Chicken Fight

by Katie Diederichs

A leap into the unknown Laos


I couldn't understand any of the words being spoken around me, but I smiled as if I did. I held a piece of chicken between greasy fingers and nibbled at the meat. My stomach begged me to stop but the smiling faces urged me to keep eating, so I picked up another piece. How did I end up here in this one-room home with dirt floors and a crowd of 20 strangers? I brought the piece of chicken to my lips and suddenly stopped. I was staring into the eyes of a rooster, red comb and all. I did what any person desperate to hide a rooster head would do: I covered it up with other bones, careful not to attract attention. The people of this remote village in Laos welcomed my husband, Ben, and me into their homes as if we were old friends. Hugs were given before names were exchanged, and three families argued over who would host us for dinner, so we went to all three. Which brings me back to my stomach. It was one bite away from exploding, and a shot of homemade whiskey was headed my direction. The room temperature liquid turned hot in my throat, and as I put my glass down, I made eye contact with the rooster. Its beak was stubbornly poking out of the pile. "Game on," the rooster taunted me as I rearranged the cemetery of bones. How did I get here? I wondered once again, this time a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. It was an accident, really. A problem with our visas brought Ben and me back to Luang Prabang a second time. After cursing the visa gods, we decided to make the best of our bad luck and trek to this village. When everyone's bones had been gnawed clean, save the buried head on my plate, the feet were brought to the table. An English-speaking villager explained that you can see the future in a chicken's foot. "It must be boiled first," he added quickly, as if I might start plucking up live chickens and flipping them over to see my fortune. One of the elders picked up a claw-like extremity and observed it while everyone looked on. The withered toes apparently forecasted a good journey for those leaving town the next day (aka Ben and me). Everyone nodded in approval and a few yawns punctuated the silence, signifying bedtime. I memorized faces I knew I'd never see again and thanked the visa gods for this beautiful mistake that perhaps wasn't an accident at all. Then I got to my feet and took a last look at the pile of bones on my plate, that damn beak still peeking through. I made eye contact with the rooster and smiled. "You win," I whispered.