One day, she was just gone. Eva was the most striking of all the laying hens, with her nearly iridescent feathers, graceful presence, and animated personality. She was a Lavender Orpington, one of two baby chicks for which I had paid upwards of seventeen dollars each, whereas my original flock of Barred Rocks and Easter Eggers had cost a mere two to three dollars per pullet. All, though, are worth millions to me.
Eva knew when the leftover cinnamon toast crusts were headed her way, and she would greet me at the van upon my return from a downtown grocery run. From time to time, she would let me pick her up, and her feathers were soft as butter.
But now she’s gone.
Though I had anticipated this day for months, when the half-size orange bus pulled in to the gravel driveway at our farm, I felt an unexpected wave of regret. He would be so lost, so confused. How would he know that he would be well tended and returned to this very place after a three-hour span of time that included free play, snack, and circle? We had talked about what was going to happen, but did he really understand?
He waved to me and mounted the three steps, each nearly taller than he, with hesitancy and bravery at the same time. The door closed, and I lost myself raking the late fallen leaves for those first moments in this new season in my life.
It wasn’t like when we had lost our other chickens, when we were certain that they had died, when we held their lifeless bodies, and when we knew that their little chicken souls had gone off to a nest in the high heavens.
It wasn’t like when I finished school, only to step off into the next logical place on my way to adulthood. There is no longer a definition for the hours before me. If the darkness, the uncertainty, and even the regret, try to find the way in, I must be quick to face the lights and walk onward to the new direction, wherever that may be.
I like to imagine that Eva must have wandered off to a neighboring farm where she found a new flock, one that serves an abundance of cracked corn and whole pieces of cinnamon toast, not just leftover crusts. The hens there may even wear knitted chicken sweaters, and they probably have an automatic door on the coop so they are safe and secure before each sunset. Deep inside, though, I know where she really has gone.
“When am I going home?”
I had been asked that question so many times, but it always caught me off guard. My answer, though, was always the same.
“I don’t know.”
It’s not up to me. It never is. Nothing is.
Some days go by. She doesn’t come back. The small bus pulls up at the same time each afternoon to get my little boy. We get used to the court continuances and the string of days where we just don’t know. It becomes our new rhythm, and we carry on.
The dawn heralds a new start each day, and though a different rooster now crows with the sunlight, the morning’s promise cannot be taken. There is purpose even when time is elusive, even when we are lost and alone.
And maybe now there will be time to learn to knit one of those little chicken sweaters, just in case she finds her way home.