a loud, ear-piercing squawk. Cindy said it sounded to her like Stanley yelling for Stella in "A Streetcar Named Desire," so she voted for Brando to replace Cesar as the bird’s name.
Even though we were disappointed with our inarticulate bird, the truth of the matter was that we grew attached to Brando. He wasn’t terribly messy, and he did have a winning twinkle in his eyes.
One night, about five or six weeks after we got Brando, I came home from work to find Cindy sitting in the easy chair next to his perch, a puzzled look on her face. She put a finger to her lips, indicating a wish for silence, and nodded toward Brando. As if on cue, the bird suddenly spoke out, clear as could be, "Help me! Please, someone help me!"
Now it was my turn to look puzzled. "His first words, and he wants someone to rescue him from us? That’s gratitude for you."
Cindy rolled her large brown eyes. "We’ve got a mystery here, you big lug. Why would Brando’s first clearly spoken words be a cry for help?"
I ran through the obvious answers. Had either of us left the television or radio on before leaving for work? Did Brando have some unresolved emotional or psychological issues of which we were unaware? Had Cindy herself screamed for help as she contemplated her mother’s fast-approaching weekend visit for Thanksgiving?
"No, no, and no!" Cindy replied to my teasing questions. "Hey--be quiet. Listen for a minute. I think I heard something."
I sat down in the easy chair beside her and did as I was told.
And then, after a few minutes of silence, I heard it. A faint, faraway voice crying for help.
Once again, Brando was right on cue, providing us with an immediate echo: "Help me! Please, won’t someone help me!"
I got out of the chair and headed for the window. After a momentary struggle with a stubborn latch, I had it open and was listening intently to the sounds of traffic on a chilly November morning.
"Please help me!"
I told Cindy to call 911, and I went outside with a flashlight to investigate.
Rush hour was dying down, but there was still the din of traffic to contend with. Although the cries were easier to hear when I was outside, the hum of tires on the pavement and the occasional blare of a horn made it difficult to determine exactly where the owner of the voice might be.
As I crossed the street, the person in distress obviously spotted my flashlight, because he called out, "I’m over here! Please help me!"
When I directed the beam toward the sound of the voice, I was shocked to see an older, white-haired gentleman pinned against the side of a building by a utility van.
Thankfully, at almost that same instant, the police car summoned by Cindy’s 911 call arrived, and the officers, in turn, immediately called an ambulance.
The incredible story was that 70-year-old Edward Kabrick, a semiretired plumber, had been using one of the old warehouses to store surplus equipment and supplies. He had gone out earlier that afternoon to pick up a used water softener for a customer’s apartment. Somehow, as he walked toward the door of the warehouse, his old van slipped out of "park" and rolled down the incline, pinning him against the brick wall.
In terrible pain, Kabrick started yelling for help, but since he was only a couple of streets away from a busy road, no one heard him above the traffic noises. The poor man had suffered the agony of broken ribs and legs for hours, lapsing into unconsciousness, then waking again to cry out desperately for help. He had repeated the pitiful cycle for hours, growing weaker each time he regained consciousness.
Kabrick worked only part-time, so no one would particularly notice if he came to the office or not. His wife had passed away three years before, so there was no one at home to miss him if he didn’t come home on schedule.
"I thought I would surely freeze to death if no one found me soon," he said, shaking my hand as they were placing him in the ambulance. "Thank you for hearing my cries for help. I didn’t think that I would be able to last the night."
I told him it was our parrot that deserved the thanks. Our mostly mute, mumbling parrot had apparently heard Kabrick earlier in the day when his voice was stronger, then had clearly repeated the cries for help with the same urgency with which the trapped man had uttered them.
One of the police officers chuckled and shook his head in wonder. "You found Mr. Kabrick because your parrot repeated his cries for help? I would call that some kind of miracle."
I agreed. Why was it that good old Brando, a parrot that had never repeated a distinct word until that day, had suddenly chosen to echo an injured man’s desperate cries for help as loud and clear as could be?
"Yes," I told the officer, "I think that 'miracle' will be the next word we’ll teach him."