For a long time, I’ve had regular company at the labyrinth. So too have the organic and medicinal gardens: among the patches of leafy lettuce, kale, broccoli, cassava, basil and long beans, a couple of ayam kampung (free-range chickens) have been roaming and exploring, picking and plucking, nipping at insects, having a grand ol’ time. A brown chicken (ayam coklat) and a white one too (ayam putih), they’ve been a regular topic of conversation between the gardeners and myself.
When I arrived earlier last week, it took a while for the avian duo to get accustomed to my daily presence.One sight (or whiff?) of me and they’d be sprinting off madly in all directions. In time, they got used to me (or learned how to bear my presence) – and I to them. As soon as I’d step up onto the terrace and into the labyrinth, they’d perk up and wherever I walked, they sped off in the opposite direction.
I watched them with curiosity. They always pecked around in close proximity, a true pair. Lovebirds? I didn’t know how to tell, didn’t really care. But they were never more than a few feet from each other, clucking it up in a show, I’d like to imagine, of solidarity and protection.
After a couple of days, when my walk replaced my work…they appeared less fearful, less eager to bolt at first sight of me. In fact, they’d straighten up and eye me boldly, then go back to what they were doing. I felt a tacit acceptance, as if they’d acknowledged my presence and no longer felt threatened. We would co-exist on the labyrinth; menage a trois – au jardin.
But this morning, when I walked down the path to the labyrinth, later than usual, I came upon a sight at eye-level that I could barely comprehend: Chicken legs. Mounted onto a protrusion sticking out from one of the bamboo poles that holds the solar sensor-lights, was the body of ayam putih. As I slowly circled the post, I felt nauseous: the body was fully intact but it had been decapitated. Clean break. Jungle cat, said Dody. About 5 in the morning, said Dino.
I went and walked the labyrinth a record 3 times, looking up once in awhile for ayam coklat. Nowhere to be seen. Chicken trauma. What else could explain his absence? His partner gets plucked off in the early morning hours – probably right in front of his eyes – and how he’s left to fend for himself, feed and fertilize on his own. Surely he was grieving.
I was resting on a bed on the upper floor of the ‘motel’ building when something nudged me out of the room – just in time to see Dino walking downstairs with the headless chicken in hand. His smile said it all: the workers had just scored a nice meal for tonight.
I grabbed my camera and followed him down to the staff workroom. Dino had already set out a massive banana leaf as his cutting board and quickly went to work, pulling off feathers, cracking bones, tearing skin off meat. Slicing the bird right down the middle, innards came out next; heart, intestines, you name it – even a few little blood-covered eggs that hadn’t yet matured.
I’m not sure if I will still have any company when I return to the labyrinth tomorrow morning. Maybe ayam coklat‘s grieving will have ended. Maybe someone will bring him a new partner. Maybe he will adjust to clucking around solo. Or not.
What I know is this: the fragility of life touches us all. Jungle cats, violent acts, accidents, illness or old age; none of us are spared. So we might as well roam, explore, pluck, spend time with those we love (furry or otherwise), eat healthy, and breathe clean air while we can.
Ayam hari ini, makan besok. Chicken today, food tomorrow.