Winston repeated his question to Sonny. “Well? Can you name one rooster fit to be chief after me?”
Sonny gave it some thought, then said tentatively, “Ivan is strong. Maybe he…”
“Sonny,” said Winston, “I have just told you the most important job for a chief rooster.”
“Yes. To look after the chickens.”
“Tell me then, will Ivan look after the chickens?”
“Ivan is selfish. No, he will not look after the chickens.”
“That’s right,” said Winston. The two sat in silence for a while before the old rooster continued. “You have seen Ivan watching me.”
“Yes,” said Sonny. “I don’t like it. I’m sure he’s up to something.” A thought dawned upon him. “Do you think he will… challenge you?”
(When an old chief rooster died, the young roosters would battle it out to see who became the new chief. Sometimes though, a young rooster would become impatient for his shot at glory and challenge a living chief. They would then fight before the other chickens—sometimes to the death—to determine who would be ruler.)
The old rooster sighed. “Yes. Ivan has been waiting a long time to challenge me.”
“But surely Ivan could not beat you, Winston… could he?”
“Not yet, no. I still have some fight left in me. But I am old, and soon enough I will be weak. That is what Ivan is watching for. He is a smart rooster, I will give him that.” Winston could see that this discussion had caught Sonny off guard and shaken him. He gave him a moment to process things, but it wasn’t enough preparation for what was said next. “Sonny, after I am gone, the chickens must be looked after. You are the only rooster who can see to this. When Ivan is chief, you must challenge him.”
Sonny stepped back off his seat. “Me? But Ivan is powerful and I am too small to fight.”
“You are small,” said Winston, “but you are wise, and you look beyond your own ambitions. You have more honour in one feather than Ivan has in his entire body. Besides, he is not invincible.”
“I couldn’t. It’s impossible,” stammered Sonny. He looked as though he would faint.
“It’s not impossible,” assured Winston. “It is necessary. But I can see I have overwhelmed you. Forget, for now, the idea of fighting Ivan. I want you only to think of this: the chickens must be looked after.”
Sonny breathed a little easier and nodded. “Okay,” he said.
“Leave me now, Sonny,” said Winston. “Only remember—the chickens must be looked after. That is the chief rooster’s job.”
“Yes, Winston,” replied Sonny, and he got up to leave. As he walked out of the old rooster’s dark shed, the warm morning light shone upon his face. Sonny looked about at the dew glistening on the grass, and the bees drifting contentedly among the daffodils. Sparrows flew without care overhead, whistling to each other as they went. The worry and heaviness of the previous minutes melted off the little grey rooster, and for the time being he gave no thought to fighting Ivan. Only one thought remained, and it became Sonny’s deep and constant meditation: the chickens must be looked after.
© 2018 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED