At least two dozen birds milled about scratching and picking at the ground. They weren’t at all what Kak expected. In her mind, chickens were plump and matronly. These birds were sleek, their heads held low as if waiting for a starting gun. From the far corner of the yard a tall rooster watched the women with one eye, turning his head every couple of seconds to view them with the other as if to gauge the challenge they might pose him.
“What kind of chickens are these?” Kak asked.
“Gypsy chickens,” Liliana said. “Descended from the Cubalaya breed. Brought from Cuba. A long time ago.”
They’d ridden their bikes down to Angela and a short distance east on it until Liliana pulled up in front of a pale green shotgun style house. Kak followed Liliana around the picket fence to the back. Liliana leaned her bike against the fence and reached over the gate to unlatch it, letting them in. An unpainted chicken coop, eight feet by ten feet, stood in the middle of a backyard covered more in dirt than grass.
The impossibly thin young man stepped off the porch wearing khakis held up by a belt and a white button down shirt with a Florida Keys Mosquito Control District logo on the pocket. His name tag identified him as Bobby.
“Lili!” he cried.
“We’re taking a peek at your stock,” Liliana said.
“Browse about. I’m working today. Gotta run up to Stock Island, drop some BTI on the blood-sucking bastards up there. Just use the box.”
A small lockbox with a slot in the lid sat on the edge of the porch, the words CHICKEN MONEY painted in red on the side. The box was secured with a padlock. Odd. Why bother to lock a box small enough that a person could simply put it under his or her arm and walk away with it?
“I thought we were seeing Cooper,” Kak said.
Bobby raised a hand. “At your service.”
“Your shirt says Bobby.”
“That’s my name. But everyone just calls me Cooper. Except some call me Coop. And a couple just call me Coops. And James down at Fausto’s calls me Coop de Ville. You can basically have your pick.”
“Because you keep a chicken coop.”
“Looks and brains,” he said, checking her over from head to toe, not bothering to conceal the effort or interest. “You in town long?”
“No.” It amused her that Cooper took his shot so quickly and so openly. She wondered if it had worked for him a day in his life. “Just for the day.”
“That’s too bad. Ever ride in a mosquito mister? The views are a-mazing.”
“You’re a pilot.” She tried not to sound incredulous as she envisioned him at the controls of a plane.
“I’m the only thing between you and a cloud of Aedes aegypti.”
“Well. I feel safer already.”
“That’s the scientific name,” Cooper said, matter-of-factly. “It’s Latin.”
“Got it. If you don’t mind, I’ll take a rain check.”
This seemed to brighten Cooper’s day, as if he didn’t understand that the rain check would never be redeemed. “You’re on, pretty woman.”
Kak turned to Liliana. “Why are we buying a chicken?” She hoped Cooper would get the clue that their conversation was over.
“Why are you buying a chicken,” Liliana answered.
“Fine. Why am I buying a chicken?”
“You need to see Nono. And to see Nono you need a chicken.”
“Uh oh,” Cooper said. “You got a crazy one.”
“I beg your pardon?” Kak asked.
“Lili always gets the crazy ones.”
Kak swallowed a protest.
“Ain’t nothing to be ashamed of,” Cooper said. “Nono uncrazies people all the time. Providing you have a ticket.”
“A ticket,” Kak said.
“A chicken,” he said.
“Thank you, Cooper,” Liliana said. “I’ll take it from here.”
“I’m not crazy,” Kak said to Cooper. Then to Liliana. “I’m not crazy.”
“That remains to be seen,” Liliana said. “Cooper, bring a box, please.”
“Remains to be seen,” Cooper echoed.
“A box,” Liliana said.
This sent Cooper scurrying for the porch.
“Who is Nono?” Kak asked. “And why do I need a chicken? Or a ticket? Why do I need a chicken ticket?”
“Baba Nono is my grandfather. An Ifa priest. After the castings yesterday, he is the only one who can help you.”
“Why a chicken?”
“As ebo. As offering to Ifa.”
Kak watched the chickens wandering the yard. Innocently. Happily. “Oh, god,” she said. “Please tell me you don’t kill them.”
Cooper brought a corrugated box with a lid which he handed to Kak. A scattering of shredded corrugated material littered the bottom. Nesting material, she supposed. Cooper loitered hopefully.
“Thank you, Cooper,” Liliana said. “Now don’t you have a truck to drive? And mosquitos to spray?”
“A truck,” Kak said. “I thought you were a pilot.”
Cooper grew sullen. “I’m a truck pilot.”
Kak checked Liliana to see if she was missing a joke. This wasn’t lost on Cooper.
“Lots of pilots drive trucks,” he said.
Liliana shooed him away. “There’s nothing wrong with being a truck pilot,” she said.
“Tell her that.”
“She didn’t mean anything,” Liliana said.
“At least I’m not crazy,” he said, pushing through the gate on his way out.
Liliana was putting her hair in a ponytail. “Are you ready to solve your problem?”
“I’m not crazy.”
“Pick a chicken.”
“Why do I have to pick it? You pick it.”
“It is your ebo. Your offering. You have to choose it. Nono’s only condition is that it is solid white.”
The majority of the birds in the yard were some version of chocolate. There were only three solid white hens. One of them eyed Kak. Then it looked at her again. And finally a third time. To Kak’s way of thinking this constituted a suicide on its part. It volunteered. This way she wouldn’t have to feel she’d killed it. “That one,” she said.
“Good,” Liliana said. “Put it in the box.”
“We don’t have all day.”
Kak took the lid off the corrugated box and approached the chicken. To her thinking, the best method was to hold the box in one hand and the lid in the other. As she closed in on the bird she’d scoop it up between the two. The hen had none of it. Any time Kak got close enough, it scooted out of reach. She tried half a dozen times. Each time it moved easily clear, head over its shoulder to mark her position.
Liliana inspected her fingernails. “You have to be decisive.”
Ignoring her, Kak tried herding the hen toward a corner to cut down its options. But each time she maneuvered the chicken into a corner it squirted away in an agitated sprint, flapping its wings, so that Kak never got close enough to scoop it up.
The bird passed by Liliana on its escape from Kak’s latest failed attempt. The Santeria priestess bent at the waist and in one swift motion clapped it between her hands and lifted it off the ground. She carried it to where Kak watched and lowered it into the box.
“Lid,” Liliana said.
Kak placed the cardboard lid over the captured hen and Liliana released her grip, slipping her hands out while it shut. The minor eruption of beating wings passed quickly and the box fell silent.
“For the record,” Kak said. “I drove it to you.”
“Be back at my house at half past ten,” Liliana said.
“Tonight? Why do we have to wait?”
“Do you want to solve your problem?”
She’d come this far. “Fine. Half past ten.”
“This is important. You will spend all day with this chicken. You will feed it. You will talk to it. You will name it.”
“I will not.”
“No? Maybe I should stop by to see Rudy.”
The chicken wasn’t the only thing in a box. Liliana was calling the shots. For now.
“Why do I have to name it?” Kak asked. “You’re just going to kill it.”
“You will feed it. You will talk to it. You will name it.”
“Can’t I just name it later? Right before it happens?”
“You won’t have sufficient time for it to be dear to you. It’s a better ebo if you become friends with it. This is important.”
“Okay.” It wasn’t okay. She didn’t want to be friends with the chicken. And she had no idea how such an odd bird could ever become dear to her.
“Do not let it escape,” Liliana warned. “Do you understand?”
“I’ve seen your capturing skills.”
“I said I understood.”
“Bring sixty-six dollars and a bottle of white rum.”
“A bottle of rum?”
“White rum,” Liliana said, beginning to show impatience.
“It must be white rum.”
“I heard you.”
“Don’t snap at me.”
Any response would be unwise and bring rebuke. Liliana had the advantage. She knew Kak’s secret and Kak wanted it kept.
“One more thing,” Liliana said. “I don’t want you to see Rudy all day.”
“Is that part of this? Or do you just not want me seeing him?”
“You’re in no position to be particular.”
“That means I can’t go back to the hotel.”
“Do you want to solve your problem or not?“
“Fine,” Kak said. “I’ll do it like you said.”
“You owe Cooper ten dollars.” Liliana got on her bike and rode off without another word.
Kak took a ten from her Aruba money, folded it twice and slipped it in the slot on top of the lockbox on the porch. She placed the corrugated box holding her newly acquired chicken in the bicycle basket. By the time she got to the street Liliana was out of sight.
Angela ran one way so Kak continued east. She took the first left, Elizabeth Street, and followed it north until she saw her refuge: the faded coral countenance of the Monroe County May Hill Russell Library. It was a good place to burn clock.
A work crew blocked the main entrance for sidewalk repair so she locked her bike in the rack next to the rear entrance. She considered the bird in the box. The overcast sky kept the day cooler than you’d expect. Still she couldn’t risk leaving it outside. Liliana had been clear about losing it. She tucked the box under her arm, pulled open the back door and walked in across the olive green tiles.
No one noticed her until she walked past the front desk. There, a kind Hispanic gentleman with a slight lisp asked her if she needed help. She wouldn’t have chanced walking past him but the section she wanted, non-fiction, lay on the other side of and slightly in front of the desk. He took no notice of the box during his polite inquiry. She supposed he’d seen his share of unusual things. A woman with a box didn’t hit his radar.
She browsed the rows, perusing title after title. The cool quiet of the place relaxed her. Maybe she’d get a few hours out of it until forced to find her next refuge. For now it felt good to be in the section, between the tall shelves, hidden from others, from the gods maybe, sifting through the volumes for clues on how one became friends with a suicidal hen.
Click on the link below to get the book for 99 cents.