To kill a chicken
One Sunday, after a brief visit to my godfather’s farm in Pampanga, we went home with a hen straight out of his chicken coop, one of the many he maintained. We transported her in a box along with another hen, which was to be for our neighbors who had also been invited to the farm and whose car was used for the trip. The box was crammed in the car’s rear compartment along with some plastic bags full of other farm goods. Muffled scraping noises were heard from the box during the three-hour trip back to Manila, as if the hens inside were trying to peck their way out.
When we got home, the first thing my mother and father did was to find a place where the hen could stay before being butchered. Our sad little veranda filled the bill. Not that it was unkempt or abandoned, but that it was hardly the most appealing part of our house. Objects waiting to be used — a water hose, a plastic chair, plastic basins, a thinning detergent bar — were kept there. The hen was nestled among these objects, and she seemed not to mind. She just stood there after my father set her down, and looked up at the four of us — my father, my mother, my sister, and myself — as if to say: This is it? Fine. Leave me alone now.
Of course, the hen wasn’t arrogant. She didn’t have a right to be, for a number of reasons. First: She was dirty and stank to high heavens. She had left a chicken coop but the smell stuck to her grimy white feathers and anyone could smell chicken droppings within several feet of her. Second: She’s a bird, and having a bird brain never guaranteed anyone or anything intelligence. And third: She’s a mere ingredient for tinola. Any pomposity she might have had would end up anyway in our bellies, never to be noticed again.
Actually, despite the unpleasant smell and appearance, the hen had her redeeming qualities. During the days she lived in our veranda, not once did she bother us with noise we had come to expect from chickens. We were not dragged out of our sleep by some crowing, some tiktilaok! that she might have been suppressing since she arrived in our house. One would’ve forgotten the hen’s existence had she not been put in our veranda, where it was impossible not to see her as one entered or left our house. Also, she didn’t try to escape. She only stood, or sat, where she was placed, laying her silent clucks where we wouldn’t hear, like deftly concealed eggs.
I named the hen Knorr, as a sort of joke.
And so Knorr lived. For several days. My mother would feed her moist cooked rice and, later, when my mother noticed Knorr wasn’t fat enough for our pending tinola, some pellets that were supposed to put a bit more meat in her. Whether or not Knorr gained weight wasn’t a concern for me. I wasn’t even concerned with the hen herself. Naming was just about the best display of affection I could ever show her. And the few times I got a glimpse of her whenever I left the house, there was always that calm, that silence. It almost felt like the passing of a cloud, a small mute patch of storm cloud, in our veranda.
Came the next Sunday. Knorr had been living for seven days under our roof, and on the seventh day she was to rest, as God did. She would be laid to rest finally, in our tinola. But first, we had to kill her.
For that, my father initially sought my sister’s help because I was just having my breakfast then, having gotten out of bed late, as usual. But my sister made it clear that she would only put her hands on the chicken once it was cooked.
And so it had to be my hands.
“Hawakan mo diyan, kuya,” my father said, indicating one of Knorr’s wings and her feet.
I held her. Though my father had washed her with tap water, still the smell of chicken dung wafted from her feathers as she struggled under our grip. I turned my face away, to avoid the little rain of water she unleashed as she made those sudden jerking movements, which I assumed were her brave yet vain attempts at escape. My father held her head with one hand and a small sharp knife with the other. With steady hands he slit her neck. I didn’t see how the blade was buried in her, but from where I stood I saw a small stream of blood pour from her and onto a cup set in our kitchen sink.
How did it feel to take part in the killing of a chicken?
To feel that small, defenseless living thing struggle under your iron grip?
At first, there was an element of excitement in the knowledge that you could snuff out life, or help to do so, in a matter of minutes, or seconds. To snuff it out, like the flame of a candle with a rumor of wind from your lips. Easy-breezy. All you needed was the right creature, an inferior being that couldn’t fight back. Of course, in some other cases we would be urged, in our defense, to tell others that it fought back, so we had to kill it. So we had to be gods. Gods of death to devour the dead, to live by the flesh of the dead.
That afternoon the tinola was finally cooked after a week of fattening up our captive hen. As was expected, it was delicious. Was it because of the papaya we got as well from my godfather’s farm? Was it my mother’s cooking? Was it because of the poultry feed Knorr consumed prior to being slaughtered?
I remember looking at my bowl. I had one of the wings; it must have been the one I gripped that morning. Then I remembered Knorr’s struggle.
Something in it suddenly struck me — an epiphany, if you may. What if Knorr struggled, not because she was expecting to break free from us on her own? What if this struggle was her own helpless signal for help? From me, or even from my father? From ourselves, her murderers?
But one thing was clear: We didn’t notice. We were cowards, my father and I. We were not brave enough to stop each other, to stop ourselves, from slaughtering her. From using our iron grip. From turning her into tinola.
And so we went on eating. Went on sipping the broth and chewing on her fat, cooked flesh.
Knorr was brave to struggle; she was strong, to some extent. Against her we were weaklings, unable to fight off our own power and hunger.
We have our own chickens to slaughter inside us.
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George Deoso, 21, is a literature graduate of the University of Santo Tomas and is looking for work.
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