Day dreaming as I often do at lunch times. After teaching, it is time to sit down with the rest of the teachers, listen to them talking in Hindi and for me just to sit and reflect.
I was disturbed by something hitting against my trouser leg. I jumped up! It must be a rat, I thought! I have been thinking about them ever since I discovered they lived behind the cupboard in the corner of the classroom. The thing moved and to be honest, I was a bit scared to look down to see what it was banging against my leg. I looked and thank god, it was not a rat, it was a bird.
I say it was a bird, but it was difficult to tell; it looked almost like a small dinosaur. White in colour, if you could see through the dirt, so it was greyish white. It’s a chicken, I thought. On closer inspection, it had a red spot on its forehead, a bindi, how ironic I thought as I studied it closer. I stood up and it followed me out into the balcony and along the corridor outside the classroom. It was not bothered by me in the slightest, it was tame. I needed to take a photo. Done.
It hovered around and I noticed a washing basket on the ground that I had not noticed before; that must be its home. There was also a bowl of water for it.
Marie returned from her lunch and I asked “the chicken; how long has that been here?”
‘Not long, it’s Neva’s’
‘Yes, it is mine’ she replied. ‘I bought from the market.’
‘Will you eat it?’ I asked.
‘No, it’s a pet’
‘How old is it?’, I asked.
Holding three fingers up, Marie translated it was three months old.
‘For eggs?’ I enquired.
‘No’, Neva replied.
‘Because it is a boy.’
We all laughed, I was thinking how can the cleaner, who lives next door, own a chicken as a pet, let it run in and out of the classroom while the children are learning, and think that is normal. Again I stop myself, it’s me who is not the normal one.
At this point, the chicken set off up the corridor, and perhaps it sensed freedom. Neva followed, crouching over with two arms in front of her, trying to catch it. She was leaning over so much she was nearly falling. I stood watching, with my mouth wide open. ‘Where was it going?’, ‘how could I help?’ were two questions that ran through my mind? It’s a chicken, it doesn’t really know where it is going. It probably didn’t fancy another night’s sleep in a washing bowl.
Neva was still chasing the chicken along the corridor when the children started to arrive for their lesson and they just looked, as if the whole situation is perfectly normal. But to me it certainly was not.
I think of the scene in Rocky.
‘When you can catch that chicken, you are grease lightning, you are ready Rock.’
Neva doesn’t look too much like Mick from Rocky, but it does make me laugh.
‘Why are you so worried about the chicken running away?’ I asked.
‘The dog might eat it,’ Neva replied. ‘It’s my pet, do you like him?’
I still am having trouble trying to come with terms with what is going on. And I am trying to teach when all this is happening. And still I am wondering, why would you get a male chicken that you can’t eat and doesn’t give you eggs?
She finally grabbed the poor chicken and the angry dog in the corridor goes hungry. She pinned backs it wings and cupped it with both hands. She then pushed it in my direction. I got it, she wanted me to hold it, she wanted to share her pet. This was my chance, come on Rocky, grab the chicken then you are ready!
It was just a chicken, how difficult could this be, just hold it. The children passed me and entered the classroom, I am opening and closing my hands, thinking I not sure I really want to hold this thing. She pushed further towards me, the children just passed and smiled. I am teacher not a farmer, I have held a chicken before, and that didn’t feel comfortable, and it didn’t look like this one. The last child entered the classroom, this was my time to escape, no child paid any attention to me or the chicken and why should they?
I indicated to Neva that I must go and teach. She smiled, knowing I am not quite ready to hold the chicken yet. I leant forward and give the chicken a pathetic pat on its bindi with my fore finger. That was all I was capable of at that time. I sighed.
I entered the classroom, Neva followed me in. Oh no, this situation wasn’t finished. I asked Marie again before the lesson started to just confirm that this chicken was a pet, was a male chicken and would not be eaten? She answered yes to all of the question.
‘So if it is a pet,’ I asked ‘why doesn’t it have a name?’
Marie and Neva just say it hasn’t.
‘Well, it has now,’ I say.
‘If you won’t name your pet, I will.’
‘We shall call him Colin.’
Ok, they agreed and we all laughed. Neva took Colin out of the classroom and put him into the basket, and I then started teaching a lesson on verbs, like nothing unusual had happened.
If you are reading this and your name is Colin, like my wife’s father, I did not name the chicken with you in mind. It just seemed that this name suited our class pet.
A few weeks later, as the chicken matured, Neva approached me and told me that the chicken was speaking to her, every morning, very early: ‘cock a doodle doo’. More reason not to have a bought a male chicken from the market, I thought to myself.