On being who you are

by marin mikulic

A chicken is a simple being. It wakes up, stretches its legs and wings, then goes about pecking at things the entire day long, has maybe a romp or two with the preening rooster, and sometimes manages one of those un-athletic looking attempts at flight, typical of chickens and ostriches. Then it’s time to hit the hay bed again. It may not sound like much of a life, but it’s a chicken’s life and the chicken is good at it. The chicken is content.

One day a swan appears, out of nowhere, blazing like the morning sun. The swan is in full heat and its plumes are a brilliant white that hurts the eyes. The chicken is dazzled. Even the swan is a little dazzled with himself. I mean, is it even fair to be this beautiful?

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Leaving fairness aside, let’s return to the chicken who, after the swan has left, goes about its day as usual. Only this time, its thoughts are scattered. It cannot focus. The only thing it can think of is the magnificence of the flamboyant swan. The chicken realizes she doesn’t only admire the sparkling fellow. She realizes she wants to be the sparkling fellow. She wants to become the swan.

Ok, little chicken, ok. How will you do that?

Easy. The chicken remembers that a few of the swan’s resplendent feathers have fallen out right there by the brook. So she hops and fly-walks over to the brook, picks up the feathers, and decorates its chicken breasts. It’s a wonderful display and she puffs out her chest like a war general that’s never seen a war. She’s the envy of the neighborhood and life’s good.

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There are a few problems though. The feathers keep falling out and dropping on the ground at the slightest move, so the chicken has to constantly pick them up and nest them back into her own brown plumage. Every time she does this, the swan feathers collect a little more dust and dirt, and their brilliance dims. Still, a swan’s feather is a swan’s feather. It’s classy and the chicken’s happy. It also helps that she’s the envy of the neighborhood. Goes a long way.

During the night, the chicken carefully hides her decorum, already dreaming of the wonderfulness of the next day as she, once more, dazzles the eyes of the other chickens. In the morning, she hides away behind some old crates, spending hours arranging the swan feathers so they’d be lodged firmly enough for at least one catwalk around the coop. Sometimes she has to pluck out her own brown feathers so the new ones can fit, but it’s a small sacrifice. Once she’s done, she takes a deep breath and swaggers out into the coop which she views now as her oyster. I don’t know how she knows what an oyster is.

In any case, as days go by, she notices that fewer and fewer of the other chickens pay her any attention. The novelty of it has passed, but our chicken thinks it’s the envy that keeps her comrades’ eyes peeled to the ground. She balloons out her chest, studded with now dirty swan feathers, trying to take up as much space as possible. She, after all, has become the swan.

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On the other side of the brook, if you look carefully into the bushes, you can see the tip of a wet nose. It’s a fox, of course, because every story about chicken has to involve a fox. It’s terribly predictable but that’s where we are.

The fox eyes the chicken coop, trying to ignore its rumbling belly. It’s been a while since it had eaten anything and the thought of a throbbing chicken neck in its jaws is almost more than it can bear. The fox starts stalking the coop but the hunger makes it sloppy. The chickens are nervous. They sense there’a bad thing in the air and, as if by some unspoken command, they all hide inside the coop. The only one left on the feeding grounds is the browning swan, as proud as ever.

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“Come! Run inside!”

“Hide in the coop!”

“Run, you fool!” yell the other chickens from the safety of the coop.

I’m no chicken!” yells the swan back, its eyes terribly red and pulsating. “I’m a swan!”

The swan cranes its neck, sees the fox, and smiles…silly fox, what’s it going to do?

Nothing! You can’t touch me!” screams the swan as it spreads its magnificent wings and takes flight.

Or, well, it tries too. Two things prevented it.

One, the sharp teeth of a fox sinking into its neck. It’s quite hard to fly like that.

Two, the fact that it wasn’t a swan. For all its stolen plumage, a chicken is a chicken.

It cannot fly.

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