Jongwe

Jongwe 

Shona 

n, an adult male chicken

Example sentence:  Ndakanzwa jongwe richichema (I heard a rooster crow)

 

Starting out in life as a young couple can often be difficult – it doesn’t matter where in the world you are – with the biggest concern being where you’re going to live. Unless your parents are blessed with having lots of spare capital and you’re equally blessed by them being generously disposed towards you, the choice of accommodation is, more often than not, based on affordability and not aesthetics and location. This is how it came to pass that Lynda and I shared a house for a while with two good friends, Jeremy and Heidi.

The house, which was divided into two self-contained units connected by a door, was ideally suited to our arrangement. Lynda and I, blessed with a baby boy, were in the larger unit, whilst childless Jem and Heidi were content to occupy the smaller space. The massive two-and-a-half acre property, which was overgrown and messy – badly needing attention, was surrounded by a high diamond-mesh fence. Fortunately the four of us shared a common interest in gardening so any costs we incurred in that direction were shared. We also had the added bonus of being at the end of the municipal water reticulation network where, to prevent the pipes from silting up, the municipality would regularly have to bleed the pipes. Jeremy, an irrigation design engineer by profession, installed an irrigation system in the garden so when the municipality did their thing we would hook up Jem’s system and the entire garden would benefit. Everybody was happy.

Life is simpler when you’re young. When I think back on those times the word idyllic comes to mind. In essence the two families would live separate lives during the week – occasionally bumping into each other from time to time – and getting together to do things over the weekends. I can remember there being a lot of laughter.

One day all of that changed.

It’s an oft overlooked fact that introducing another element into an existing arrangement will inevitably impact on the dynamic. For example (and without going into the philosophy of it, because that’s not what this story is about) imagine a young couple living together quite happily. They have a routine, a rhythm, a balance and then, because for some reason that’s not enough, they get a puppy. The puppy comes bouncing cutely, happily into their lives and everybody loves it because, let’s face it, puppies are just adorable (so are kittens but I’m using puppies for this example). But puppies need attention. They make messes that need to be cleaned up; they need to be fed the right food at certain times so they grow healthy bones; they need pampering and discipline and love because that’s what happens in a pack. It’s irrelevant how willing the couple is to give all the care and attention necessary – that’s not the issue. The issue is that the dynamic has changed and adjustments have had to be made. Another example would be having a guest come and stay with you for a few days; it’s like having a fish. At first you don’t notice it’s there but after a while you can’t help but to notice it.

Anyway, this story is neither about puppies nor fish; it’s about chickens or, more specifically, bantams!

I know right! Bantams? What on earth could bantams possibly do to upset the even balance of things? Read on and you’ll find out.

Heidi, bless her, was enthralled by an advert she’d read that chickens are an asset to any suburban garden. Beguiled by evocative statements like, there’s nothing like a fresh tomato picked right off the vine and mmmmm! Fresh homegrown vegetables and herbs are healthier, contain more vitamins and minerals, and are tastier by far than anything you can purchase at the local market backed up with the promise that, by introducing chickens to the mix, she could say hello to dark, nutrient rich garden soil, a weedless wonderland of bounty, an insect free gardening zone, a rowdy soil mixing rally and vibrant delicious vegetables chock full of good-for-you vitamins and minerals! She became quite fervent in her quest to lead us all down the road to a healthier lifestyle, not to mention the massive amount of money that could be saved by eating home-grown chicken eggs.

I have to state here, for the record, that I was not really up for the idea [of keeping chickens] at all. I did not have anything against free-range chickens (I was quite for it actually) I just didn’t like the idea of having free-range, indiscriminately-crapping chickens in my garden. But, I would be lying if I said I objected strongly; in fact I would be lying if I said I even aired my objection at all. The sands of time have clouded my memory but I imagine I would have discounted the danger of standing in chicken crap against the sheer size of the property (and as I recall, that never became an issue) so when Heidi came home from work one day with a box containing six cute, tiny little balls of feathers I was not alarmed. Au contraire! Most baby animals are cute and baby bantams (yes, they were bantams, not chickens) rank right up there with puppies, kittens and baby rabbits so it was delightful to watch them as they cheep-cheeped about on the carpet in Heidi’s lounge.

The novelty wore off quite quickly for me, I must say, whilst Jeremy (who’d studied animal husbandry when he did his farming degree at Gwebi Agricultural College) was torn between the practicalities of rearing wild birds in captivity and his love for his girlfriend (she became his wife later); patiently enduring her wheedling attempts to make the chickens a permanent household fixture.

“No, they can’t sleep in the bed”, he’d tell her, “they aren’t house-trained”, or “Heidi, don’t even think about giving them a bath” and so on and so on until eventually he managed to convince her that the very best place for them would be outside.

He made up a nice little run for them on the floor of the garden shed with a light and plenty of food and water and for several weeks the cute little feather balls did nothing more than eat, drink and sleep until Jem, the nominated poultryman, deemed them mature enough to roam. Thereafter the little fowls, scraggly and moth-eaten and well past their cute-by date, had free run of the garden during the day. Every night-time they’d be shepherded back to the safety of the shed so no harm could come to them.

So far, so good.

Very early one morning and I mean REALLY early, around two am, I awoke from a deep dreamless sleep. I didn’t know why but my heart was pounding and my instinct alerted me to the fact that something was wrong. I lay awake in the darkness, listening intently, barely breathing, waiting for the danger to reveal itself. I listened and listened until finally I convinced myself that I was being paranoid and let my body relax. But as I was dozing off, just as I got to that no-man’s land between wake and sleep, I was jerked fully awake by the unmistakable sound of someone being throttled – just outside my bedroom window.

I sat bolt upright in bed with adrenaline coursing through my veins and my heart once again thumping furiously. I didn’t want to turn on my light for fear of alerting the strangler that I was awake (and a potential witness to his foul crime) so, in the darkness, I peeled the bed clothing off me and, moving very slowly so as not to make any sound, ever so carefully started getting out of bed. Then, just as my second foot touched the carpet, the sound came again only this time, because I was wide awake, I recognised it for what it really was – an immature cockerel’s crow.

I quietly chuckled self-consciously and felt a bit foolish yet, at the same time, pardoned myself for making the mistake. I was also chuckling over the fact that one of Heidi’s prize-winning layers was never going to lay eggs on account of it being the wrong gender. It was with that thought that I finally drifted back to sleep – despite the continued abortive, mildly irritating, attempts the apprentice fowl made to convert his strangled gasp into a full-fledged, something-to-be-proud-of crow.

I made a point of speaking to Jem and Heidi about the incident before they left for work in the morning, going as far as reproducing the sound the little rooster had made, which made all of us laugh but I must say, Heidi was a little disappointed (as well as a bit cross) to learn that one of her hens wasn’t a hen at all. Jem was able to mollify her though. Drawing upon his vast experience as a stock-man he was able to explain that sexing little chickens is complicated, “and sometimes”, he said, “they can get it wrong.”

At two o’clock the following morning, when the entire continent was tucked up in bed and fast asleep (quite right too) the little guy, who still hadn’t been taught how to tell the time, got a jump-start on every rooster in the world and started his weird strangled crow that, despite the fact that it didn’t scare me awake like it had the night before (this time I recognised the sound for what it was), was very irritating. The term “BIRD BRAIN with various connotations bounced around in my head as I yet again endured his pathetic attempts to crow properly before he finally gave up and I fell asleep.

“Did you hear your chicken last night?” I asked Heidi as she was climbing into her car the next morning.

HEIDI:    No I didn’t. Was he crowing again?

ME:        (Hmmm, it was really loud. Surely she heard it) Yes, he started at the same time – two o’clock.

HEIDI:    Hahaha. You look like you haven’t slept very well. Hahaha

ME:        (It’s not funny) Yes, I do feel tired. That’s two nights in a row and my eyes feel like they’ve got sand in them. I can’t wait till the guy learns how to tell the time. Ha

HEIDI:    Sorry, was there something else? I can’t be late for work today.

ME:        No, I’ll see you later. Bye

It was a fairly difficult day for me, what with the disturbed sleep and all, so I was glad when it came to an end and I was finally able to get into bed. I’m one of those lucky individuals who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and the moment my head hit the pillow that night I was out for the count.

According to The Moscow Rules (and Sir Ian Fleming), once is an accident, twice is a coincidence but three times is an enemy action.

When that bloody chicken started its weird throat-gargle at exactly two o’clock the next morning I started having visions of pulling its head off with my bare hands. Being woken up was one thing but listening to that incomplete crow was, without a doubt, the most frustrating thing I’d ever had to endure in my life. It would start beautifully, with a robust OOOH-A-OOOH-A…. but fizzle out into a gasp that sounded, like I described before, someone being strangled and their last breath leaving their body…. uuuuhhhh. Time after time, over and over and over. I could imagine all of his little chicken mates sitting up there on the perch with him egging him on.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            Ahhh, nice one mate, you almost had it there

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, nice one.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A- uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            No, you lost it that time mate. Give it another go

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, give it another go

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-oUUuuhhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            Oh wow, that one was so close mate. Give it another go

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-UUuuhhhhh

…for ages and ages over and over. There was no earthly reason for the little bastard to carry on. He couldn’t do it for goodness sake. As rooster crows go his was, without a doubt, the most pathetic crow in the history of the entire world but the stubborn little FUCK just went on and on. There’d be silence for five minutes and I’d tell myself it was all over, that his voice box (which hadn’t been in a good way at the beginning of the exercise) had finally packed up and I could get some sleep. But then, almost as if he was telling himself that he couldn’t let the side down, off he’d go again, OOOH-A-OOOH-A, and I’d say to myself, “he’s going to do it right this time, it’s going to end in that triumphant OOOOOOH OOOOOOOOOOOOH and all his mates will pat him on the back and he’ll be chuffed with himself and he’ll go to sleep and I can bloody well go back to sleep”. But each time I was wrong, and aaagggghhhhhh – I wished that fucking chicken would just die.

My eyes, the next morning, felt as if they had been rubbed with sandpaper and the word exhausted did not come close to describing how tired I was. I bathed and dressed then made my way out to the shed hoping to identify the culprit. I suppose I thought that it would help if I put a face to the voice.

I was disappointed. They all looked the same, apart from the colour of their moth-eaten feathers, a mixture of black and brown, so my feeling of frustration intensified. The exasperation of not knowing which one of the little clucking bastards was to blame for my disturbed sleep was indescribable so, instead of directing my rage at just one of them I simply hated them all!

I restrained myself though. I recalled Heidi’s face when she’d brought her little charges home all those weeks ago. She’d been beaming from ear to ear as she set the box down on her lounge carpet and cooed and fussed over them when they’d cheep-cheeped and run around like little clockwork toys. She absolutely loved them.

“No”, I told myself, “let them be. Whichever one is the culprit he’ll grow out of it soon enough”.

Strangely, neither Jem NOR Heidi, who I saw outside before they left for work, had been disturbed which I found a little unfair; “they are their chickens after all”, I’d thought.

ME:        Hey guys, did you hear your chicken last night?

JEM:      No

HEIDI:    No. Aaaah Jelly Tot (that was her pet name for Jem) why can’t we hear the cute wikkle chicky-wicky crow.

JEM:      Animal husbandry doesn’t work like that darling

ME:        (YOU CAN’T BE FUCKING SERIOUS) Seriously? You didn’t hear the bastard thing starting its shit at bloody two am? Seriously?

JEM:      (Looking puzzled) No, not a thing

HEIDI:    (Eyes filling with tears) NO *sob*

Jem ended up driving Heidi to work because she was too upset to drive herself. I wasn’t sure whether it was because she hadn’t heard the damn thing crowing or because I’d called it a bastard.

I struggled to stay awake at work that day. I cannot recall ever being so tired before. At the tea station I told my colleagues about what was happening at home and they all found it highly amusing which, strangely, went a long way to lightening my mood. I somehow managed to see the day through without falling asleep at my desk and managed to drive home without nodding off at the wheel and causing rush-hour carnage. It was an early night for me.

Although I had expected it, when that fucking chicken did its pathetic death-rattle parody at two am, I was incensed. I lay awake shaking with rage, imagining the joy I would get by murdering the bastard thing as endured an encore from the previous three nights. So imagine, if you can, how I felt when, after listening to that unearthly sound for at least fifteen minutes, the scenario took a turn for the worse. Yes, it got worse. Instead of a single voice screeching out an ill-timed reveille, there was suddenly an entire cacophonic chorus.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            Ahhh, nice one mate, you almost had it there

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, nice one.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A- uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            No, you lost it that time mate. Give it another go

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Whaat? Who was that?

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           (Proudly) That was me

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Woooow. Duuuuude. That was so gooood. Do it again

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-oUUuuhhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            I want to try, I want to try!

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Go for it dude.

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            A-oooouuuuuh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Hmmmm, not bad, try saying OOOH-A-uuuuhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            A-oooouuuuuh

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-UUuuhhhhh

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

And on and on and on – driving me absolutely nuts until eventually, I simply couldn’t take any more. I took the pillow I was using to cover my head and flung it across the room then threw off the bed-clothes and leapt angrily to my feet swearing to commit bloody murder.

LYNDA:                 Where are you going

ME:                        I’m going to kill those bloody bantams

LYNDA:                 (Always the voice of reason) You can’t kill them. Heidi loves them.

ME:                        She’ll get over it (How can Lynda want anything other than death for those feathery little bastards)

LYNDA:                 (Shouting in a whisper because she didn’t want to wake the baby) David, get back in the bed now!

ME:                        (You’re not my father, you can’t tell me what to do) No, I’m going to kill those chickens.

LYNDA:                 If you harm a hair on their heads I will never speak to you again.

ME:                        (Ha, chickens don’t have hair. Is she being serious?) Those chickens are going to die. They have to die!

LYNDA:                 You’ve heard me. Touch those chickens and you’ll regret it.

ME:                        I’m going to kill them (Shit, I can’t kill them. She’ll make my life a living hell)

And with this I stormed angrily out of the bedroom, walked down the corridor and through the kitchen to the locked door. I took the key off the peg and unlocked it and stepped out into the star lit night.

The cool air had some sort of calming effect on me. I already knew I would not be able to kill those little creatures (despite the possibility that all of Heidi’s hens were, in fact, cockerels) but I still had to find a way to shut them up. I would not be able to take another night like this. Oddly I hadn’t heard a sound from the birds since I’d come outside and, because of that, I almost turned around and went back into the house. I knew, though, that if I did, they would start up again the moment my head touched that pillow.

Then I saw Heidi’s top-loading washing machine nestled in a little veranda alcove between their section of the house and ours and the answer came to me.

I went to the shed and flipped the light switch to be confronted by six very wide-awake bantams, sitting on a perch looking curiously at me. They didn’t flap, squawk, cluck or crow – they just looked at me. They looked quite cute. I felt my anger slip several notches so I said, “you fucking noisy little bastards, I came here to kill you” (to harden my resolve) but they still didn’t register any alarm – just carried on looking at me.

So I stepped into the shed and felt my bare foot squish in chicken shit. I yelled with renewed anger to be rewarded by the sextet leaping off their perch, to run around on the floor squawking and clucking and flapping in alarm – making one hell of a racket.

They were difficult to catch but I managed to round them up, one by one, then, one at a time, I carried them out of the shed, making sure to close the door behind me so the others couldn’t escape and create mayhem (stupid birds) and put them into the top-loader. As I put the last one in and closed the lid, muttering “now try to crow you fucking little bastard”, Jeremy came round the corner, which took me a little by surprise.

JEM:      What are you doing?

ME:        Aaaagggh, don’t sneak up on me like that.

JEM:      What the bloody hell are you doing? What’s all that racket?

ME:        (Aaaah, good – they’ve heard something) Jem, why are you carrying that knobkerrie?

JEM:      I heard the bantams squawking and thought a jackal might be prowling around. (Puzzled look) What are you doing?

ME:        (Feeling a little stupid now) I’m keeping these fucking, goddam chickens quiet.

JEM:      (Furrowed brow, even more puzzled – notices the shed door standing open) What are you talking about? (Walks to the shed and looks inside)

ME:        They’re not in there. They’re in here (pointing foolishly at the washing machine)

JEM:      (Face registering utter disbelief) They’re what?

I said nothing more. I pointed at the washing machine again and turned and walked into my house. I went back to bed, making sure to wash and dry my feet first.

I slept the whole night through.

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5 Comments

  1. Hilarious story. Must’ve been extremely irritating and annoying, especially when trying to get some sleep. I have the same feeling of – “Kill, Kill,” the annoying RATS that are in the house across the road. Their barking is incessant. I have had visions of getting my son, Kiran’s, pellet gun and blowing the 3 Toy Poms heads off !!! If it ever came to that, I know I would never have the heart to shoot them. I did, however, try to run them over when I saw them on the road, but, of course, they gapped it to where the car couldn’t reach! Anyway, I made my complaint known to the opposite neighbors and they now let the noisy RATS sleep in the house. I only hear them faintly every now and then, now. At least my sleep is not continuously disturbed.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the read, thank you.

    1. Aaah, spoken by someone who has also experienced the frustration of night after night of interrupted sleep. There’s a lot of anger coming through in your words though. Be calm, take deep breaths and invest in a top-loading washing machine