Love thy neighbours

2010-02-15 00:00

MY neighbour asked me to keep an eye on their house while they were away during the holidays. Of course I said yes. Isn’t that what neighbours are for? She came over the day before they left with a list of instructions on how to feed the three chickens, innumerable fish and budgies. I also had to keep an eye on the pool. No problem, I thought.

A day after they left, I tiptoed cautiously into their garden, to-do list under my arm, trying not to frighten the chickens. Piranha-like fish leapt towards me as I passed the pond. They were hungry! I gave them a slightly larger handful than I’d been told to and the water boiled as they attacked the little pellets of fish food. Sorted, I thought. I moved on to the next task. The chickens. I’d been told that one of them was sitting on eggs. I wasn’t to worry too much if she stayed under the tree and I never saw her. I saw only two hungry chickens and fed them. They were pleased. The budgies were nonplussed. There was enough food on the ground of their cage for them not to look desperate. But I fed them anyway. Not bad for a day’s work I thought as I left after checking the pool.

The next day was more or less the same except the chicken supposedly sitting on eggs wasn’t under the tree.

She lay out in the open looking a bit strange. She gave an unusual squawk and fixed me with her beady eyes. I leaned down to stroke her feathers. Her body felt heavy and limp. Something wasn’t quite right. As I talked gently to her she made another heart-wrenching sound and died. In my arms, as it were. So there she was: a dead chicken. I tried not to think of the frozen body on my kitchen table at home waiting for me to put it — her? — into the oven for lunch.

I called my husband to help. What does one do with a dead chicken when it isn’t, well, food? He sprang to the rescue with a large spade. We buried the poor dead chicken under a slab of concrete in the garden. Suffice to say, I didn’t eat chicken for lunch.

A few days later I arrived at the budgie cage to see one of the birds on the floor. Its eyes were open and it moved its head from side to side. Not another one, I thought. I picked up the bird which looked quite perky except for the fact that it couldn’t stand. I brought the bird home and placed it in a box. I was just cleaning out a flower arrangement and so, on a fanciful whim, I lined the box with rose petals and sprigs of lavender. The bird lay on its back, surveying its home. It seemed very thirsty so I dripped water into its beak. It drank greedily. And then it died. Oh dear.

I finally brought up the subject in a text message to my neighbour travelling across the country. “Oh don’t worry about the livestock,” was her sanguine reply. Phew. The budgie wasn’t buried this time, but at least it went out into the bin in a fragrant coffin.

I was afraid to go to the house the next day. And I should have been. I’d been told to use the tap in the front garden to refill the chicken’s water container when it was dry. There were a number of taps to choose from. Of course I chose the one closest to the container. It was extremely hard to open. Being persistent, I finally got the tap open and used the watering can to fill up the cement bowl. Then, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t turn the tap off. An unstoppable stream poured out of it. My husband came to the rescue again. After he’d turned the mains off, found an arsenal of tools which could be of use in a plumbing sort of way, he finally fixed the tap. It now opened and closed like a dream.

It was only when I confessed all to my amused neighbours that they told me that particular tap hadn’t been open for years because it was broken. They used another one in the corner for daily use. Hmm. I must be stronger than I think.

Fortunately, the rest of my curatorship went without incident. However, after my angel-of-destruction experiences, I thought it might be best to decline any more requests to look after neighbours’ houses.

So please don’t ever ask me to look after your house. Especially if you want all your pets there when you get back.

You have been warned.


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