I scrape the dirt from under my claws. The light that shines in this room is excruciating, making me pick at myself restlessly. A note to humans: excessive light reduces the chance of laying eggs.
Other hens move around in pain, as they watch their newborns being snatched away from them, having no time to see them hatch, to see those small beaks, and finally see them transform into young cocks and hens. This is one reason I have never fallen in love with a cock.
Pursing my beak, I walk to the recent mother who just lost her egg and place my wings on hers. “I didn’t even get to know if my baby was a boy or a girl. I didn’t get to hatch it,” her eyes cloud with tears.
“Oh, Darcy, I’m so sorry about that. Don’t cry,” I say, also feeling the pain of a mother. “You know what to do next time?” I lean over and whisper into her ears. “When you lay an egg next time, hide it, so the humans can’t get to steal it.”
She bobs her head and wipes her nose, “Thank you, Gina. I’ll heed your advice next time.” She seems to calm down, but in a minute, she continues to wail. “Gina, Gina. I’ve lost ten eggs for the whole of my life. I didn’t get to see the ten children I hoped for.”
Darcy was a quick lover. She has mated with three cocks since she hit puberty. First, it was the most handsome rooster in the entire poultry. His comb was bright pink, and his wattles shook when he laughed; his wings were huge and dark brown. The second rooster was funny and had three claws because he narrowly escaped the arms of a human. Darcy always swooned at his stories, and they finally found love together. The third rooster’s face isn’t known to me, as he only appears at night and leaves before he could crow. Darcy knows everything about her eggs—from the first egg to the present one she just lost. She knows their texture, their color, and their density. To humans, we all look alike, but we are very different and diverse.
After wiping her eyes, she picks her wings together, and moves to the gathering another fowl has issued. I planned to go there earlier, but Darcy made me pause. The gathering is becoming larger with black, brown, and white forming a blend of lovely colors. I am a Sussex breed with white feathers and a yellow strong beak. The breed in population is the Plymouth Rock, so I am a rare breed and quite the eye-catcher.
On the way there, Fredrick stops me and corners me with his wings. I shoot him a deadly glare so he retrieves. Fredrick doesn’t keep the papilla in his cloaca together. He has probably mated with sixty percent of the hens here, including—some people say—Darcy. But Darcy debunked the rumor.
“My pretty lady,” he clucks, “how are you doing today?”
I reply in my most disinterested tone, “I’m great, Fredrick.”
“Good, good. I’ve not been good if you care to ask,” he feigns a pitiful look with his beady eyes, “only you can help me.”
I roll my eyes hard, “What do I do?”
He comes closer to me and strokes my hackle, “Be my mate, please. I’ll treat you like you deserve, my queen. I’ll bring you your meal so that you don’t have to run to the trough to get it. I’ll treat you like you deserve.” He keeps on clucking, but I know it’s an empty promise. Once he’s done with satisfying his libido, he’ll run away and cling to another fresh hen.
I take his wing off my neck, “No, Fredrick. Thank you, but no.” Fredrick is a rooster that hasn’t stopped wooing me since I stepped into this poultry farm. He is quite a handsome fella, but he is too proud and stiff-necked. For now, he rules the poultry farm, so all the ladies are at his beck and call. Except for me and maybe Darcy.
I haven’t mated or dated any rooster for two reasons. The first being that I have no interest in bearing a child and watching it taken away from under my wings. I can’t let that happen. The second reason is this entire poultry. I have seen no one in my class, or the status I want my man to attain. Either he’s too pompous, like Fredrick, or his wattle doesn’t wiggle the way I like, or even his tail feathers aren’t beautiful enough. Fowls have always said my choice of bird is a peacock, but I’m not sure I have a choice of bird.
I get to where all fowls are gathered. I wave at Pa Cluck, who successfully married a lucky Ma Cluck with eight children—which were supposed to be fifty. Ma Cluck was wise to preserve some of her chicks—and thirteen grandchildren. Pa Cluck is getting old, so I don’t think he’ll get to see a great-grandchild. He waves back with a nod, making his aging comb bob. I turn my attention to the meeting holder. He is the one who supplies all the information we get: if there is death approaching or when the humans are coming. Things like that. It can also mean something bad is happening. I cross my claws as I prepare for this apparently heart-wrenching news. “Hens and roosters, I have come with sad news for you all,” he clacks. Many fowls curse under their breath and I do too. He clears his throat, “A buyer—another human—is here on the farm. I eavesdropped, and he said he wanted a Sussex.” Hiller is a Plymouth, so he isn’t bothered, he is just doing his job. All the Sussexes in the farm gasp, including me. We are all at risk at this moment. My heart thumps as I count all I haven’t accomplished. I haven’t found love. I haven’t had the chance to try out the meal Darcy promised. She said it tasted better than the food humans give us. “I’m sorry to all the Sussexes, but that’s what the human wants,” he shrugs and leaves the podium.
My shanks shake uncontrollably as I try to regain my composure. Death is something I hadn’t thought of, but I’m a fool. We are in December and all humans care for is the chicken they will eat for Christmas. Sussex is quite the breed for meat, and I’m slightly overweight. Darcy comes to me with a sad look. At least her pain is less than mine. How will I produce eggs if I don’t have a life? She’s a Plymouth, so she isn’t endangered.
“Oh, Gina, did you hear what Hiller said? They’re coming for Sussexes. Oh, Gina, please don’t be part of them. You’re my best friend.” I don’t remember making Darcy my best friend, but I let it slide. There is no need to care about it when I will probably die.
“I heard Hiller loud and clear. I don’t know what to do,” I soil my feathers in my tears as I burst out. Aside from Darcy and me, there is a mixture of murmur, cries, and hisses all over the poultry farm.
“You’ll be fine.” She takes me into her wings and hugs me, sharing my pain with her but an uproar interrupts our hug on the poultry farm.
I turn back.
The human is here.
The owner of the poultry farm accompanies him. I cry out loud as he opens the door. No one can easily escape from the poultry farm, so we all stay intact, shaken. I freeze as the humans enter the poultry farm. There’s no turning back, so the only thing I can do is stand there and hear my heart thud loudly. They exchange conversations before the other human points at a Plymouth fowl. The reaction of the fowl changes at the turning point of what has happened. Hiller said the man was after Sussexes, but here is the same man, pointing at a Plymouth.
I release a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding as I watch my cup pass over me. He wasn’t after Sussexes, after all. I still have time to fall in love. I am saved! But then I look up and see this man pointing at another fowl… me. They are pointing at me! But… he was looking for a Plymouth, I am a Sussex. The man comes up and picks me up by my neck before I have the chance to escape from him. I grunt and struggle to escape from his grip, but it only becomes tighter. He shoves me into a black cellophane where small pores are perforated for my breathing. Everything is dark in here. Just me and the Plymouth hen.
“You’re here, Sussex? Welcome.” Here, we address ourselves by our breed if we aren’t acquainted with our names. She sits at the bottom of the bag, no longer fighting. I fight back hot tears that plan on slipping, not sure I should give up and fight more. She sees the look on my face. “Do not bother yourself, Sussex. There’s nothing you can do. This is our fate: being eaten during Christmas.” Now I allow the tears to spill. What comes next? My eyes try to adjust to the light as I am pushed into a well-lit room. Here is smaller than all the farms I’ve lived in and cleaner than the rest. I’m not dying today, thank Mother Hen. The Plymouth I came in with abandons me and goes off with another Plymouth hen.
I am all alone.
I scratch the earth to make a comfortable heap to rest. I’m tired from the journey and I must confess, the Plymouth was not a good companion. I’m very exhausted, so I don’t walk around for introductions.
“Hi, I’m Russell Crowe.” I see a cock stretching out his wing to me. He’s of an Amrock breed, as to his ash and black feathers. His comb and his wattles glister in red as he speaks. I’ve always had a thing for Amrocks.
I brush as I rub wings with him, “I’m Gina. Gina Cluxclux.”
He smiles broadly, “That’s a wonderful name, Gina. Welcome to our little abode,” his voice crisp and spicy. He strokes his wattle subconsciously, which makes him hotter. Could this be love at first sight? Have I finally met the one of my dreams?
After taking a tour of the small poultry, he turns to me with a cheeky smile. “I may die tomorrow.” I gasp harder than I had during Hiller’s announcement. Pain treads throughout my body. I was just beginning to fall in love with this handsome cockerel. “And you’re not afraid?” I ask, still shaken.
He takes my hand, which makes my knees weaken, “Oh, Gina, I am not afraid of dying now that I’ve seen you. I’ve been waiting for my creator to send me someone that could make my heart skip a bit, and I am happy I am opportune to hold you in my wings. Gina, dear, when I first saw you, all the thoughts of death ebbed away. You don’t know the amount of strength I drew from you. Your aura speaks volumes to me, Gina. In all my life, I haven’t met a hen like you. All my life, I haven’t found love.” He kisses my wings, and I let him. I see myself drawn to him like a magnet. I’m North Pole and he’s South. This is the first time I feel, “this could be love.”
He goes on, “Please, Gina, let me have you in my hands. Be my mate so that if I die tomorrow, I’ll be happy in the underworld. Please, Gina. Please.”
I walk closer to him till I’m two meters apart. “You know what, Russell?” I say, “you’re the first cockerel to make my heart skip. You’re my first love.”
“Then be the first and the last woman that I will have in this life,” he whispers.
I nod. I let him. We couple.
All through the night, I hold him tight, so he’ll never slip off. He knows he’ll die and there’s no turning back. Anytime I ask, he’ll hold me tighter and say, “I can die happy, knowing I found you.” And he will kiss my wings. I pray morning will never come.
As dawn breaks, my heart tightens, my thighs wobble, and fear grips me. I haven’t felt for anyone this way, and the only person I feel for so madly, so truly, and so deeply, is going to die in a few hours.
I don’t move.
I don’t move as the human takes him away from the cage where we are kept. I don’t move as he whispers my name the last time, struggling to give me the last kiss as the human drags him. I don’t move as I imagine him fighting for his life after the knife meets his throat. I don’t move as I picture him in the gut of a human.
I just stand, cold and broken.
Everything reminds me of Russell. I rub my beak on the places he caressed me. I cling to the few hours we spent together like it was the entirety of my four years. Russell, the Amrock, how I loved him. I still love him so dearly.
Days evolve into weeks before I see the steps of the human approaching the cage. He opens it and contemplates the chicken to carry next. Others scamper, looking for a safe place to hide, but this world isn’t a safe place for me. I stand transfixed as I had stood when Russell was taken away. The human walks up and grabs me by the neck.
I don’t fight.
He carries me to a slaughtering house and digs out a knife, which he puts on my throat. I remember Russell and smile. I never imagined I would smile on my death day, but I am smiling now. I wonder what the human is thinking of me. I’m not struggling. I’ve accepted my fate and I am ready to meet him in the underworld. As the knife cuts my throat open and I draw my last breath, I smile.
The human carries my lifeless body and processes me through the stages of cooking: plucking out my feathers, drowning me in hot water, and frying me, but none of these hurts. I’m on the way to the underworld. Russell said he will wait for me. I watch as the humans feed on my body, chanting “Merry Christmas” to one another and sharing the love Christmas offers. If I’ve done one thing on earth, it’s seeing the smiles on these people’s faces as they stuff me in their bellies. I smile as I leave this world.
I’m on a ferry now. Russell is waiting at the other end. “Merry Christmas, my love,” he whispers. I kiss him with everything I have. Finally, we’ve overcome death.