We’d counted on capturing the chicken on Sunday morning, assembling nets, boxes and a foolproof plan. However, on Saturday night a fierce storm struck the city. I was home alone trying to concentrate on a writing project, but I spent more time worrying about the chicken. The rain verged on torrential, falling in cascades from the guttering above the carport, and the wind was so strong it blew the rain straight in at the lounge room windows.
It was after 10.00pm when I finally decided to go out into the storm and find the chicken. I couldn’t imagine it living through the night. Apart from the wind and rain, the temperature had dropped sharply. It was icy cold. I put on two layers of clothing and some thick boots. Our one torch was broken, so I opened my bedroom windows and switched all the lights on in an effort to throw some light on the chicken’s hiding place. But once outside it made no difference. I could see nothing. The wind and rain whipped at my face, and the bushes and vines in the front yard slashed at my face and tangled round my legs.
On my first attempt, I scrambled around the base of the bush. I’d seen the chicken nestled right up against the plant, and imagined this providing the best shelter against the weather. Visibility was so poor I could only scrape around blindly in the bark and leaves, hoping to scare her into the open. But she was nowhere to be found. Already drenched and cold, I retreated to the house to reconsider my approach.
Maybe she had gone in search of shelter elsewhere. Maybe she had finally gone home. I had to be sure.
I ventured back out into night, but this time approached the bush from the front. Here the garden sloped up sharply from the road. I clambered up the slippery incline and grabbed at the lower branches, pulling myself up the final metre or so. I pushed my way into the bush; its wet leaves scratching at my face. Almost immediately I spotted the chicken, a dark shape against a darker sky. She was huddled in the higher branches, a bedraggled, forlorn figure. At first I thought her beyond my reach. I leant against the branches in front of me and reached out with both hands. Any moment now she would leap into the air, squawk and disappear.
But I moved steadily and surely, and grabbed the bird with both hands. She struggled momentarily, but without much energy, and I was able to get to the house without dropping her, or falling over on the slippery ground. I placed her gently into the pet carrier I’d had waiting by the door and took her inside.
The poor thing was absolutely drenched, and for the first ten minutes or so, I thought I might have been too late to save her. But as she dried off and become familiar with her surroundings, she gained energy. Within half an hour she was hopping about the cage and clucking enthusiastically. Later on, when I attempted to clean up a fresh chicken turd, she scrambled over my shoulder and flew across the room. After several minutes of chasing her in circles I came to the conclusion that she was not about to die.
The next morning, we took her back to her home. I was surprised to discover that her owner was not nearly as old or disabled as L had described him. In fact, he seemed just as capable as me of catching the bird. In any case, he led us through his ramshackle yard to a makeshift chicken hutch. Scrambling and scurrying in and around the hutch were several little hens like ‘ours’ and a more colourful rooster. When ‘our’ chicken spotted her friends and relations, she began clucking with excitement. She was out of the pet carrier before I could even finish opening the door, and joined the other chickens in a silly little dance about the hutch floor. It was a nice moment.
I was still pretty annoyed with the chicken’s owner. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t made a greater effort to retrieve his pet. But he said he was pleased and seemed sincere. He even offered us free karate lessons.