by Sim White
The old hen was recovering from a number of humiliating, bloody encounters with younger females in the coop, when she spotted a porcelain blue egg with brown specks in the hay. Its size was disappointing. Bigger was always better. Yet its sight sent her head spinning and made her foolish old heart ache. ‘Mine, mine, mine’ she thought, abandoning the competition for scraps and straightening her underside.
Without hesitation, she took possession of the egg. She caressed it with the down of her warm underbelly and positioned herself. She could feel life within the egg. This sent a shiver of delight through her body. The stirring felt familiar. Unblinking, she relaxed into a trance. Nothing short of an earthquake would move her from her sacred duty.
Her body vibrating with encouragement and concern, she forgot about the cold and missing feathers. Several blissful days passed.
The time came to utter encouragement to the chick, talking it through the arduous breaking of the shell. She therefore intoned the magic birth sounds she remembered.
This was a delicate operation, requiring all the chick’s strength and will power. At last the chick emerged. The hen gently took off the broken shell still covering the exhausted chick’s head, with particular attention to the eyes. She cleaned the hay around the chick. Featherless, it shivered and opened a bright blue beak, pointing it as its foster mother. The beak was straight, conical and business-like. 'He's a smart one' she thought.
The new-born inhaled the hen's reassuring smell and hid in her breast, snuggling in parental down. The old hen resolved to keep him alive, whatever the hassle. ‘My precious, good-looking boy’ she intoned, enthralled. Feeling faint with hunger after the brooding, she stood and stretched to attend to his needs.
The chick grew, his shiny feathers contrasting with the old hen’s dull and uneven plumage. They were inseparable. One spring day, looking at the sky and shaking his small wings, he asked
‘When will you teach me to fly?’
‘My precious, stay close to me, always. I will make sure you are safe and you have enough to eat.’
A flock of sparrows landed in the coop's holly tree.
The chick was grateful
'Without her, I'd still be in the egg, surely'
He thought she was not paying attention.
‘Fly! I want to fly! I know I can do it. The foraging here is a bit limited. I'd like you to make some effort to keep me interested and engaged. I feel I am not reaching my potential here. The old rooster is just a tyrant and you don't leave me alone, even for a second. When will you teach me?’
The old hen replied ‘Just persist in your attempt to fly, like the others’
This puzzled the chick. He thought ‘Anyone who can hatch me can also teach me to fly. It is just a matter of time. Perhaps I should just be patient and she will rally. It will happen, somehow.’