I think, I should cut off his head with axe to…to… so he will not suffer…”
Running around like our heads are chopped off, we do it all the time. Don’t tell me that you don’t sometimes feel like the zombie-chicken so often referred to in the English idiom about panicked, hopeless people. Just don’t.
I finished my first whole week of teaching classes to children who don’t understand eighty percent of what I’m saying. This week I have met a half dozen people in a half dozen places and taken a dozen buses to do so. I’ve learned that if you get on the wrong bus it will take you all the way to the end of the line and then kick you off into the rain without even being sorry for you. I’ve started projects I have yet to finish, read emails and letters I have yet to reply to, and put on my running shoes twice before taking them off and falling immediately to sleep instead. Also, I’ve been pretty sick.
And despite the fact that I’m having an immensely good time here, I do tend to feel like I’m running in circles I can’t completely control (mostly because my life is tied to a bus schedule I don’t know well enough to be flexible with yet).
So when fellow teacher, personal guardian and something of a genuine friend – Hanka – asked me if I was joining the teachers for their TGIF celebration I almost said, “No, I have to catch a bus.” In all honesty, I had already missed my bus by that point. I make excuses to not hang out when I’m stressed.
But, I reasoned with myself, were you not telling yourself today how much you hate sitting by yourself at lunch? That it’s horrible and you feel like a total loser eating by yourself in a crowded cafeteria? You need to make friends, honey.
It’s true. Even though the teacher’s conference introduced me to a lot of the ladies at the school, we work on different schedules and … and there is still that language barrier. And I’ve been busy. So I don’t know many people yet. Maybe a little TGIF isn’t such a bad idea.
Hanka let me borrow one of her coffee mugs and we headed to the second floor where four women sat around a make-shift tea table. Several half-open boxes of chocolates cluttered the surface of the table and coffee mugs filled with varying shades of steamy brown liquid stood guard at the corners.
Chairs were pulled up and Hanka and I joined the foursome, shortly followed by the French professor and a young teacher who speaks just enough English to ask me things like, “How do you like Czech boys?” Merry banter was exchanged, along with several jokes that I didn’t understand because none of it was in English. I just sat and listened and smiled. I’m kind of becoming a pro at smiling and nodding.
“Mary,” Pavlina said in a sweet, chirpy voice, “You have to tell story.” She turned to the other ladies and said something rapidly in Czech and Hanka translated – “TGIF tradition is that you tell an embarrassing story from your week.”
I smiled. Boy, do I have a few of those.
Slowly, and in crisp English so they could understand as much as possible, I told them about how I had left my coat buttoned unevenly all night at a concert in Prague Center the previous night. My coat is a hand-me down (as a San Diegan, I don’t actually own anything warm…at all) and it’s rather large, so the miss-buttoning was painfully obvious – to everyone but me, of course.
Chuckles all around. More chocolate. More coffee.
We chattered some more about clothes and concerts and school, drifting between English and Czech and hand-gestures like dietitians wafting from one health program to another – giving adequate time to each, but not sticking with one for long enough to make substantial progress.
Finally, Hanka said, “I have a good story from my week.”
Hanka’s English is very good and she spoke carefully, translating only a few difficult words into Czech for the English-impaired.
“I have six hens,” she began.
“Hands?” the ladies all questioned at once. “You have six hands?”
“No…Hens,” Hanka said again. (With a Czech accent, there is literally not even the minutest difference in pronunciation between these two words.) “I have six hens – you know, cluck-cluck?”
Giggles exploded over the clutches of tremulously teetering coffee cups as the women chorused, “Oh, hens!” and began clucking and chicken-mimicking (for lack of a better term).
Hanka was not a little flustered by this and continued.
“I also have dog. But this week I was watering my plant and I see hen in my yard running. It is not in chicken yard – it is in my yard. So I go to chicken yard and there is my dog locked inside gate. No hens.
So I tie him to garden shed and look for my chickens. Three are safe hiding in a bush but one is on the ground and he is dead.”
A synchronized awwwww was emitted from the rapt audience and Hanka continued.
“I pick him up and hold him in my arms [she cradles her arms to show us] and there is long gash down from eye to wing and no feathers. I think, I should cut off his head with axe to…to… so he will not suffer,” she finished.
Pavlina stops her.
Everyone looks at her.
One of the other English teachers (who spent time in San Francisco and understands my love for Mexican food) leaned over and said something in Czech while making chopping gestures with her hands.
“Eggs?” Pavlina said again.
“No, axe,” Hanka repeated, also making chopping gestures. Again, the accent… They sound exactly the same. The point finally became clear that Hanka was talking about killing her chicken, not collecting its eggs and the story continued with Pavlina still giggling into her coffee. I tried not to picture sweet Hanka wielding an axe and refocused on her presentation – she had begun talking in excited, hushed tones.
“After holding chicken in my arms for few minutes looking for other hens I noticed that it breathed easier…”
[Readers’ Note: She DID originally say the chicken was dead. I never got clarification on why it was suddenly not completely lifeless.]
“…Then it opened its eyes. So I thought, maybe I will just set it down and see what happens. So I put chicken in coop and when I came back it had turned – can I use this word? – It turned itself around all on its own. And now, it runs around chicken yard just fine! I think he just needed some rest when he was in my arms.”
The women laughed appreciatively and someone called it a miracle.
“You wanted to chop off its head, and now it is alive,” said the woman across from me in Czech (Miss Mexican Food was translating for me). “And now it probably lays two eggs a day! It’s the resurrected hen!”
More laughter. More nodding. More coffee.
I surveyed the lovely ladies in the small office, gabbing away like little hens themselves. Everyone is busy, but this little ritual they preserve. And they included me. It felt a little like a shady spot on the sidewalk in the middle of a hot day. Sometimes we need to stop running and just catch our breath.
“And what do you think of my story?” Hanka asked me. The room got quiet as the women all looked at me.
“I feel like your chicken,” I said, smiling into my coffee cup.