“Chicken! You’re a chicken!”
Why do we compare scared people to chickens? Are chickens really as cowardly and afraid as we make out? Do they throw their wings into the air, at every moving shadow? Do they run in circles squawking, “A fox! A fox!” Do they lose their heads over nothing?
We once discovered a chicken without a head on our back lawn. There it lay motionless and headless, rather a grim sight. Our eldest son Duncan grabbed the shovel, scooped the hen up and carted it to the pet graveyard at the bottom of the garden, before his younger sisters could see it.
Even though the hen’s facial features were missing, I could tell it belonged to our next door neighbour. We discovered another headless chook. And another... All our neighbour’s hens must have raised their wings into the air and chased each other around in circles, clucking in terror, as danger approached. They hadn’t lost their heads over nothing. Their heads had been taken by a fox.
Sometimes it seems that it is wise to be afraid. And sometimes fear gets pushed out of the way by other emotions.
When I was eleven years old, a girl came running into our classroom screaming, “Dawn’s going to jump off the chapel roof!” The teacher flew out the door while we remained at our desks enthralled. Dawn was going to jump off the roof? Wow!
Dawn was a big clumsy girl with fat knees, and coarse hair plaited into braids that stuck out from behind her ears. No one liked Dawn. She was strange. Her mother was called to the school. She was beautiful, petite and elegant. We all thought, “Was Dawn adopted?”
Dawn didn’t end up sailing over the edge of the chapel roof. She didn’t end up splattered on the courtyard below. (Thank goodness.) The drama dissolved when her mother persuaded her to come down.
Later our teacher talked to us about Dawn. She told us what an unhappy child she was. She didn’t have any friends. Couldn’t we try and make her feel part of the group? We all felt a bit guilty. Did Dawn climb up onto the roof because we didn’t like her? We resolved to do better.
But Dawn never returned to school. I don’t know what happened to her. A class of eleven year old girls had driven her away.
I think of that chapel roof. I would have been too afraid to climb up so high. I’d have been a chicken. But Dawn wasn’t scared. She didn’t even care whether she slipped or not. All she wanted was a friend. I could have gone against the crowd. I could have dared to be Dawn’s friend.
chook! chook! chook! Can you hear those chickens clucking?