‘White Bars’ is a 27,500 word middle grade book; a comical account of two myna birds trapped in neighboring cages and their plot to escape a pet shop. It’s a story of their desire to fly, be free, and return to their tropical forests across the Pacific Ocean to the Malaysian peninsula and beyond.
The two myna birds kept staring at each other through the white bars of their cages.
Fife eyeballed the young myna bird and said quietly, “Hello.”
The young myna returned the greeting. “Hello. You look like me.”
Fife replied in a whisper, “That’s why I’m here.”
Every evening, at six bells, after the pet shop closes, a small band of field mice scamper through a crack in the siding and turn the pet shop into a stock market where the animals in the cages trade what they have for what they want; seeds, sand, plants and bugs. The field mice receive a commission similar to that of brokers on the stock market floor. Chaos and mayhem are only disrupted by hilarious mishap.
Myna birds are in the Starling family; a large family of birds spread out over all inhabitable continents and islands except the poles. They live high up in temperate to tropical jungle canopies and seldom reach the ground, but when they do – they have a tendency to hop sideways. Myna birds have a unique ability to mimic sounds – all sounds – including human speech. This is one of the reasons they are taken from their jungle nests in Sri Lanka, Burma, Northern Thailand and Malaysia – among other areas.
Soren is a young Myna bird plucked from his nest as an egg in the hills beyond the Shan plateau and hatched under a heat lamp in Thailand. He was raised in captivity and sold to an exotic bird broker for resale. Soren knows nothing of the outside world and has never had an opportunity to fly.
Fife is an older, worldly, myna bird gathered as a flightless infant with his two siblings. He was set free, discarded, by his owners to fend for himself. He has searched the west coast of the United States far and wide for his own kind to no avail. Until one day, he learns of Soren’s existence. Fife then sets in motion a plan to free the young myna bird. But Fife has secrets, even another identity.
The pack rat, also known as a trade rat, is an adventure capitalist; always looking for a pile of seeds to steal or something to trade. He is an evil creature. Once he let all the snakes out in a pet shop then cleaned out all the seeds and meal worms after the cages were empty. The pet shop exchange has been unstable ever since.
Romeo and Juliet; are a pair of ‘well connected’ red love birds. When Romeo escapes for a second time, he crosses the path of a crow named Reo and tells his tale of the pet shop and of Soren. Reo then tells his story of not being a crow at all, but a Myna bird with black shoe polish on his legs, beak, and orange fold of skin which surrounds his head. Juliet thinks her lover has died and been thrown in a garbage can. She weeps and weakens with every passing day.
A sweet spinster, Ms. Roberts, owns the pet shop and cares for the animals with her gentle and kind ways. She remains oblivious to the goings on of the animals in the cages to the end.
Dram is the well fed leader of the field mice that come in from the neighborhood. Greed is, luckily, his second biggest soft spot.
“Buying sand!” belted out the four cockatiels from the Conglomerate.
“S-s-s-sold,” wheezed a snake from the Reptile Federation of Traders. The snake coughed a buckshot load of sand in the direction of the new clerk mouse. Wayne defensively jumped back from the sill and landed on the screen roof of a neighboring snake. He froze in fear and slowly looked down between his feet. The snake below struck the screen with his snout, smacking Wayne into a shelf board above him. Wayne landed back on the screen roof and immediately began wobbling to the edge. The snake angled and punched the screen again, sending the mouse arcing through the pet shop. He crash landed in a small shallow turtle bath, with plastic palm trees and a pink flamingo on a black stick. The turtles quickly retracted their heads into their shells as the field mouse belly-flopped into the pool.
Grease is a jovial black rat in a cage full of cell mates. He is waiting for his opportunity to escape and travel to China where ‘year of the rat’ is honored and rats are weighed by the kilo. Unfortunately, he is taken home by a young red-headed girl with a boa constrictor wrapped around her waist for body heat; but not to his end.
The setting for this book is Mill Valley, California where I grew up. I worked on the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange after graduating college and before spending intermittent years in South East Asia gaining both political and natural awareness.
David C. Dagley