There we were, peering into the darkness. Watching, waiting for Charlie to come home. This was one grey, rainy evening of 1996. A regular rainy season evening nonetheless, except it was nearly 8:00 pm- two hours after Charlie’s usual time to return home.
Back then, my family reared chickens, goats and turkeys. The birds and animals were reared for food during school holidays. Sometimes, the poults were sold for money-especially during Easter and Christmas seasons.
It happened that one turkey was laying eggs that 1996 holiday. One afternoon, during a regular inspection of the coop, I discovered a smaller egg among the turkey’s eggs. “Ah,” I gasped in surprise. “James, James. Judith, Judith.” “Come and see what I have found.” At about 50% smaller, the smaller egg looked like a chicken egg, but none of the hens were laying eggs. A debate about its origin ensued. “Maybe a neighbour’s hen had laid among the turkey’s eggs,” offered James. “Perhaps the turkey wasn’t fed well or it is unwell,” countered Judith. I made a mental note to assess the turkey later in the evening. We did not arrive at a plausible explanation, even after Patrick, Caesar and our parents got involved.
The egg hatched into a beautiful, beautiful plump, speckled chick. We named it Charlie. With red and brown coloured feathers, the white speckles, large golden wattle and comb, and a beautiful yellow beak, Charlie grew into the most beautiful rooster in the whole neighbourhood.
Image Credit: Jairo Alzate
“Cock-a-doodle-doo, Cock-a-doodle-doo” Charlie crowed at cock-crow, awakening the sleeping neighbourhood. In the evenings, Charlie wriggled its rear, swung its comb and wattle as if dancing to dingi dingi, an Acholi traditional courtship dance and made its way to its roost. My family watched in amazement.
On numerous occasions, baba (our father) suggested that Charlie be slaughtered. This enraged my siblings and me. The boys could not bear the thought of slaughtering beautiful Charlie. How could they? And so, Charlie lived on, aging beautifully, to the admiration of my family and the neighbourhood.
It is 10:00 pm, darkness like I had never experienced descended into the neighbourhood. The houses on either side of my house had been swallowed up in to the dark. Heavy drops of rain continued to fall. Rumble of thunder echoed high above our house, throughout the sky. With no perception of depth, suddenly everything, everything disappeared and the world closed in on us.
“I saw feathers that looked like Charlie’s in the rubbish dump,” James called out from the living room where he, Patrick, and Caesar were.
“Where, where,” Judith quickly made her way from the kitchen to the living room, her hand on her chest. I followed right behind.
“Are you sure, James?” almost breathless, with unbroken patter of tear drops beginning to tumble from my eyes. Quickly becoming uncontrollable, like the rain outside. Deep down fear gripped me, I feared for Charlie.
It is 11:00 pm, our bed time. Turning and tossing, I thought about Charlie before finally drifting off. That night, I saw mother Charlie, his father and four siblings at the neighbour’s backyard. And there he was; plump, speckled with red and brown feathers …
At dawn, there was no cock-a-doodle-doo. There were no feathers in the rubbish dump. There was no Charlie. We looked everywhere. Asked all the neighbours and anyone who cared to listen when sunlight broke. By evening, there was still no Charlie. Our fear confirmed.
It took my family days, even months to fully grasp the predicament that had befallen beautiful Charlie. Finally, we had to bid Charlie farewell, learnt a lesson or two about rearing free range roosters and a secret dislike for our greedy neighbours was born.
Charlie’s origin remains a mystery.