"Together with a Chicken"
- onNovember 14, 2014
- Vol.14 Winter 2011
- byJung Young Moon
- An Afternoon of the Faun
Together with a Chicken (from An Afternoon of the Faun)
It was early dawn when I woke up from sleep at the sound of a cry. The sound continued in several long stretches, and only after listening to it for some time after I woke up did I realize that it was the crow of a chicken. I think at first I thought it was the sound of someone quietly tapping a triangle in the dark, then the sound of someone’s muffled scream, then the sound of a bird crying, a long-necked bird like a red-crowned crane, for instance. It became clear, however, that it was the crow of a chicken.
Listening to the crow of the chicken which continued for quite some time, I found it strange and wonderful at the same time that I could hear a chicken crowing nearby at home in a city, but I thought there was nothing odd about hearing a chicken crow at dawn.
Slowly coming to myself at the continuing sound of the chicken crow, I lay still and listened to the sound, thinking that even though a chicken crowed several times a day, there was no crow like the crow at dawn, and that the chicken itself, knowing that better than anyone, probably put the most effort into the first crow at dawn after a night’s sleep, considering it the best. Then in a moment, I quickly thought, like someone who was facing a great danger and thinking of a way to get out of it, a somewhat silly thought, that it could be very disappointing for a chicken to hear another chicken crow at dawn before it did, and that it could be very disheartening for a chicken to hear another chicken crow louder than it did. It seemed a little funny that I had a thought like that as soon as I woke up at dawn, which pleased me quite a bit. Still lying down, I looked out the window with a smile on my face.
I assumed from the crow that the chicken was a rooster—hens don’t crow in such an arrogant way, parading themselves—and the rooster was probably quite large. I opened the window so that I may better hear the sound that, together with dawn, had awakened me. It was dark outside with a thick mist, which reached the windowsill, which made the window in my room look like a window of a ship, and it seemed that it would be appropriate if a whistle hooted somewhere in the mist. The moment I threw open the window all the way, however, the crow of the chicken, which had been continuing in long stretches, came to a complete stop like magic. It was as if the act of opening of the window had led to the closing of a door, shutting out the sound completely. I could no longer hear the sound of the chicken crow after that, no matter how long I waited. That chicken has failed to make a lonely man at early dawn continue to focus all his attention as though to receive a signal sent from an unknown being in a distant, unknown world, I muttered like someone who was shy.
I looked at the thick mist in the air where the crowing had stopped, and for a moment was tempted to walk out the window of my second-story room, to fall lightly into the void. A moment later, I closed the window after filling my lungs with the dawn air, which had been full of the sound of crowing, but as I expected, I didn’t hear the crowing. It was over. It was the same throughout the day, and the next day at dawn. Still, I couldn’t stop myself easily from thinking all day about the crowing that had gently shaken up the dawn for a little while.
Maybe someone had brought a chicken home to keep it, or because someone he knew had asked him to take care of it for a little while, then taken it back because the neighbors complained too much when it crowed at dawn. Or maybe someone who always took his chicken around with him, because he couldn’t bear to be apart from it no matter where he went, had visited him for a night, then left. I made an attempt to think so, though it wasn’t very likely, because it made me feel good just to imagine that there was a man who traveled around with his pet chicken. They could travel together and look at the scenery unfolding out the window together, or look at each other as though they had read each other’s thoughts, or fall asleep together, or wake up from sleep and feel happy that they had each other by their side. Or maybe the chicken was still at the house, but for some reason didn’t want to crow ever again after dawn that day.
In any case, I was quite sad that I couldn’t hear the chicken crow again. To ease my sadness, I took out a snapshot of a chicken from my desk drawer and looked at it, and I had to spend some time during the day sitting on the windowsill for quite a while, looking at the birds flying over to the branches out the window, but they only chirped, none of them crowing like a chicken. Only chickens cried as though to blow off steam. Other birds only spoke, and didn’t shout like chickens. The cry of a chicken was like that of an elephant or an wolf. It also had something in common with the sound of a bell.
Still, I considered it a good omen for a trip I was planning at the time—it would be more precise to say, a trip I was vaguely imagining, or to say that I had allowed vague thoughts about a trip to gently stir up my mind—that I got to hear the crow of a rooster that dawn. The trip I was thinking of, however, could be something like a vague story whose plot grew more and more vague, with the characters disappearing as well, or something that was close to something like that, not an actual trip.
The next night, a woman, a friend of mine, came to visit. She said that she could no longer hear the hallucinations she had been hearing for some time, and I said I was sorry. From time to time, she had heard a muffled sound, like a sound from the other side of the wall. I told her how I’d heard a chicken crow at dawn the day before. She said it had been quite some time since she’d heard a chicken crow at dawn, and I said that a chicken that crowed at the top of its voice like that may crow, thinking that none other could do it better, and that it was doing something none other could do, and could not be entrusted to any other.
She said that someone she knew had left a mynah in her care. The mynah was quite arrogant in a way, and tended to look down on people. She said that the bird, which was also bright, would throw back the latch on the birdcage and go out into the living room and walk around for a bit, then quietly go back into the cage as if being out of the cage didn’t change anything, and as if it had come out of the cage even though it wasn’t unaware of that, and as if that was why it had to quickly go back inside the cage, and then close the door by throwing back the latch again, and sit on the perch as if nothing had happened and quietly look at people in a scornful attitude, as if that was all there was for it to do as a mynah. I said that I wanted to see the mynah that looked at people in a scornful attitude, and that I hoped it never lost or abandoned the attitude. She said that the mynah, which had already grown into the attitude, would not change.
We went on talking about birds, and after talking about something, we became curious as to why chickens or other birds bobbed their heads incessantly as they walked. We weren’t sure, but we concluded that maybe they did so in order not to forget the fact that they were birds, or to maintain their balance, which could easily be lost as they walked on their two legs, by bobbing their heads.
Being in a good mood, I asked her to tell me about an experience she had while traveling in China. I had heard the story several times before, but it put me in a good mood whenever I heard it, so I always asked her to tell it to me. We began to drink beer together, and she began the story.
She once went on a trip to China with a friend, and had an experience not to be forgotten for the rest of her life. They were traveling on the Yangtze River on a ship, when three robbers disguised as passengers tried to rob the passengers, but were found out and jumped into the river and swam away. She said that they looked quite fabulous as they swam casually away like cormorants in the Yangtze River after jumping into the water like frogs, and that she learned later on that they were a family of robbers that went back generations, and that maybe they went back to the era of Water Margin and had been carrying on their family business since then, and thus had great pride in what they did.
The story was fabulous enough, but the story I wanted to hear at the time was one about chickens, not robbers. I wanted to hear the story about chickens more than anything.
My friend and her friend arrived at a little village in a remote area in China. They saw a rooster standing at the mouth of the village as if waiting for them. It looked quite dignified, holy, even, and before long, they readily followed the rooster—guided by the rooster, according to my friend’s words—to a house, and a woman greeted the visitors her rooster had brought. My friend and her friend, however, were so tired and hungry that they wanted to eat even the chicken that was so dignified, and they let the woman know how they felt. The woman said without hesitation that she would prepare the chicken in return for some money. She caught the chicken and began to prepare it, and in the process tried to use spices they didn’t like, so they had to stay by the furnace to keep her from doing so, but she used the spices when they were off guard and made it so they couldn’t eat it. In the end, the dignified rooster wrapped up its life by filling up the stomachs of the woman and her family.
Afterwards, I saw a picture of the chicken my friend had tried to eat but couldn’t, which didn’t look at all holy as she’d said, or dignified, either, but it did seem that it was keeping up certain appearances, appearances that could perhaps be kept up only by all the chickens in the world. Still, when I saw the picture of the dead chicken, I felt an odd feeling as though I were looking at the picture of a distant relative I never knew, who had died long ago.
She felt terrible that she had made the dignified chicken die just to appease her hunger, but afterwards, she saw another rooster along with several hens in the woman’s backyard, a rooster that looked just like the one that had just died, as though it had been reincarnated. She said, however, that the terrible feeling she had about making the chicken die did not go away.
The picture of the rooster—it was the picture I took out of my desk drawer and looked at on the day I heard the chicken crow at dawn—was not the only thing she showed me at the time. She took pictures of many chickens she encountered while traveling in China, and chickens were the only things she took pictures of on that trip. No, to be precise, there were only chickens at times, and people and other animals as well at times, in the pictures she took of chickens. The focus, however, was always on the chickens, which made the chickens the central figure of the pictures. She said that she didn’t know why she’d decided to take pictures of so many chickens, but that once she began to take pictures of them, she didn’t want to take pictures of anything else. I looked at the different chickens in a variety of poses, seemingly lost in different thoughts, and they were more impressive than any other travel record. She said she could recall vivid memories about her trip while looking at the chickens in the pictures. She also said that she’d had a wonderful trip because she took pictures only of chickens, and because of the chickens. Perhaps she could, in the same way, take pictures of only cows if she went to India, and of camels and donkeys if she went to Central Asia. A dignified or contemptible looking chicken, walking around or standing quietly in the garden or the ruins of a grand temple, could actually be much more impressive than the temple itself.
We continued to talk, while drinking, about raising chickens, and talked about things we could speak more freely about because we didn’t really intend to actually raise chickens, for instance, about how many chickens would be good—the number of chickens we could raise could theoretically start from one and increase infinitely, but we could always maintain a certain number of chickens, a hundred and forty-two, for instance—and whether we would raise just chickens—we could raise along with the chickens animals that could blend in naturally with them, such as ducks and geese, or ones that had a hard time tolerating each other, such as dogs and cats. We talked about how it was animals other than humans that usually made us smile, but we couldn’t be sure what the reason was exactly.
I fell asleep for a little while after she left late that night, and I had a dream, a dream with chickens in it.
In the dream, which was somewhat impressive, my friend and I opened the door in a house we had entered somehow, and walked into a room to find a vast desert stretching out before us. There was majesty to the desert that stretched out endlessly, even though the desert was in a little room.
In a moment, however, a gigantic sandstorm began to rage in the tranquil desert. Struggling through the sandstorm for a while, I thought that the storm, which was slowing down our steps, was somehow losing its force, after which the storm subsided, and at last, the tranquil desert reappeared. Spread out before us was a majestic and marvelous view of the desert, created by the simplest, and in a way, the smallest unit of particles called sand. The view, made more impressive by the most extreme contrast between light and shadow created due to the location of the sun, evoked ancient times, as well as the end of the world. The tranquil desert looked like a scene in a photograph in a way, and processing its lines and surfaces in a certain way, I could fold the desert in half like a photograph and put it in my pocket. In this way, I put several deserts in my pocket. And I realized that the sky there, too, had been painted on. The sky was blue paint painted on a broad canvas that went on infinitely, and the sun was red paint painted at the center of the blue. The sky, however, was too big to fold into a few layers.