Chickens are in the news these days. Not long ago, my town passed a zoning ordinance that allows people living in certain neighborhoods (including mine!) with properties of at least a certain size to keep chickens. This is a change from a few years ago when there was a front page story in the local paper about two children who had to make a special case before the zoning board so that they could keep their four chickens—Guinevere, Gurley, Mabel and Carmelo--who had been deemed illegal. Meanwhile, another person in my office just got chickens, bringing the number up to three in one small office.
All of this talk about chickens brings to mind a particularly memorable chicken, one I encountered a number of years ago in India. Here is my chicken story.
It was summer, monsoon season, and I was in Bangalore. My hotel had once been handsome but now was dumpy. My room was forgettable, the food lousy. But there was a lovely garden and a veranda beside it. In the garden lived a flock of chickens along with one scary rooster who charged at me whenever I walked by.
One rainy afternoon, I had no plans and decided to sit on the veranda and write some letters. I sat down at one of the tables with paper and a pen. The other tables were empty, but a hen from the garden hopped up on one of the chairs and promptly went to sleep. This amused me, but I didn’t think much of it.
A little while later, a man came out and sat at the table where the chicken was sleeping. I guessed he was the hotel accountant because he carried with him an armload of bulky ledgers which he spread out across the table. He wore thick spectacles and settled down with the books, adding up numbers, making notes. Hard at work, he didn’t notice the chicken, and they coexisted peacefully for a long while.
The chicken’s peace was disturbed, though, when one of the hotel servants alerted the man that he was sharing his table with a chicken. The accountant had the servant shoo the sleepy chicken back into the garden. The chicken was not pleased. And so the battle began.
From the moment she was banished into the garden, the chicken attempted to regain her seat. At first, her forays were furtive. If a chicken could tiptoe, that’s what this chicken was doing. Every few minutes, she would hop up onto the veranda, and the accountant would shoo her away, sometimes with a stick, sometimes with his hand. She tried to go around the other way, not obviously up the steps right in front of him. A few times she nearly made it, but he caught her every time. It goes without saying that I was rooting for the chicken. It also seemed to me that the accountant was just distracting himself unnecessarily because clearly she wasn’t going to give up. This was one tenacious chicken.
The stalemate lasted for more than an hour. I recorded it as a play by play in the letter I was writing. The chicken did not accept defeat and join her sister chickens in the garden. She wanted her seat back, and she would not be refused.
Finally, the accountant got up and left—not for long, but long enough for the chicken to get back to her chair. I swear she looked around to make sure the coast was clear. I like to think he left as a means of conceding defeat. When he came back, he resumed his seat, the chicken had resumed hers, and we all sat there quietly for the rest of the afternoon. The accountant, I will add, left before the chicken, who stayed until it got dark, secure in her victory.
I don’t know if this means more about tenacity of chickens or the vagaries of memory, but I no longer remember the name of the hotel or even, really, what else I did in those few days in Bangalore. But ask me about the chicken, and I can tell you a story.
*Enormous thanks to my colleague, Nancy Eckert, chicken owner and chicken artist extraordinaire, for today's illustration!
**The Blogger Outage of 5/12-13 wiped out this post and the comments. I've re-posted it in case blogger isn't able to restore it. Very frustrating.