Why Did the Chicken Cross | Nature



Rhea felt bored, she was entirely hollow. She sat among the middle rows of the classroom, feigning attention to the Chemistry Instructor’s introductory lecture on Physical States of Matter. Whoopee. An action to her right caught Rhea’s eye. Down the row, a male classmate stifled a yawn with his hand. He was good-looking in a rebellious way, Rhea wouldn’t mind getting in a physical state with him. Bet you’re a definite solid, thought Rhea as her eyes followed the fine contours of his lean face like drawn bronze. The rebel turned his face to Rhea and grabbed her eyes with his, brown bedroom eyes. Perhaps, he was sleepy or maybe, he’s sending a message. Rhea couldn’t decide but the effect was dreamy. Rhea casually glanced away though her face was feverish with excitement. Thoughts frothed and blew as pink bubbles in Rhea’s head. The girl dared herself to turn back, seize another chance glance, share a moment— send a reply full of silent flirtations. Rhea raised her head forward determined; yet her eyes fell on the Instructor’s face. She suddenly froze. In a moment, her energy was drained by that sober, scientific, Siberian guise. Her fever cooled, her inspiration waned, Rhea forgot what (or who) fired her up in the first place. She could hear the Instructor’s voice clear and mundane; injecting words and facts such as substances, molecular structure, quantity, pressure, Charles’s Law, crystal lattice, phase diagram, surface tension, hydrogen dioxide like tranquilizer shots into Rhea’s brain. Rhea blinked and took in a deep breath but the air did not fill her. She was hollow, again. She glanced back to her right only to find the rebel bowed down in his seat, his face buried deep into the folds of his arms. Defeated. There he sat, immobile like a statue of ice. Rhea moved her neck and saw her other classmates much the same way, silent and stunned, forsaken to their fates until 3 p.m. Rhea lifted her gaze to the round, pink rimmed clock above the board with a prayer. Its face was a solemn black line declaring that its only 2:45. Soon, Rhea thought. Soon for what? Her sedated spirit countered. But Rhea couldn’t hear the question, only the clear calm words coming from the Living Textbook propped in front of the classroom.

In a moment of weakness, Rhea closed her eyes to escape. But her mind had nothing to offer except darkness. In the void, the theories to problems concerning polymers along with other modern materials echoed loud and long in unending paragraphs, fading into the distance much like the opening prologues of STAR WARS. Rhea returned to sight, everything was blurry. She blinked and focused on the pen lying lazily in the hook of her hand, between her index finger and her thumb. The small, chubby bolt of plastic was colored in bright shades of orange and gold. A cute white chicken’s face crowned the pen’s cap. As Rhea eyed the tiny plastic bird, a smile tugged at the corners of her lips and at the strings of her heart. A breath of wind slipped past Rhea, playfully touching the strands of her hair, pulling her attention to the left wall, punctured by the large open windows. There was nothing in the huge rectangular holes to obscure the view but there was nothing to see outside save the wide green lawn, a few benches, an acacia tree, and a giant white rooster. A giant white rooster. Rhea stared hard, surprised and amazed. The bird was strolling across the lawn, towards the windows of Rhea’s classroom. It was nearly as tall as a man and seemingly stout enough to support one on its feathered back. Its fluff was clean and bright white in the sunlight. It strode with purpose to the window closest to the boards and peeked its beak inside. The rooster turned its head, seeing everything with one amber eye at a time, sparkling with good humor and curiosity— that’s how it seemed to Rhea. Breaking away from the big bird out the window, Rhea glanced about the classroom. Everyone appeared to be still in an arctic stupor, not paying attention to the strange, surreal, grand and wonderful thing just bobbing its pointy head side to side pleasantly. Rhea’s breath rose sharp and stopped. The bird made a small leap, over and inside the classroom it landed. It marched forward, its steps quirksome like a dance, towards the Instructor. Rhea watched it as it faced the classroom quickly and returned its regard for the Instructor, one of the corners of its lips curlingalmost like its smiling with mischief, that’s how it seemed to Rhea. The rooster came to a stop three steps beside the Instructor and turned to the class. As the Instructor droned on, unaware that the giant bird spread out one of its wings and held in front of him, blocking the man’s face.

The bird raised and lowered its wing in a teasing fashion. The Instructor did not flinch. Rhea watched with bated breath as the Rooster slid slowly behind the Instructor, then stretched out both its wings, tips pointing to corners of the ceiling— making the Instructor look like a stern Angel on the Day of Judgment. Rhea couldn’t help but smile, laughter rippling inside her throat. With one amber eye sparkling with humor, the rooster glared at the Instructor. The bird’s eye turned to an audience in the class with a quick wink. Rhea bit her lower lip in awkward hope. Hiding behind the Instructor, the rooster had its huge fluffy wings folded across the Instructor’s entire front body while it raised its tail feathers high above the Instructor’s head, presenting the man as a Native American chief or a Las Vegas show girl. The coup de grace. Rhea broke in her seat. She laughed out a good full breath, punctuated with a delightful giggle. The silence caught her. Rhea glanced about and found the whole class staring at her, awake from their stupor. There were some still blank, comatose, but their eyes were turned to her. Others were surprised and curious, including the rebel. The Instructor appeared somewhat indignant at the disturbance. Helpless, Rhea lowered her head in embarrassment. The rooster, that magnificent vision, made its exit. It was gone. The Instructor stared hard at Rhea whose eyes were glued down. The man lets out a sigh, half in frustration, the rest in resignation. The bell, mercifully, rang. The students were quick to leave the room, and moments later- the Instructor strode out into an empty hallway. As the man turned the corner, there was the Rooster clamping the pedal of the water fountain with one clawed foot as its dipped its beak for a drink. The Instructor approached the bird. Warm with anger, he said, “If you ever do a stunt like that again, I’m eating you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” The Bird drooped its head, its eyes blinking a humble apology. It turned its head to one side, watching the man with one great amber eye.

The man couldn’t help but sigh, “You’re too cocky.” The Rooster stood up to full height, confident of its forgiveness. It shrugged as if to say, I am what I am. The Instructor walked ahead without another word, grinning in spite of himself. The great bird followed close behind, its gangly legs stepping forward in a quirky dance.

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