In the north of Ecuador, halfway between the Pacific coast and the nation’s capital, lies the delightful town of Puerto Quito. On the edge of the town, where the manmade gives way to wild nature, there is a small dairy farm whose eastern boundary is unfenced, for it is sealed by thick, thriving jungle. Roaming that eastern border of the property, there is a hen.
The hen can be seen wandering the cow pasture, pecking in the lush grass. Sometimes she will flap up onto the big tree stump and watch the cows, tilting her head curiously. In the middle of the day she will often seek shade behind the barn, crouching in the dirt and ruffling her feathers. And on Fridays and Saturdays, and the occasional Sunday or Wednesday, at around four in the afternoon, she will suddenly stand tall and stretch her neck high, then race off into the jungle.
The old man who runs the farm is happy to let the hen roam around. He will even leave a corn cob for her behind the shed. The farmer will not, however, go anywhere near the jungle on the east side of his property. Once, out of curiosity, he followed the hen through the trees. Now, if ever he sees her running that way, he will cross himself, mutter a prayer, and then rush inside his house.
Leon Mathison lives with his wife in a two-bedroom flat in Bristol. He is a stage hypnotist. Friday and Saturday nights, and some Sundays and Wednesdays, he performs at medium sized venues throughout southern England, under the stage name Raziq the Mystic. He has over thirty years’ experience and is a consummate showman. He has volunteers at his shows transform into sports players and rock stars, speak alien languages, jump around like monkeys, and he achieves it all with his powers of persuasion. With his talents, however, came a level of pride, and Leon could not stand it that one element of his show was lacking. Try as he might, Leon could never master the old getting-people-to-act-like-chickens routine. And so he turned to the dark arts. With an incantation from an old spell book, Leon finally got it to happen. It is now one of the best parts of his act. The chicken volunteer in each of his shows is remarkably convincing, and the segment always has the audience in stitches.
Whenever Leon whispers his secret incantation to turn someone into a chicken, they really do become a chicken. Mentally, at least. From the moment Leon gives his command until he snaps his fingers to end the spell, that volunteer’s mind is switched with that of the hen in Ecuador. During those times, the hen in Puerto Quito will race into the jungle and grapple with shock of existence. She will consider with a heavy heart her own mortality, she will despair her unmarried state, she will seethe with anger at the prime minister’s policies, she will sit and stare at a pretend computer she fashioned from small stones and sticks. And she will speak. Just as Raziq the Mystic’s volunteer will cluck like a chicken, the hen in Puerto Quito will speak fluent English with a British accent. The words she says vary from person to person, but they are almost always tinged with self-pity. On the afternoon the farmer followed the hen into the jungle, he watched her pace back and forth through the mud and fallen leaves, and this is what he heard her say: “I don’t even know what I’m doing. I should quit my job. I know I won’t though. My life is so boring. What should I have for dinner? I might try that new Italian place. No, don’t eat pasta, you’ll just put on weight. Oh, I was supposed to answer that email from Alan today. I don’t want to deal with Alan. I’ll email him tomorrow. My foot hurts. Oranges are weird. Most fruits are a different colour on the inside than they are on the outside, but oranges are the only fruit that is the same inside and out. Oh hang on, no, blueberries are blue inside. And mangoes are kind of the same colour inside. What else? I can only think of five fruits. There has to be more than that. I’m so tired. I don’t want to email Alan. I wish he would bother someone else instead. Ah, he’s not so bad. Cut him some slack. Screw it, I’ll get pasta for dinner. I’ll just have a salad tomorrow. I wonder what’s on T.V. tonight. Ugh. What am I even doing? I don’t want to do this anymore.”
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