There was a chicken wandering the block.
The first people to see her were Jimmy and his boy. The boy ran into my yard with Jimmy in tow when I wasn’t there a few days ago, and Adrienne heard them talking about seeing a chicken. I thought Jimmy’s boy was just playing a game.
Yesterday night was Beggar’s Night. As I handed out lollypops to a gaggle of zombies, I head one of them say “This is where we saw the chicken!” but I thought they’d just seen another child in a chicken costume.
Early this afternoon, Adrienne came running down the stairs when I thought she’d been sleeping in. “There’s a chicken on the neighbor’s porch!” she exclaimed.
Her bedroom is in the front of the house, facing the street; she’d taken a photograph with her phone out the window. I couldn’t find my glasses, so I stared at the photo instead of going to stare at the actual bird. There was, indeed, a plump brown and grey chicken standing on the porch of our neighbors’ house across the street.
I remembered that several people on the wealthier blocks in LaBelle keep beautiful ducks and hens as pets, and even let them out to free range from time to time. I got in the neighborhood message board on Facebook and wrote out a note. “Did anyone in LaBelle lose a chicken? She’s wandering around [our block] just now.”
One of the first replies was that I should call Animal Control. This is a small town, and I happened to know that Animal Control didn’t answer the phone on weekends. They just had a voice message saying to call 911. I was not, under any circumstances, going to call 911 on a chicken.
I asked Holly the Witch whether I could bring the chicken some unpopped popcorn from my garden. Holly said her chickens liked green vegetables, scrambled eggs, and “any kind of protein scraps.”
“Even chicken?” I balked.
Yes, chickens do even eat chicken.
I found my glasses, and then I got together some leftovers on one of Adrienne’s old plastic lunch plates. When I came out, the chicken was wandering back and forth on the porch across the street, bold as brass. The gentleman who lives there now had come out to have a smoke; he was watching her with more shock than one stray chicken merited.
“Chook chook!” I said. “Chook chook” is what Holly says to call her chickens, but this hen was not impressed.
I tried “here, chick chick chick chick!” but that didn’t work either. The chicken stubbornly refused to cross the road. Finally, I left the plate by the gap in my porch where stray animals sometimes burrow for shelter, and then I went inside.
“I left the food out for Rhonda,” I told Adrienne. “I hope she goes under the porch so the hawk doesn’t get her!”
“Yes, I’m naming the chicken Rhonda Santis.”
Several minutes later, my door popped open.
I jumped up, half expecting to see Rhonda the chicken strut inside demanding more leftovers, but nobody came in. I waited until I was sure the wind had blown the door.
When I went to close it, there was a child standing on the threshold, grinning.
I recognized him as one of the friends of Jimmy’s boy. He is younger than Jimmy’s boy, too young to be very articulate and two young to go to school. He can’t be more than four years old. Earlier in the week I had refereed a fight between the two of them over who got to stuff leaves in a toy back hoe and dump them out in a pile. Before that, the young boy had stolen Adrienne’s football and run off with it, and Jimmy’s boy tackled him to get it back.
“Well, hello there!” I said.
The boy held out a sticky hand with two unwrapped watermelon Sour Patch Kid candies inside.
“Thank you!” I looked beyond him down the street, but there was no grownup in sight. He must have wandered out of his yard just as Rhonda had. The rain was kicking up outside.
I took the candies and pocketed them. “Thank you so much! Have you come to play?”
Among the detritus on my porch was Adrienne’s old plastic tricycle, which Jimmy’s boy likes to borrow sometimes. The new boy sat on it and scooted back and forth. Adrienne came out with some of her old Hot Wheels, and he had a good time loading them with kernels of popcorn and dumping the popcorn off the porch rails. I’m going to have a crop of cornstalks growing out of the sidewalk cracks next summer. I asked him how he’d liked trick-or-treating, and whether he’d been to church today.
When the rain let up, Adrienne pointed out the house that the boy belonged to down the block. I lured him with a handful of leftover Halloween candy, back to his own porch and his mother.
That evening, I found out from the neighborhood message board that there are a gang of feral chickens living behind the old grocery store downtown. It could be that Rhonda isn’t lost, just itinerant. I’ll keep a bird feeder conveniently low for her, in case she comes back. Maybe she will become an honorary pet, like Jeanne the Guardian.
I remembered that Christianity isn’t really about being busy minding others’ business and thinking up things to worry about doing. Christianity is about being yourself, in Christ, and trying to be good to anyone who comes to you.
I realized, yet again, that I’m happy right here where I am.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.