Chickenfeed by Angela Sherlock
This was published in Virtual Zine, 7 May 2019
I’m still in the bed when she comes in and starts rooting around underneath it. Actually I stay in bed a lot. It’s really hot here and it tends to make you feel tired most of the time. I lie in the hammock outside if the evenings cool down – and the insects, of course. Though they’re not as bad now. The Thais seem impervious to them and gradually my skin’s toughened up a bit and the bugs mostly leave me alone. Maybe the spices that do that, put them off biting. The hammock is also good early in the morning, just after sunrise. But she gets offended if I’m out of bed then. I’ve noticed that with a lot of women. When they talk about sleeping together, that’s exactly what they mean. Yes, fucking too, of course, but apparently to sleep next to each other shows some sort of commitment. My wife, she hated it when I fell asleep downstairs watching telly and never came to bed at all. That was just one of the things we disagreed about.
But where was I? Oh yeah, in bed and Natchaya comes in and is down on her hands and knees pulling things out and muttering, then she slides in underneath. I roll over and peer down at her – well, the half that’s not under the bed. She’s got a nice bum, tight and round. Not small, but makes a good handful. She’s got quite sturdy legs, not those long ones that all models seem to have, that look like they belong on an adolescent boy, with no hips. She looks kind of inviting, wriggling around down there, so I put my hand down inside the band of her shorts.
‘No, no, stop. Not fucking now, Stevie, no fuck.’ She backs out, sliding out of reach. God, I love fucking with that woman. She’s uncomplicated, knows how to enjoy herself and she can be very exciting when she’s in the mood. I’m hoping this is one of those times so I swing out of bed and she can see what I’ve got in mind. But then I see what she’s got in her hands.
‘What the fuck is that?’ A stupid question since I can see what it is, some kind of rifle only more like an old blunderbuss, a bit short in the barrel and wider at one end. But it’s got bits of string on it, like it’s holding it together, and it doesn’t look too safe, particularly the way Natchaya is waving it about. She relapses into Thai when she’s excited so I have a hard time working out what she’s saying. She gets up and she’s waving out the door and going on about ‘Foo’, which I know means dad. He lives in the next village but he comes here quite often and he seems to have accepted me. They’re funny about family, the Thais. Natchaya’s got a daughter, Kwan, who comes over every day but she lives with her grandparents, sleeps there, and apparently it was the same for Natchaya when she was little. A variation on the extended family, I suppose.
I’m out of bed now, pulling on some boxers so I can follow her outside. She’s examining the weapon and I wonder if she knows how to use it.
‘What’s he want it for, your dad? He’s not gonna shoot me, is he?’
She looks a bit distracted but in the end she answers me, moving between Thai and English. It turns out that, because of martial law, they’re not allowed weapons so her dad hides his in Natchaya’s house. I don’t quite see the logic of that. Why is it more secure here? And where does that leave me. As a farang I’d get both prison and a whopping fine if they found a gun here, if not worse. Mind, you don’t see many police this far north. The villagers won’t stand for it.
I’m still trying to get some sense out of her, when her dad calls out and he’s crossing the compound, scattering chickens as he comes. I nip back in to put on some flip flops, which is about as presentable as I get these days. When I go out again her dad’s over by the gate, talking to the neighbour, Bert. They all take an English name as well as a Thai, which is another oddity considering there are so few farangs up here. The chickens have come up to the verandah and they chook at me, hoping for food. She won’t let me throw leftovers out to them because then they’ll shit everywhere. Instead, stuff that doesn’t get eaten has to go on the altar to the Buddha. The chickens are well aware of this so they steal the offerings and then they go off and shit everywhere.
Natchaya comes over and I ask her what he’s doing with the gun, what does he want it for?
‘Kill chicken for you, for eat. He likes you.’
Thais eat all day long. Someone will go by with some fish and stop and sell you one, or with fruit or meat. More often than not, you invite them back to eat it with you. And it’s good food, too. Natchaya makes this amazing salad with grated papaya, nothing like any papaya you’d eat in the west, unripe, I think, and picked fresh, and then with vegetables and fish in the salad. But they don’t usually shoot chickens. They wring their necks, same as we do at home, because who wants shot in their dinner? And I like our chickens. They’re friendly, more like pets than future meals. So I tell her, no, I don’t want him to kill a chicken. Tell him not to. But she shrugs. Apparently, when Foo wants to do something he does it. And it’s for me so I can’t refuse. Oh, but I can,
‘I’m gonna tell him no, no chickens. I don’t want it.’
Natchaya hurries after me, talking all the way but too fast for me to understand. And then, boom, there’s this explosion and dust flying everywhere and the birds squawking. We can’t see what’s happened, what with the dust and bits of tree coming down, and all I can think is gunpowder. There’s this awful sort of shrieking sound and somebody could be dead but all of a sudden my brain is dredging up past science lessons. Potassium chlorate is for fireworks, potassium nitrate is for gunpowder. And both of us, we can’t stop coughing. Oh god, maybe he’s shot himself, the bloody gun exploding, and we start to run. There’s shouting now and when the air clears we find Bert and her dad yelling at each other. They’re both splattered with blood and there’s feathers swirling round, but they’re not chicken feathers. And when I look down I see that it’s not human blood. Four of Bert’s ducks are dead and a fifth looks as if it’s on its way out, pumping blood and waving its wings feebly, so I crouch down and wring its neck, and then, of course, Bert shouts at me. I tell him I didn’t shoot the fucking thing but his English is worse than her dad’s and gradually I get what’s going on. Natchaya keeps interrupting and she’s saying kaa and gaan and Bert’s saying it too and then I figure it out. Compensation. He wants compensating for the dead ducks.
And you know what, I have to give him 15 quid for them, the equivalent of 15 quid, and that’s a lot for five ducks. So Natchaya cooks them. Her dad goes back to his place to get some whisky and brings back a couple of his mates with him. Kwan comes for dinner as usual, but the grandparents have heard about the ducks so they come as well. And Bert, of course, he comes over to help us eat them.
They’re delicious, actually. And when Natchaya’s not looking I slide a little of the meat off my plate and throw it down to the chickens. I reckon Buddha won’t mind. It’s not until later that something occurs to me. Does it count as cannibalism? For the chickens, I mean. It would be if I gave them chicken, but if it’s duck, a different kind of bird? I’m lying in the dark, sweating, and worrying about chickens’ ethics. Then I remember cuckoos, and Peregrine falcons eating pigeons, and I decide maybe birds don’t worry about things like that. I get up, careful not to disturb Natchaya, and go out to the verandah. The Buddha is sitting in a shaft of moonlight, watching me as I light a fag. I wonder what future reincarnation he’s got in mind for me. Maybe I’ll come back as a chicken.