Tess, my buff Orpington, likes me. Always has. Even as a chick, a hatchery ”bonus” I didn’t order, she approached me with a friendly curiosity. The other babies saw me through the eyes of the prey animals they are — as a towering potential predator — and five months later, on the cusp of henhood, are still a bit wary.
Not Tess. She allows me to pick her up, raise her to face height, and look her straight in the beak, after which she cocks her head and fixes one bright golden eye on me. It’s a gesture born partly of necessity – her eyes are on the sides of her head, after all – but I like to think there’s something more to her inquisitiveness. She looks at me with such intensity, as if she knows me from some distant time or place where I was important to her, and is trying to remember just when and where.
If she were a human, she would misconstrue that sensation by drawing absurd conclusions. We must have known each other in a past life, she might say, because you feel so familiar to me. We might even be soul mates. This fact that you are here again, that we are together – this means something.
I have done just this on occasion with certain people, and it is always an error. Yes, we sometimes have this sensation, and, being human, infer meaning where it may not exist and assume knowledge of the other we do not have. Maybe we were soul mates. Or mortal enemies. Or strangers who locked eyes and then walked past one another a millennium ago, in some dusty or dank landscape. Or maybe we were nothing particular to each other at all, and that sense of déjà vu is just a synaptic accident. Maybe it’s just that all of us — fleshed, feathered, furred, scaled – sometimes feel the wound left from being chipped off the same primordial whole and see in each other, for a fleeting instant, one of our missing pieces. Or, maybe not.
Thankfully, Tess is a chicken, and her curiosity is an end in itself. If I mean anything to her, it’s in the here and now, which in a hen’s head is perpetually new. In every encounter, she does me the honor of asking the question – Do I know you?—without thinking she knows the answer.