Fowl Play

Our caretaker Felipe bought a rooster a while back. I first saw the animal tied by one leg to Felipe’s outdoor table. I asked him what he intended to do with it and he replied that he was going to make a caldo (Spanish for soup). The next day, I found Felipe sitting on the stoop outside his house, the rooster cradled gently in his arms. He was stroking it. I asked him when he was going to make his soup and in reply he said something about someone named “Enrique.” Felipe is shy and mumbles a lot. Even my Mexican friends have trouble understanding his garbled speech. So I asked, “Enrique? Enrique who?” He looked at me like I was daft. “The rooster!” he shot back, holding the bird out with both hands in emphasis. I shook my head and pronounced, “I doubt you’ll eat him now that you’ve named him!”

Later the same day, I heard Felipe talking to the rooster, cooing to him in a high-pitched voice, as though the rooster were a small child.

The following day as I passed by Felipe’s house I asked when he was having rooster caldo. He looked at me like I was crazy. “Oh no…no caldo. I’m going to keep him.” No surprise there. I suggested that if he was going to keep Enrique alive he needed to keep a close eye on him – a couple of the dogs have a shady past, back when we lived in Cabo Pulmo, related to my neighbor Clotilde’s chickens.

As the days wore on, I often observed Enrique perched in a tall spiny bush near Felipe’s house. Tony, who detests the vicious spines borne by the Vinorama plant, kills any growing on the property, but this one, the largest of them all, had been given a stay of execution, much like Enrique. I suspect Tony’s reasons were two-fold: the size of the bush was considerable meaning taking it down would result in plenty of swearing and bleeding; but standing at the main entrance to the property, the plant also provides a screen from the trash-laden exterior of Felipe’s house.

One day I noticed that Enrique was tied to the leg of Felipe’s table again. Felipe was working off the property that day. In his stead, I noticed Ruby watching Enrique intently. Ruby bears a striking resemblance to an Arctic fox. I told her sternly to leave the rooster alone and left, figuring the rooster would teach her a lesson if she dared to follow through on her foxy machinations. I’d seen the damage a rooster can do with his talons.

Did somebody say "chicken"?

Did somebody say “chicken”?

Later the same day I heard odd noises coming from near Felipe’s house. Listening intently, I realized it was Enrique. It sounded was like he was choking.

I ran up to Felipe’s and found Ruby with Enrique in her mouth. She had a firm hold of his back. When I yelled and screamed at her, she spat him out and cowered away. The poor bird flopped and fluttered into the safety of the spiny Vinorama tree. With delicate maneuvering around huge pointy spines and the aid of a towel, I managed to retrieve him.

Once I had him firmly in hand so he couldn’t peck me, I pulled back the towel to assess the damage. To my dismay his back was a mess of raw flesh – he had been plucked and skinned alive. I didn’t give his chance of survival much hope and considered whether I should put him out of his misery. I couldn’t help but think, “Felipe may have his caldo after all.”

But no, I couldn’t kill Felipe’s little friend. That was the last resort. So I placed him in a dog crate (minus the dog) with some chicken feed and water and left him to recover or perish. When Felipe returned from work, I brought Enrique to him. Felipe was surprisingly nonplussed by Enrique’s condition. I explained again how clearly he must not, under any circumstances, leave his rooster tied up where the dogs could get at him.

Enrique lived. Miraculously, the skin on his back grew back and, when I checked on him several weeks into his incarceration, I noted small white pin feathers starting to poke through the new soft skin. Felipe and I agreed it was time to let the prisoner free.

It turned out that doing time under the closer supervision of his master left Enrique a changed and quite docile rooster. Each morning I watched as Enrique trotted along behind Felipe as he went about his morning chores, Felipe cooing and chatting to him sweetly, Enrique making the odd cluck or throaty coo. If someone unsuspecting were to arrive at breakfast time, the sounds coming from Felipe’s kitchen would suggest he was entertaining much more human company.

Several weeks later, I looked out the kitchen window towards Felipe’s house and saw him lying on the ground outside his door. Reticently I walked the 100 odd meters up to his house to see if my eyes were deceiving me. No, he was, indeed, very, very drunk. The curious thing was Enrique was there, strutting around Felipe, clucking and eying me, in a manner that could only be labeled “suspicious.” As I approached, he jumped onto Felipe’s chest, flapped his wings and made a noise that I interpreted to mean he would disembowel me if I were stupid enough to come any closer. I laughed out loud. Enrique was guarding him!

A couple of days later I went to check on a work crew that Felipe was part of. Felipe paused from his work to ask me for some money. “What for?” I asked, giving him the it -better-not-be-for-beer look.

“Enrique’s getting married,” he said casually, as though roosters getting married was an every day thing. “I need to get him a woman.”

“A woman? You’re going to get a woman to marry your rooster?” I paused and looked at him. “Don’t you mean a hen, Felipe?”

The distinction was unimportant to Felipe. “Yes, yes! A hen!” he said impatiently, “He’s getting married to a hen, but I need to buy her first.”

Antonio, the mason, laughed and remarked that the rooster would be married before Felipe. Felipe, unhappily single and with few prospects, always asks me the marital status of the women who come to visit. On occasion he gets all dolled up and declares that he’s going to town to find himself a mora (a berry, or in this context a woman). Antonio, his assistant Juan, and I couldn’t help ourselves and stood around joking about the rooster’s impending nuptials.

The hen arrived a few days later – a gift from Ismael Gonzalez, the son of a local rancher who as a hobby raises fighting cocks. She was the ugliest hen I’d ever seen. I pointed out to Felipe, “I think there’s something wrong with her. She’s lost all the feathers on her neck and bottom.”

I thought surely she had mange or some other horrible disease. Felipe gave no notice to her appearance and was, I believe, glowing with anticipation. He smiled broadly and, when questioned, explained that now that they were “married,” Enrique and his bride (she didn’t seem to warrant a name) could make babies. He would have a whole flock of chickens and could sell the eggs. Tony agreed with me, but being a man of few words, the extent of his commentary was “That’s one ugly chicken.“

When I ran into Ismael, the provider of the ugly hen, a couple of days later, I thanked him for his generosity and casually mentioned my concerns regarding the hen’s health. He laughed and assured me, “No, no. She’s fine. That’ss what the hens that make fighting cocks look like.” I thought, “Oh great, Felipe’s going to raise a bunch of fighting cocks and hideous hens. This should be interesting.”

In fact, I didn’t have to wait long before things got interesting.

First Felipe informed me that the hen didn’t want to have anything to do with Enrique. Based on what I’d seen of the hen, I imagined the feeling was mutual. Felipe assured me that Enrique was doing his best to woo his bride. A day or two later, however, Felipe turned up at my door, grasping his forearm. A trickle of blood escaped from under his hand. “What happened?” I asked him as I cleaned the deep wound and bandaged his arm. “Enrique attacked me,” he said, a note of disbelief and hurt in his voice.

A few days later, Felipe was back at my door again. It was his hand that needed bandaging this time, but the cause was the same. As I cleaned his wound, Felipe wondered out loud what had gotten into Enrique. I thought for a moment. “Felipe,” I said, “I think the hen is your problem. Enrique is jealous.” His eyes grew round, but he said not a word.

Felipe didn’t appear at my door again seeking medical attention, so I figured he’d adapted to his rooster’s increasing aggression and learned to stay clear of him when the hen was about. In time, however, I noticed something amiss, or rather, missing – the hen was gone. Enrique got a divorce and Felipe finally had his caldo.

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