The sun shining through the bars of the window is the first thing he sees as he wakes. It frightens him until he sees his bare chest. He touches it with unfamiliar hands. He lies there stretching his fingers, obscuring and revealing the light — the light is strange, warm, and makes something inside him stretch out and want to reach for it too.
The last thing he remembers is walking the street. It was late, dark, yellow lights on puddles, people laughing and pointing, it was cold, his friends had left him, he was alone. And now he is here. Wherever here is.
He leaps off the small bed and lands on strange feet — they have uncomfortable fat stubby things on them, five on each foot. He is relieved to see he still has a few feathers protruding from his vital parts, but they malt as he walks to the door. He bobs his head against the metal hatch. The dull thud, rather than the expected sharp tap, hurts his brain. He staggers back as the hatch slides open.
A pink face presses itself against the bars. ‘Ah, well if it isn’t the chicken man. Slept off the booze now have we? Ready to tell us your name?’
He tries to speak but can only cluck.
‘Hey, lads. Looks like our guy’s still too chicken to speak.’
‘He looks more like a cock to me!’ laughs another voice
He presses his painful, bloated face to the bars and sees a group of them dressed in tight-fitting, black jackets with big, silly, silver buttons reflecting their laughing pink faces.
The one behind the door, pushes his nose closer and grunts. ‘Well? Want to tell us what you were doing walking like a plucked chicken out on the high street last night? Do you remember pal? Stag do was it? A prank? Do you remember your name?’
‘It’s no use Steve. Guy’s obviously bat-shit crazy. Let’s wait for the head doc to sort him out.’
He can only cock his head and peck at the door. When it hurts his head, he gives up, dances around the cell a few times clucking. Some things start coming back. The darkness, the hot house where they were all crammed together, the noise, a loud noise, then they were all running, many of them into the night, human voices ushered them on, the outside looked as dark as the inside, but smelt better.
We all have things we try to keep hidden, like a yolk swathed in albumen, that is in turn concealed by a fragile shell. That is the mind. And when cracks begin to form, it is inevitable that everything ends as a sticky mess, and what was kept hidden, becomes exposed and frightening. That is madness. We are all born mad, some remain so. And some don’t know it, until it’s too late.
It’s too late, he thinks. Get your clucking act together. The only way he can get out of this mess, is to pretend to be human, until he can figure out what’s going on. But what he’s heard of humans seems frightening — snapping of necks, slitting of throats, chopping of limbs, that kind of crazy thing. He doesn’t know if he has it in him. But he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. He looks at the pigs, sitting with their big, bloated faces grunting and squealing in their desktop troughs, their pink, hairy ears pricked up, as a duck in a white coat waddles up with a clipboard. He looks at them and thinks, ‘when I get out, I’m going to carve one of you up. I’m gonna be a man. I’m gonna stay alive.’
The tite is taken from a song written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, which featured in The Threepenny Opera, and concerns humankind’s hyprocrasy and inhumanity. Here’s a wonderful version performed by Tom Waits:
‘We are all born mad, some remain so.’ — Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.