I had always called it a coop, never a henhouse. The last coop I owned was infested with mites or lice – I didn’t bother to tell them apart, so I simply called them lice. They were blood red in colour when near but almost black from afar. Fast-moving black dots. My bad eyes did not tell me they were moving. The Mrs did. The thought of them made me itchy again. Sorry, I had to pause to satisfy that sudden urge to scratch my scalp vigorously. Somehow, the back of my neck started itching too, and then it was my face’s turn. Now, the itch has spread to my groin. I hope I don’t end up destroying another pair of undies. Ah, that felt much better.
Poor chooks. How they must have suffered. I didn’t know any better then. One day, so suddenly, the white one died. She was so beautiful I called her Snowy. At first, I assumed she had died of flu, some type of bird flu. Now, I think she may have been sucked to death by the busy lice. She was just happy to sit on the nest all day and was abnormally unbothered about being the first to get the food during feeding time. One morning I found her dead on the floor of the coop, having fallen off her nest during the night. The whiteness of her feathers had turned grey. Her previously red comb and pink face were slowly turning pale in the days before her death and when I saw her with both her legs stiff in the air, they were grey too. Death did not look pretty at all.
I had enough of scratching myself for days and days. I tried everything to kill the lice. The first obvious thing to do was to flush the coop clean with water. Then, I dusted my chooks with diatomaceous earth, the silica apparently kills the lice by drying them out. It is as cruel as dehydrating a living animal to a dry husk.
For many weeks, I sprayed poison on every crevice and watched the lice scurry out of their hiding places.
DIE! You and you and you! I found myself enjoying murdering them.
I think the lice brought up some sadistic emotions from deep within me. I was cheering enthusiastically as the lice stuttered and drowned in the poison.
More! More poison for you! Take this and this and this! I kept cheering in my head.
I realised the poison would be bad for me too. As careful as I was, I didn’t have any special protective clothing. Sure, I waited for days that were still and sunny, but the wind and the breeze had a mind of their own sometimes. Without a hazmat suit, some of the sprays were bound to reach my skin. So, I think I did the right thing by ‘my girls’ and did not shirk from protecting them the best I could.
The best I could? Did I say that?
Sorry, that was a lie. I failed to do the best I could. I did not check that the coop was secure. It was a stormy night with blustery conditions so bad it took down some big gum trees in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, it also blew the roof of the coop’s nest off its hinges. Before I woke up the next morning, a fox had come to inspect the coop. How did it know that day would be the day the coop would not be fox-proof? My poor girls. They died a horrible death. All of them a bloody one, except for Reddy. She died of fright. There were no visible external wounds on her. Dottie fared the worst, she lost her head. Literally. She was a full grown hen, big and meaty and heavy with eggs. No, there was no temptation to prepare her for dinner. May they rest in peace.
Many months after their demise, I finally got the coop destroyed. It wasn’t that the roof wasn’t repairable, I just did not want to be reminded every day of the promise that I did not keep. I promised to look after them and to keep them safe. I promised them that one day they would earn a peaceful and safe retirement after years of giving me their eggs. A simple promise. Yet, I broke it. Unforgivable, really. So, I destroyed the coop. If I could not forgive myself, I should at least not remind myself.
That coop was a daily reminder of my failure!
As if to exculpate myself from the guilt, many months later, I embarked on a mission to build a solid coop for ‘next time’. But it must be 100% fox-proof! The Mrs seemed ready to extricate herself from the deep mourning too. It seemed fate made the decision for us. Just as she was entertaining the idea of keeping a new batch of hens, my phone rang. It was our sons’ retired music teacher from the conservatorium.
“I know of a ‘good chap’ who can build a coop for you,” Mr. L said.
“Sam is a bee-keeper; he is teaching me to be an apiarist! Do you want some honey?!” Mr. L continued joyfully.
Sam Tennikoff is a decent-looking chap, clean-shaven, remarkably courteous and amazingly fastidious about his work. He told me his name should have been spelt Tenikov, being male. The Tennikoffs took their paternal grandmother’s name to escape China during early communist rule. Being Christians, they feared persecution by the communists. Grandma Tennikoff had to flee Russia in the early 20th century, “around WW1 actually,” Sam said. Grandma fled Russia but her parents died somewhere in Russia on the journey to Ghulja in western Xinjiang. Her uncle, Ivan, was the leader of the clan. He survived. Many of the older kids also died during the journey. Grandma who was in her late teens met grandpa, Wu Vin San, a captain of the platoon that was patrolling the area.
“Wu?” I asked.
“The spelling is W U?” I asked quickly in the same breath. Sam nodded.
“Wow, is it written in Chinese with a mouth and sky?” I asked. I proceeded to write it in the air with very deliberate strokes. 吴
Sam nodded again.
“Wow, we share the same surname!” I said to the young Russian man with blue eyes.
“Your grandpa didn’t leave China too?” I asked.
“No, he died too soon,” Sam said.
“In an avalanche,” he added.
Carrying out a normal routine patrol near the mountains in Yining (Ghulja), it was said people heard some explosions and the whole platoon was buried in the resultant avalanche. They suspected the Chinese authorities killed their own soldiers as many had inter-married the Russian settlers in the area and converted to Christianity. They suspected some of the soldiers were involved in some illicit trade but the main reason was, according to some who were there, the authorities frowned on those who followed a religion. The region was a tinderbox for the local natives, the Uyghurs. The Chinese were seeing a wave of nationalism after the success of the Xinhai revolution had toppled the Qing government and the rising influx of Russians was also becoming a source of anxiety. Just a few years later, Tsar Nicholas II was assassinated, thereby giving birth to the Russian Republic. Vin San was in his mid-20’s when he died. So, grandma Tennikoff fled again but this time with four kids of her own, the youngest being Alex Wu, Sam’s father. The eldest was a daughter and then two other boys. They were amongst hundreds of refugees. To escape capture by the communists, they forged their identities with fake travel documents and hid in cargo trains to avoid being seen.
Alex Wu, by then known as Alex Tennikoff, arrived in Sydney when he was about eighteen months old. It was in 1959. Later, they moved to Adelaide. Alex’s elder siblings retained their Chinese culture as they were born in China and were old enough to remember the customs. Alex Wu lives in a pocket in Adelaide that many Russians reside in and therefore considers himself a Russian. Maternal grandma was also a Russian, to be precise a Polish-Russian. She married a Russian-Mongolian man who was an orphan raised by a Russian family.
In 1997, Ghulja was once again in the crosshair of Chinese authorities, but instead of quelling the growth of the Christian religion, the massacre in Ghulja was to put down the uprising of Muslims who were protesting for an independent Xinjiang. It led to the abolition of the East Turkestan Republic. Some of the Uyghurs fled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but were detained by the US military and sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Whilst incarcerated there, they were subject to a human rights violation called the Frequent Flyer Program, which deprived the inmates of sleep for prolonged periods.
Sam Tennikoff was born in 1992. He speaks a bit of Russian but not even a bit of Chinese. If Olivia Newton-John was Australia’s perennial girl-next-door because of her decent looks and good manners, Sam is definitely the perennial boy-next-door. Charming, innocent-looking and sweetly polite, Sam has the bright blue eyes, a gentle voice, cheerful disposition and lovely kind smiles to break any wooden heart. A dashing young man, he is a six-footer eligible bachelor who knows all there is to know about bee-keeping and making the tastiest 100% pure honey. One day, as Sam was bulging his biceps, carrying a load of timber on his shoulder, The Mrs tapped the window pane of her kitchen and waved excitedly to catch his attention. Her enthusiastic demeanour reminded me of the time when she was still a young single woman. The Mrs recovered her poise and said she was happy to see Sam turn up for work. She wanted our project to be completed expeditiously.
My initial budget for the coop was $2,700 but by the time it was built, Sam’s bill had doubled it. But, it was worth every cent of it. It was more a shed than a coop or a barn than a cage.
Fabrication and Assembly of:
- Structure 3200 W x 2100 D x 2000 H mm
- Combination of Steel and Timber Framing
- Steel Roof Sheeting with Insulation Underlay
- Galvanised Wire Mesh Ventilation Windows with Awnings
- Galvanised Wire Mesh Fox-proof Fencing & Aprons
- Internal Wall Framing & Roosting Bars
- Guttering System
- Water tank with automatic water supply
- Solar-powered auto open/shut door
- Automatic feeder
- External Staircase
Many weeks after the project was completed, the henhouse is still empty of hens.
“Can’t you find any girls?” one of my mates asked.
“Your henhouse isn’t so busy,” said another.
“Are you home much these days? Or do you spend more time at the henhouse?” asked a third chap.
“Oops, He has disappeared into his henhouse,” said another, who insisted that he be unnamed.
“Is he sitting quietly in his corner or is he in his henhouse?” Anonymous asked again.
“Into the henhouse he goes!” he cheered, after hearing the Nasdaq had dropped 4% overnight.
“He is crawling into his henhouse,” another said unkindly, inferring that I had lost an argument about the scam of plastic recycling.
Of course I know what they mean by a henhouse. In Chinese, a hen 鸡 (ji) sounds like 妓 (ji) prostitute, or 妓女 for a female prostitute. So a henhouse sounds like a whorehouse.
It is true that I have been reluctant to go and get some beautiful Wyandottes for now. My excuse is that it is winter anyway, and hens do not lay eggs when it is really cold. So, why waste money feeding chooks that won’t lay eggs, right? But, the inadmissible truth is that I am preparing for the day that I may be forced to move in there instead.
“Why?” a friend asked.
The share markets have crashed. We are seeing a long crypto winter. Very soon, even the real estate market here may crash. There is just nowhere to hide. What would The Mrs say if she knew how much I have squandered? What will she call me?
You’re a loser!
You’ve always been a louse!
These self-descriptive words ring loudly in my ears.
There is every likelihood that the henhouse I built is for the louse. Will The Mrs send me packing? Into the henhouse! I can hear her say so loudly. Suddenly, I felt like Gandalf the Grey who didn’t mean for many things to happen but they did anyway. I definitely didn’t mean for the lousy investments to crash or for the cashflow crisis my business is facing, but they did anyway. Sigh.
He didn’t mean for many things to happen but they did anyway.Frodo Baggins