The Naked Rooster

Australia is an amazing country.
 
They say Australia is the quietest country in the world. Don’t believe it! Here you can have quite unexpected adventures at any time and any place.
 
When I first landed in Melbourne coming here from Uzbekistan I was as poor as a falcon as they say in Russia. I had no a penny in my pocket and I was not eligible for any government benefit.

It happened that I arrived here just before Christmas. After December slush in Tashkent I found myself in Australian heat over plus forty. Christmas trees were sold everywhere. With a wet sweaty beard Santa Claus was wandering in the burning hot street.   
 
Australians were celebrating their Christmas, and I, being happy with any job, wandered about Melbourne in search of my fortune. Employers, moved by my English would consider it an honour to get an autograph from such an unusual foreigner. They would promise to call me without fail. Obviously they were so profoundly moved that they were unable to keep their promises.

Finally I got lucky. I signed up for seasonal job not far from Bendigo, a small town in Victoria, and found myself on an Italian farm with the exotic name ‘Enrico Toska’. To me this name sounded like wonderful Italian music.

I was doubly lucky, since I was put in a caravan with a tall elderly Macedonian man who could speak Russian pretty well. His name was Alexandro. With his permission I christened him, Russian-style, Uncle Sasha. He had been coming to this place for a number of seasons and he knew everything here. He was a kind man who took care of me as well as a blood uncle would.

The farm ‘Enrico Toska’ was named after its owner. When I had been in a job assistance agency in Melbourne, a lady working there enlightened me, saying several times that this farm was fantastic and that the boss was very rich. When praising it, she used to rise her eyes up, as if to stress the importance of this information. I expected to see a well-groomed senior dressed from Versace, with a gilded stick and an expansive cigar. But Enrico turned out to be an ordinary countryman wearing worn out working clothes. He was a stocky and big-boned man. The nature made him solid, but did not spend time on finishing touches. He squeezed my weak-weald little hand by his big hand and started chattering something with his sparkling friendly deep placed olive eyes. 
 
His three basic attributes were a cheerful smile, an old felt hat, faded by the sun and rain, and “Coma Prima”, a popular Italian song, which he would sing all day long and possibly at night in his sleep. Like all Italians he had a good ear for music and а gentle tenor voice. Alexandro, being on good terms with him, jokingly called him “Enrico but not Caruso”. Enrico in turn, called his friend “Alexandro but not the Great”.

We would gather grapes to the accompaniment of “Coma Prime”. Uncle Sasha taught me, how to read the boss’s mood. If his hat was moved on the back of the head, it meant that Enrico was in good spirits, and if the hat was pulled over his eyes the boss was not in good mood at all. As Uncle Sasha said, the latter was observed as rare as solar eclipse. He recalled only one such occasion during the murderous drought many years ago.

The sun was shining, it was drizzling from time to time, and Enrico’s hat would show off on the top of his head. He kindly used to forgive us the inevitable beginners mistakes and it would have been pure pleasure to work with him if not for…

…If not for the terribly annoying flies and Juseppina, Enrico’s mother. We saved ourselves from the flies with repellent, but there was no protection from Juseppina. There seemed not one drop of living flesh left in this dried up bent old woman, yet she still had so much energy that she could give any one of us a head start. She would get up at cock-crow, and usually the last thing we would see before going to bed would be Juseppina, pottering about the yard.

Nobody knew exactly how old she was. She was in that age when time would lose its power over appearance, because nothing could possibly changed. Therefore, it became impossible to guess her age at a glance. There was not even any documentation about such significant event as appearance of Juseppina on to this world. All evidence of her date of birth had either been turned to dust long ago or it had never been recorded at all. Enrico said that, according to his mother, she had been born in the year when there had been an unusually rich catch of sardines in Sicily. Enrico estimated this to be ninety-six years ago.

Apparently, God feared for the tranquillity of heaven and sensibly was in no hurry to take her. The devil, being the manager of nether world, must have also not been burning with the desire to see her. We, the workers, understood them both very well.

In any case, she made our lives on this sinful earth such a hell that even the devil couldn’t have hacked it. With her loose clothes grown brown like dust and flapping like wings from the wind, and with the kerchief pulled low over her eyes, and hooked nose and chinbone stuck out from the kerchief, she had the sharpest eyes of a kite.

All day long she would circle the plantation tirelessly, and whenever somebody carelessly dropped a bunch of grapes or overturned a box or fruit, she would pounce on us like a vulture attacking frightened chickens. Picking up every single grape, she would swear like hell both at the clumsy worker and at all the rest of us. Her abusive language was an unbelievable mix of Italian and English and it was probably the only time in my life when I didn’t regret that I couldn’t understand a foreign language.

She also poked her long nose in our private lives. Everything was under her control: the amount of water and electricity we used, the upkeep of the caravans and our food. God forbid if someone wasted any bread. In her opinion this was an unforgivable sin. She would pick up any dry bread, soak it in water and feed it to the birds.

The only one who could handle Juseppina’s attacks with ease was Alexandro. When I asked him why Juseppina was so stingy to collect each grape and bread crumb, he corrected me stating that she was not stingy, but rather, economical. He asked me a contrary question whether I knew what starvation was like. I replied that I would not refuse a barbeque from fresh meat. Uncle Sasha appreciated my sense of humour and told me that I was a lucky man, because I hadn’t experienced starvation. Juseppina had gone through starvation, and not once. He added that people who went through wars and starvation learnt to appreciate every bread crumb for the rest of their lives.

He also said that Italians had a special feeling towards grapes. From long ago there was a cult of grape in Italy and every single grape was being valued. This was a good tradition, said Uncle Sasha. In the end of his advocate speech for Juseppina, he told me a story about how once he had been in desperate financial straits and she had simply given him the money.

Enrico also copped it from Juseppina. She was constantly complaining about us to him. “Complaining” wasn’t quite the right word. She used to chastise rather than complain about all of us, including her darling son. Enrico, being the loving son, would nod in assent, but behind her back he would wink at us and throw his hands up hopelessly as if to say “What can I do with her? Stick with it please, my friends”. Pulling his hat a bit over his eyes he would begin his “Coma Prima” again. And so we remained patient because we sympathised with Enrico.
            
So came my last day of my stay on the farm. Our work was finished and all the workers had departed. I was waiting for Uncle Sasha, who had promised to take me to Melbourne that night. Enrico and he had gone off to a neighbour’s farm.

It was very hot, and I dreamt of dipping into cool sea water somewhere in Sorrento or Mordialloc. There was a lake in the farm. It was always full of birds a variety of beaks and feathers – the true bird kingdom with its Queen, the black swan. But most imposing was an armada of stiff pelicans ploughing the lake from one side to another. I would gladly join the pelicans’ company, but the water was too muddy and had an unattractive rusty colour. In addition, the lake was swarming with huge leeches which just waited that some warm-blooded creature would carelessly enter the lake.

Dressed only in shorts I was sitting inside of the burning hot caravan with broken air-conditioner and languishing from the heat and boredom. I began learning English but I became quickly bored with it. Even in much cooler weather than this, English words would fail to stick in my head. And now they were evaporating from the surface of my brain like moisture from a hot boiled egg.

I switched on the TV. Some Hollywood superman, apparently a positive role model, was battling a whole mob of villains. He was knocking everyone down indiscriminately, making explosions, car accidents and fires, and in between all these adventures, he succeeded in making love not less successfully with his girlfriends. I became bored with him too.

The heat was exhausting. I tried to save myself from a heat stroke with water from the fridge. Unfortunately, the water here was not like that of Melbourne and it had a not so pleasant taste. I remembered that Hemmingway’s characters were perpetually diluting wine with water or vice versa. I had some wine. The day before Enrico had organised the Italian festival in honour of both the new harvest and Bacchus, the God of winemaking. Enrico had given each of the workers two bottles of young sweet wine. I decided to try Hemingway’s recipe. It turned out not too bad at all.

Placing myself comfortably by the window I drank my cocktail while looking at the valley with the boundless fields, gardens and vineyards stretching over the horizon; compact rows/lines of branchy conifers, which divided farms; sparsely/ thinly growing eucalyptus, sweeping the sky with their bunches, and thickset remains of their ancestors being stuck up here and there. Neighbouring hills that used to be green entirely long ago, only some places were now curly with the native eucalypt bush, intermitting with dark and straight, like being cut under the line wedges, areas of commercial forest-plantations of European pine and scorched by the sun up to yellowness vast and bald spaces being studded with grey little spots of grazing sheep and cows.

It seems that under the wine’s effect my mind began to wander. I imagined myself as one of Hemingway’s heroes, and instead of the blurry mirage of the Australian landscape, the African Savanna loomed. I was on safari there…

At the crucial moment, as infuriated rhino was rushing toward me and I was aiming at its eye, I heard a wild noise, the kind probably heard only on the Savanna. I started and pinched myself to make sure that I wasn’t in Africa yet. The noise continued. I glanced at the TV screen. There was the usual love scene on and it was unlikely that the performers would be uttering such terrible sounds. I realised something was happening outside.

I jumped out of the caravan and faced an unimaginable sight. Juseppina was wallowing in a puddle of water, which had appeared from nowhere in the middle of the yard. She was in a cloud of feathers and she herself was covered with them from head to toe. She was screaming and waving in the direction of the fence, which had something fluttering on it.

At first I didn’t understand that it was a rooster. It was a naked one! Only several big feathers decorated its tail and wings. The rooster was flapping the remains of its luxury and making some hoarse sounds. He was shaking its head and stretching out its neck down. Under the fence a couple of chickens, also naked, were performing some odd striptease. They jumped clumsily, trying to reach their squire, and kept falling over and twitching their legs.

I ran up to Juseppina trying to help but she angrily pushed me away. She kept on screaming something and pointing at the birds. I understood only one word ‘catch’.
I caught the chickens without any difficulty. They tried to escape but after some shaky jumps ended up knocking their heads on the ground. I picked up their hot and soft bodies and put them into a box. The chickens lay down and a white film closed over their eyes.
Their limp bodies suggested they were in a pleasant, relaxed state.

Then I rushed off to catch the rooster, but unlike his girlfriends he was not going to fall prey easily. He raced down along the fence, rolling over a few times, and then scooted away. We both entered a tomato field where we ran around for ages, trampling many of the plants.

The rooster was not really that fast and waddled rather than ran, but whenever I got close to him, he would unexpectedly slip from my grasp. The problem was that there was nothing for me to grab except for his beautiful tail, and I was afraid of undressing the rooster completely. My fingers kept sliding off his wet body and I was left high and dry.

The rooster perched upon a heap of rotten under the hot sun tomatoes piled up at the edge of the field and stopped at last. Opening his mouth he was short of breath. He seemed to be on his last legs and ready to drop. I slunk quietly within a couple of metres of the bird and made a jump which Lew Jashin our never to be forgotten football goalkeeper would have been proud of. I managed to grab the rooster by his leg and for some time we rolled around in the tomato puree until he finally gave up.

We were both completely covered in a thick wash of tomato and salted with sweat. We only needed a bit of spice and we would have been perfect for barbecuing. Perhaps the spices wouldn’t have been necessary as I could smell the odour of wine vinegar, coming from either the rooster or me.

I put the rooster triumphantly into the box with the chickens. Already animated, the chickens started to peck tomato seeds from the rooster’s naked body. Of course this was painful and he flinched at every peck. At another time it wouldn’t have put up with such humiliation from his blunt girlfriends, but now he didn’t even have the strength to raise his head.

All day I tried to work out what had happened to the birds. Juseppina nervously walked around with a black look on her face, growling continuously. Not just questioning her, but simply to meet her eyes didn’t promise anything good.

In addition recently on TV they had been frightening people with chicken epidemic decease which wandered around the world crossing borders without invitations and visas. Just to be safe, I showered twice, not sparing the water and soap.

Enrico and Uncle Sasha came back at night and I apologised for the crushed tomatoes. He waved his hand, moved his hat back and started saying something laughing. I caught only the words ‘drunk alcohol’ and thought that he was asking me about the quality of his wine, so I answered ‘very good’.

Only on the way to Melbourne Uncle Sasha threw some light on the mystery of the naked rooster. There was a spacious hen-house on the farm, where dozens of chickens and two roosters were kept. One of the roosters was very aggressive. He gave no rest to the other rooster and those chickens he considered to be his rival’s favorites. As punishment, this jealous rooster was thrown out of the coop. Mercifully, he was given his two favourite chickens so he wouldn’t die from loneliness,. Thus, this rooster walked about the farmyard with a harem which was small, but at least his very own.

In this portentous morning one of the workers, who had suffered from Juseppina’s hand, decided to take out his parting revenge on her. You should give him justice; he was not only vindictive, but also inventive. He had soaked some bread in Enrico’s wine and threw it into a corner of the yard.

The rooster found this refreshment before Juseppina and invited his girlfriends. The birds also celebrated the festival of Bacchus. And you’d have to say they did it in style.

By the time Juseppina discovered them, they were so drunk that she thought they were dead. Economical Juseppina, thinking quickly, decided to pluck their feathers. She dragged over a big washbasin full of hot water and set to work. She handled the chickens without any problem. She nearly undressed the rooster but couldn’t pull out his big feathers. It remained a mystery what she needed them for. She then brought freshly boiled water and was just about to scald the rooster’s wing.

Suddenly the rooster became animated, let out a piercing scream and began to tear himself away. She also screamed and these two shouts, merged into one, became the wild noise, which was to drag me away from the African hunting. In all the commotion both the washbasin and the box of feathers were overturned.

A year later I returned to the farm. A completely normal-looking rooster was walking around the yard in company with two chickens. I gave Enrico an inquiring look, but he shook his head smiling cunningly, and took me off to the coop. There I saw a rooster, covered with some kind of strange bristle. Only by his luxurious tail did I recognise my old friend.

Enrico told me that after last year’s events he had wanted to put the birds on the BBQ, because plucked birds don’t survive, according to the laws of chicken farming. But Juseppina categorically forbade this. Moreover, she insisted that two roosters change places.

The unlucky birds became her constant concern. She even made them little outfits, which they wore when it was cold. She also ordered Enrico to make a cage with every bird convenience, which he named ‘the chicken hospital’. In dank weather the birds were put into the cage and brought into the house, where they made themselves warm, full and happy, next to their carer’s fireplace.

Because of Juseppina’s care and certainly because of their own strong spirits, the birds defied all pessimistic scientific predictions.

The rooster, not at all embarrassed by its strange appearance, strode grandly through the large harem which earned by sweat and blood, and… I almost said wine. Tagging along beside it were its two faithful girlfriends, dressed in transparent downy garments.

The rooster approached us and looked at me. He seemed to give me a mocking wink.

 
 


Рецензии
Ничего не понял, но, наверно, интересно.

Игорь Леванов   06.05.2017 17:28     Заявить о нарушении
Есть перевод рассказа "Голый петух"
http://www.proza.ru/2009/08/18/213
Спасибо, Игорь!

Рефат Шакир-Алиев   06.05.2017 18:05   Заявить о нарушении
На это произведение написаны 2 рецензии, здесь отображается последняя, остальные - в полном списке.