It was one of those rarest things, a pleasantly warm and sunny afternoon. I could hear little birds singing happily, a bee buzzing in the roses, and Charlie was sitting under the fuchsia, eyes and ears alert to the comings and goings in our garden. I was sitting outside, enjoying a cigarette, and watching a hen, walking around the pond, stopping every so often to examine something in the grass and peck at it, clucking contentedly to itself.
What was wrong with this scenario? For one thing, we don’t have any hens…They are a creature that has never appealed to me as a pet, their eyes are shiny, hard carnelian discs and I am always somewhat afraid of the curved horny beaks and long muscular legs ending in scaly strong feet armed with claws to grip and tear. So…why was there a hen in the garden?
I leaned over and carefully put my cigarette out, not wanting any sudden movement to warn this avian intruder of my presence. Slowly I stood up. Charlie’s ears at once swivelled in my direction, swiftly followed by her emerald eyes. She rose delicately to her paws, obviously wanting to see for herself what had attracted my attention.
Meanwhile, the hen had finished surveying the area around the pond and began walking up the garden path towards us, stopping every so often to examine me, its head cocked to one side, rather like an imperious Edwardian lady sneering through her lorgnette. It was quite a large hen. It was completely alien, not something you expect to see in a suburban back garden, a dinosaur relative of the farmyard picking its way amongst the lobelia and lambs ears… It shook its feathers out contemptuously, and I was momentarily distracted by the healthy gleam of its attire, black and vibrant with a sheen of green where the afternoon sun hit it.
Charlie was, by now, very aware of our unexpected visitor and dropped into her hunting crouch. This was no ordinary sparrow, no mere mouse, and, by God, she was going to bring this creature down and boast about it at the girls’ club.
“Call that a sparrow? Now this, THIS is a sparrow!”
She inched carefully towards the hen, who was engaged in picking its toes, tail fluffed out like tabby tinsel, intent and purpose written clearly in every line of her tense little body.
“Oh no, darling, you don’t want that, come back! It might bite you!
Ignoring my panicked protestations, Charlie’s hunting creep went from stealthy stalk to all out capture mode, as her little paws carried her carefully towards the unwary hen. It looked up, and a flash of alarm crossed its hitherto imperturbable feathered face as it gathered its plumage around itself and turned away, scaly legs moving slightly quicker as it realised something very bad could be about to happen…
Into this farcical scene, a head. Popped over from the hedge at the back of our garden and a rather indignant tone of voice:
“’Scuse me love. Do you think I could ‘ave me chicken back?”
Cheek! Like I had purposely enticed the creature into my garden!
However, the strident voice shattered the moment. Charlie charged at the hen as I made a somewhat tentative attempt to approach the hen in a semi-purposeful way, arms outstretched to try and clasp the feathery fugitive to my breast but Charlie chose that moment to charge at the hen, jaws open and paws outstretched to seize the mega prey item. The hen spread its wings and…and…it flew off! Obviously I was aware that as it had wings it had a high probability of being able to fly, but it was somewhat like watching a steak and kidney pie grow legs and run away from your knife and fork.
It was most ungainly in flight, rather like a roll of binbags escaping from a shopping trolley, but flew it did. Over our fence and in the direction of the road. The owner of the hen gave a despairing shout and his head disappeared from the top of our hedge.
Charlie and I looked at each other, and the expression on her face must have mirrored mine exactly…shock, surprise and a degree of annoyance that a seemingly easy prize had behaved so unexpectedly-by escaping!