My job every morning, was to go down stairs and open the padlock on the coop, to let the chickens out. This was around the time when I got that hole in my face – which has now turned into a scar I seem to be stuck with forever. Christopher said that if you let the chicks out early, they would catch lots of worms and grow up healthy. Later in the morning, he used to come down and feed them with rice and paddy. They ran around in the grass all day long, pooing wherever they wanted, and in the evening, he went down and locked them up again. When they got bigger and fatter, we caught them, cut their necks, and cooked them.
One day I came down early to unlock the padlock, and only noticed that it was already open, when I began to put the key into it. I slowly opened the door of the hen house with one little finger, but nothing clucked and hopped out. All gone, they were. Even the little skinny one we’d brought back to life when we beat on the empty down-turned basin we’d placed over her.
I didn’t mean to step on her, honest. She was just a little, yellow chicken, running to keep up with the others. Christopher had just got his new chicks, and he was showing me how to fling the paddy and rice so it scattered everywhere under the bottom house of solid earth – no grass. I made one little step forward to practise my fling, and when I put my foot down, she was under it. Christopher sent me racing upstairs to bring down this white, enamel basin we used to have. He turned it down, over her limp body, and with all his might, began to beat a rhythm on its base. Every so often, he would lift the basin and look under it, but she didn’t stir. He would replace it and pump the palms of his hands on the bottom, over and over again – heel of hands, fingers, then heel of hands again, followed by a succession of beating fingers. Finally, he lifted it up and she moved. She shook her feathers, uncertainly at first, then she got up and limped away.
“How yuh do that?”
“You like it, no? See wot your uncle can do?”
“How yuh do that?”
“Is the rhythm, mon. You beat them fingers on the drum long enough, and it will wake them up. Did it to a puppy once. Is all in the rhythm, mon.”
I ran upstairs and told Christopher about the empty coop. He wasn’t pleased at all about being burgled, when it was done to him. We never raised chickens after that, now we just buy them from the market. It was hard getting them home because they fought and clucked all the way.