Sunday, February 10, 2013

Our Pet Chicks

We had four baby chicks. Even though chickens were supposed to be for eggs and meat, my brother and I treated them like our pets. They were so small. When we first got them, I used to feel bad that they did not have their mother. I would put the four chicks on my chest while I lie down on my bed. I put some newspaper underneath them because they made a mess. Then I would use a towel to cover them up. In a few minutes, the four little chicks would fall to sleep. It was probably warm and comfortable just like under their mother’s wing. Since they were asleep, I could put my hands under the towel and touch them. I would pat them. They often responded to our touches too by using their beaks to gently touch our hands. They felt so safe there. Very soon they were too big for me but we had built a good relationship. We used to play with the chickens. We would take a mirror and put it in front of one of the chickens. The chicken would see itself in the mirror and think that it was a strange chicken there to challenge her. The chicken would start a fight instantly and jump up and down trying to get the image in the mirror. It was a fun game for us to watch.
     We also took our chickens outside of the courtyard for a walk after school. There were trees along the street and the chickens could find more worms in the soil around the trees, and it was more spacious for the chickens to run around outside there. Very soon it was their first birthday. We didn’t have any meat for them since we only ate meat once or twice a month. Our parents would not allow us to feed chickens with table meat. We found a dying sparrow. We took it home and it died quickly. We poured boiling water over it so that the feathers would come out easily. Then I cleaned the sparrow just like we cleaned killed chicken. It was fascinating for us that the sparrow had tiny parts of everything just like chickens. We could hardly believe our eyes. Then I cooked it and our chickens jumped so high for more. One little sparrow for four chickens is not much but we thought that it was “better than nothing.”
     Taking chickens out for a walk might have been a mistake because soon they knew the way out of the courtyard themselves. One day when we came home from school, one of the chickens was missing. We looked all over but could not find it. When my parents came home from work, all of us went out looking for it, asking people, but we couldn’t find the chicken. I was really upset and I often dreamed that the gray chicken came back but it never happened. I was sure that the chicken was on someone’s dinner table already.
     After that, the rest of the chickens began to lay eggs. It was lots of fun to watch our chickens lay eggs. It was amazing to watch those big eggs come out. We had two or three eggs every day so we didn’t have to buy any.
     Other neighbors sometimes bought a rooster a few days before they would kill it for dinner. Roosters are too noisy to keep in a courtyard. Even though for only a few days, we had fun with the rooster. The rooster would always chase after our chickens. At that time, we didn’t understand what was going on. We only saw the rooster trying to beat up our chickens. My brother and I always ran after the rooster and chased him away. My parents and others laughed.
     Then, the day came to kill the rooster. It was always a big event in the yard especially for the Liu (刘) family. Mr. Liu was a sloppy rooster killer. To butcher a rooster, the butcher used one hand to hold the rooster’s two wings and upper neck, then pulled off some feathers where the cut would be made, and squeezed the rooster’s neck so that its major veins were exposed. Then the butcher used a sharp knife to cut a hole about the size of a nickel, put down the knife, and held the rooster by one foot upside down, and another hand held the head to let the blood drain into a small bowl of salt water. It took only few minutes. The dead rooster was put into a big container over a pot of boiling water so that it was easy to pull out the feathers to clean inside. The stomach was also cleaned out for food. For a good rooster butcher, the whole process would last about 30 minutes.
     But for Mr. Liu (刘), to just kill the rooster would take him several hours. His wife would bug him an hour or two before the whole thing started. Then his wife would always shout at him again because he always ended up with a live, partly butchered rooster running around the yard bleeding. People joked about why he was so afraid of killing a chicken because he should not be afraid of death as a medical doctor. He said that he was a doctor only to save life; this was killing a life, not saving one.
     We had so much fun with our chickens for about two years. Then one day, one of the chickens became sick. We tried all kinds of ways to save her even by giving her medicine for humans since we didn’t have a veterinarian for chickens. The chicken died, followed by a second. The last chicken was fine for a few weeks until one morning when I was ready to go to school and I noticed that the chicken was still in her nest. So I checked her nest to see what had happened. She had just laid an egg. I waited for awhile hoping that she would get up to get her breakfast but she couldn’t get up. She was so weak. I carried the chicken out, calling my brother for help. My parents had already left for work. We did not know what to do. We were watching the chicken and we started crying, patting her, saying, “please don’t die.” Then our neighbor Mr. Han came and asked what was happening. He saw the chicken and said, “Oh, the chicken is dying. We have to kill her now before it is too late. Once a chicken is dead, you can’t eat it any more. You have to let her blood out now while she is still alive.” Quickly he took the chicken away. Soon he came back and said, “You kids still crying there. Your class started a long time ago.” We suddenly realized that we had to get to school.
      Later that day, my parents cooked the chicken. We were all very quiet. Usually when we ate dinner, our chickens were always around the table trying to get some table food and we all liked to give them some. We enjoyed watching them jump so high to try to get the food and fight over our food. Now they were all gone. Even though chicken was very expensive meat at that time, we could only eat chicken a few times a year. We had other kinds of meat such as pork and beef every other week. No one wanted to touch the cooked chicken on the table. Finally, we gave it away. Our chickens lived on in my dreams for a long time.