One hot and sunny morning in June a piece of strange but interesting news began to spread in the neighborhood: there were live chickens sold at the gostat*.

There was not much that was sold in the stores those days. There were some standard goods such as sparkling water or sweet sparkling water called Aurora*.

Other everyday goods such as bread, oil, sugar, flour, or butter were being portioned depending on the number of members a family had so that each family had the strict necessary for one day (usually half a bread or half a kg of measurable goods per person). The coupons were allotted by the state and we had to pick them up after legitimizing ourselves at the beginning of each month. Our coupons always carried the number 3.

Milk was always brought early in the morning, but there was never enough, even if each person was entitled to half-liter. Lines were formed each morning around 6 o´clock with people waiting in the snow, rain, dark, or whatever weather conditions for the chance to get a sip of milk. Sometimes people left their milk bottles in the line and went on organizing other things in parallel until they saw the milk truck coming.

Sweets were always available. Sometimes caramel candy was used as currency when there was no change in the cash register. That was awesome! I loved it when my mom came back from the store and had a bunch of caramel candy for me.

Eugenia* and Pufuleti* also belonged to the standard repertoire of each store.

Meat was one of those goods that we rarely saw. My family was quite lucky as my grandparents lived in the countryside and had animals, mostly chickens, cows (usually two), and pigs.

Some people traded with animal goods they sourced in the countryside. Others, who were producers living in the vicinity of the town, came to the marketplace regularly to sell their goods.

The number of animals but also the kind held was in direct correlation with the wealth and status symbol of the families. Chickens, cows, and pigs were the standard animals that provided people with food for the whole year.

In our case, my grandparents provided animal goods (and fruits and vegetables) to the families of all their five married children, including myself and my parents.

That day in June forever remained in our memory as the day we all bought live chickens from the gostat*. Prior to the purchase, small groups of people gathered and put their heads together to change opinions about buying or not buying chickens. Most of the people were town people with no experience in growing animals or processing meat. However, everybody decided that growing some chickens could be done by anybody. So, everybody bought chickens, including my family.

The chickens were white and looked so similar that you could not tell one apart from the other. As they were young, no one could either tell if they would turn out to be hens or cocks. Thus, it was mutually decided that each family should mark their chickens by putting a colorful ribbon on their legs in case they were left outside in the grass between our blocks of apartments.

I remember that lots of our plays those days included chasing white chickens with colorful ribbons and constantly being yelled at by grownups whose chickens we were chasing.

In the evening all the chickens were transported up to the balconies where they slept during the night. After about two weeks, some of the chickens that turned into cocks began crowing. The first time that happened I was woken up at 5 o´clock in the morning not knowing where I was. That sound was so unusual in the neighborhood.

It was also about two weeks after we bought the chickens that they slowly began to look sick. Most of them stopped running around the yard and died. The number of stiffed chicken laying on the ground and of the people yelling at the sales personnel at the gostat was growing fast.

“We should kill our chickens before they die on us too so that we can at least eat their meat. Once they are dead you are not supposed to eat them. Or are you?”, our neighbor Jutka néni asked my mom.

“Of course, you are not!” mom answered.

“All right then. I will bring you my chicken so that you can kill it,” said Jutka néni.

“What? What on earth makes you think that I will kill your chicken?”, my mom´s eyes widened in surprise.

“You grew up in the countryside where you folks do that all the time!”

“I never did that! My mother did because she had to feed five kids, but I could never! I do not even kill the spiders that come into our apartment. I simply throw them out.”

“We cannot throw our chickens out now, can we?”

“No! I am not a chicken killer. I can´t do that. I do not even know what to do with our chicken.”

“Then let´s find someone who will do it for us,” said Jutka néni.

 

They asked all day around the neighborhood but apparently no one knew how to kill a chicken, or they were just too scared to do it. By that time only a handful of chicken was still alive, standing around strange places in the yard.

 

In the evening I heard my parents talking in the kitchen.

“I told you not to buy a live chicken!” my father said.

“It seemed like a good idea, you know, to have some fresh meat for a change.”

“Fresh meat. You mean dead meat! And you know that I faint at the sight of blood. You bought it anyway, now you take care of it.”

But finally, nobody had to take care of it. The next morning our white chicken with a blue ribbon was found stiff on the balcony.

 

*Gostat – grocery store

*Aurora – sparkling soft drink like Sprite

*Eugenia – pastry filled with cocoa cream

*Pufuleti – snack made of corn