A domestic bird of paradise
Here’s a quick question. What sort of bird do you find in paradise? Bird of Paradise perhaps? Not in our experience. We just returned to the little piece of paradise we have rented on and off over the past few years in Bali, and the ornithological answer is: a chook.
Perhaps that Australianism doesn’t do him justice. He is a young rooster that has somehow found his way into our garden with its manicured lawn, palms, ferns, buddha statures, terrazzo floored open plan living and horizon edged swimming pool.
It is the sort of place that seems to expect more of any animal inhabitant than being a mere domestic fowl, or in Indonesian ayam kampung, or in American a not-yet-Kentucky-fried chicken. But here he was when we woke on our first morning and I was just thinking how I miss our old dog who is boarding with Jill’s mum and her cat. As I type, our chook is pecking under my feet for peanut crumbs, occasionally tapping a toenail and has already discovered the meaning of the kitchen door and stands looking longingly through its glass panels.
Wayan, the part owner, who looks after our place, said the bird probably flew over the fence from the neighbour’s, a freedom our free range chickens would never enjoy. Wayan cast a Balinese eye over him and declared he wouldn’t make it as a fighting cock, so he is spared that fate, but the chook took one look at Wayan and fled- a totally different reaction to how trusting he is with us. What if he knew we were really from a country where his type are factory bred and machine slaughtered.
When I was young, my life was populated by dogs that over the years had adopted me. As soon as one died, another stray turned up as if they could sense there was a vacancy in my life. In recent decades that has become impossible as local councils purge our streets of non human wildlife. Indonesia has not yet reached that stage, although the authorities regularly conduct a pogrom against feral dogs.
At home, at our place up in the country, we have managed to befriend a family of magpies and some tame king parrots that we feed, but we do risk censure from worthy wildlife officials who frown on any cross species fraternisation. We do it anyway, because I think there is a really deep need to connect with other creatures or we end up living in a sterile human monoculture.
Our Bali chook appears anything but sterile, there are bits of mud on his tail, cobwebs in his comb and he spends a certain amount or time scratching himself, but no more than our dog. I can see the next stage will be to annthropomorphise him with a name. Jill suggested Brewster the Rooster, I thought of H5N1 after the strain of bird flu his proximity might bring on, but then I considered Soto Ayam after one of the most popular Indonesian chicken dishes.
As I watch him fill himself with leftovers of fried rice, bits of papaya and the peanut crumbs, my Bali persona slides into place- and I can’t help wondering what he would taste like.