Cock – a – doodle – doo by Soniya Kulkarni

The sky was on the verge of turning crimson. It was time for Surya to start his day. Madam had never owned an alarm clock and at it was up to him to wake her up. Surya had diligently fulfilled this responsibility for the last seven years. Rain or shine, and through sickness and in health, even on the days when his majestic midnight blue tail drooped from the symptoms of a pesky ailment, Surya never once missed waking Madam up.

With resounding “cock-a-doodle-doo” that echoed through the trees on the mountain, Surya nudged madam out of her slumber.

The soft, tangerine plumes that covered his stately neck glistened in the early morning light as Surya ducked out of his coop. He strutted across the front yard at a languid pace and hopped onto the front porch. Surya examined his reflection in the glass shutter of the main door. He first checked in legs and then his mouth. Satisfied with what he observed, Surya hopped off the porch and made way towards Madam’s window.

Surya released a small croak of pleasure, for he was content with what he had seen in the glass. A particularly vile outbreak of fowl pox had eliminated most of the hen and rooster population that had once lived in the houses scattered on the mountain, Surya though was safe. He saw no warts on his legs or legions near his mouth. He was safe from the virus, in fact, today he felt better than he had on most days.

Sure there were no more hens left for him to boss around, or take mud baths with. No cacophony of squabbles could be heard from the pen during the night. Surya had no one left to insert himself between when the fights turned particularly nasty between the hens. He now mostly lived by himself in the coop. On some nights the rats came over to keep him company. He strictly tolerated their presence. They spoke in loud, incomprehensible squeaks that made him jittery; however anything was preferable to the silence that descended upon the shed when the sun set. It had come to a point when Surya preferred the company of rats to that of the silence.

A shade of gloom threatened to mar Surya’s good spirits as he thought about his lost companions. He vigorously shook his head from left to right to shake off the unhappy thoughts. He was alive and healthy, and it was about time Madame woke up. Surya cleared his throat.

“Cock-a-doodle-doo Madam,” Surya said out loud. “Rise and shine, it’s Saturday. You know what Saturday means, don’t you madam?” he asked loudly.

Surya heard the sound of shuffling feet inching towards the front door. “Your children and grandchildren, they will be here to see you soon,” he said.

“Saturday, is it?” Madam asked, as she lumbered out of the hut. “Did you say it is Saturday? Oh, what’s the point Surya?” she lamented.

Madam held on to her left knee that had been giving her some trouble for the last few months. The shutter creaked close behind her as she stepped onto the porch. The hinges had last been lubricated before the start of the rains. They were now badly in need of a generous squirt of oil.

Many years of hard labor had caused Madam’s spine to permanently bend over. Although she no longer plucked tea that grew on the slopes of the mountain for ten hours a day, as she had done for the last thirty years, her back refused to straighten.

Her hands did not reach the hinges. So they rusted away further, with each passing shower. It had been a while since any of Madam’s children had visited her, let alone helped her with chores around the house.

“They didn’t come last Saturday, or the Saturday day before that,” she said.

“Now, now Madam. You mustn’t be dejected,” Surya said. “You know how treacherous these mountain roads can be, especially after the rains.”

“That’s true,” Madam said. “It did rain the last few Saturdays.”

Surya bowed down. Madam scooped him into her arms and gently stroked his neck. “Maybe we should move somewhere down below Surya, somewhere closer to the plains. What do you think? Would you like it down there?” she asked.

“I’m a rooster Madam. I’m fairly certain we are not supposed to have preferences.”

“Do you think you are going to like it down there?” she asked again, choosing to ignore his remarks.

“I will go wherever you go Madam,” Surya said.

“But where do you want to go?” she asked.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” he said. “I haven’t really know any other home, but I’m sure it will be fine down in the valley too.”

Madam lifted Surya up to her face and looked him in the eye with mock sternness. “Now, now Surya. What is this morose talk, that too this early in the morning?” she said. “You know as well as I do, that you are more than just a chicken to me.”

“You flatter me Madam,” he said.

Madam set Surya down and grabbed a fistful of rice from the bowl that she left by the chair on the porch. She opened up her palm below Surya’s parted beak. He gently pecked the grain off her open palm, taking care to not pierce her wrinkled, rubbery flesh.

“Say Surya, how is it going these days, living all by yourself in the pen?”

“It’s alright Madam. I’m getting used to it, it does get a bit lonely on some days though,” Surya said. They sat in silence for a while, as each contemplated upon the emptiness that they had individually inherited. “It gets lonely on most days Madam,” he added.

“You should come sleep in the house then”, Madam said.

“I’m a rooster madam, we are not meant to live in houses that belong to old ladies.”

“Stop saying that! You are family.”

“I’m grateful for your love Madam, but it is best that I sleep in the coop.”

“Because you prefer the company of barn rats to mine, is it?” she asked fiercely.

Surya fluttered his feathers and croaked out loud in protest. “But Madam, who has ever heard of a woman and chicken living together? What an absurd idea!”

“You know what’s absurd? My children, who I took care of for all those years, ignoring me now,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time any of them checked to see if I’m alive. You, you actually care if I wake up in the morning.”

“Madam, you must not lose your temper. It’s not good for your high blood pressure,” Surya chided her gently. “I heard you yelling yesterday, I was napping in my shed, but I heard you.”

Madam clicked her tongue as she reminisced about her argument from the previous day. Her wrinkles deepened further at the thought of the ugly words exchanged with the postman, who was absolutely certain that he had no letter for her. He did not once bother to look into his sack, even after she insisted. Surya clucked softly to break her reverie. Sensing that something was amiss, he rubbed his beak back and forth across her palm. Madam broke into a giggle. Surya crowed in satisfaction.

“So you will come then, you will come live with me?” She asked.

“Maybe.”

“There is no rain this weekend,” Madam said.

“No Madam, it’s turning out to be a rather nice day,” Surya said. In union they peered at the sky that had now started to turn golden.

“They will come soon.” Surya said.

“Will they?” Madam asked.

“Yes.”

“Say Surya, we haven’t really spoken before, have we?” Madam asked.

“No we haven’t,” he said.

“Why do you think that is?”

“I’m a rooster Madam, that’s why.”

“You mean to say that roosters don’t talk?”

“No Madam.”

“Then why am I talking to you now?”

“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” he croaked in response.

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