Alive to dead in 10 minutes


So we killed a chicken today.

A brown hen to be exact.

We were on one of our many mindless drives around Chicago. We were driving along Western after our oil change.It was a rather gloomy and grey type of day. Suddenly Joe spotted a dilapidated yellow sign, “Chicago Live Poultry: Zabihalal in 10 minutes.” We have driven down this road a hundred times before and I have seen the sign countless times. The store never called at me. It had grills on the outside. The kind that reminds me of a liquor store in a bad neighbourhood. It was a fairly shabby looking store front. It did not look too promising. I assumed it was one of the many Halal meat markets in the Devon area and never thought much of it.

Joe being the way he is, merrily exclaimed, “Let’s go there!”

And at that moment, it clicked. “Live Poultry” and “10 minutes”.

We were going to watch our chicken die today and eat it that very same evening. I cringed a little.

So we turned around and parked. I was a little nervous and excited.

As we got closer, i saw the image of three little cute bunnies on the store front. Great! They kill rabbits too.

We stepped in and we were greeted by the gut wrenching stench of what I believe was death and chickens.

A row of empty refrigerators lined the entry way. An interesting mix of customers of Asian and African descent were standing in line.

I held my breath and zipped up my coat all the way to the top of my double chin. It almost felt like i wanted to retract my neck and head into the  safety of my green coat. I then slowly and softly told Joe, “Maybe we should skip it. You sure you want to get a chicken from here?” Of course he said yes. There was no turning back. I peeked further into the back of the store. I see cages, upon cages of chicken in the back room.  I felt my heart palpitate. All I could think was, you poor little babies.

The “butcher-“slaughterer”-greeter-cashier-store owner” said hello and called to us at the back of the line asking, ” What can i get you my friend?”

“One hen,” said Joe casually. It was almost like he did this all the time. Why did he not get a white chicken? Why a hen? in my mind it  became a little more personal. Why does a female have to die? Why would you want to eat the mother of little chicks, whose purpose in life was to lays eggs and rear her little babies? Then i realised i was getting a little too emotional and stupid and i fast-fowarded that thought and focused on which poor little chicken will be the next victim.

Soon after placing our order, a mexican male emerged from the kill room. He walked towards the back room where the innocent chickens were just minding their own business. I extended my neck a little. I saw him walk out of the room with a little brown hen. Its feet hanging in the air. I did not hear much noise, nor did i see its wings flapping frantically. I only caught a glimpse of the poor little chicken. Maybe it was better that way.

Western is a very busy road for most parts of the day. It was noisy. But I strained my ears to just perhaps catch the sound of that little brown hen just one last time. Moments later i heard a little cackle from the slaughter room. And that little hen was dead.

We were the last in line and by that time we were the only ones left in the store. Joe mentioned to the multi-tasking store owner that I was afraid. With a sweet smile often seen on Somali faces, he said, ” Ladies come hear afraid all the time. But after having fresh chicken, the ladies keep coming back for more and even go to the back room to pick their chickens.” Erm, okay.Thanks for sharing?  He then told Joe and I to go check out the chicken in the back. I was TERRIFIED! Joe was absolutely delighted by the invite. His eyes twinkled with child like excitement and glee.

As we got closer. The stench grew stronger. Live chickens don’t smell very good in confined spaces. I wanted to gag and my eyes started to water. Prior to getting to the back room, we had to pass the murder room and a row of grey funnels neatly line the wall above the trough. Freshly splattered blood painted the wall of the stainless steel room. I had to walk away quickly. The smell was overwhelming. And the chicken blood artwork will forever stain my mind.

Shortly after our little tour, our chicken was almost ready. “Do you want the head and feet?”the mexican said.

Seeing the horror in my eyes, the multi tasking merchant answered that question for me and said, “No head. No feet.”

We paid and said our thank you. He told us to come again. I walked away feeling a little proud to have survived the ordeal but a little sad that i killed a chicken today.

This is not the first time i have been in the same premise as a live animal that i will devour later in the day. Growing up a Muslim, it was pretty common practice for our parents to take us to the mosque on Hari Raya Haji to watch the sacrificial slaughtering of a lamb or sheep. I always looked away at the very moment they commit the deed. As a kid i was not as  flabbergasted at the thought of killing an animal for food. It was pretty straight forward and rational almost. We need to eat, hence an animal needs to die.

Living in the United States for the last 5 years has made me a little disconnected from the whole cycle of where our food comes from. All i ever see are uniformed pieces of beef or chicken, neatly packaged in that same yellow styrofoam container and wrapped in the same heavy duty cling wrap. I see packs of breasts, thighs and wings. Boneless? Skinless? Take your pick. I see the butcher behind the counter. But i never see him butchering.

As traumatic as it was to have a warm carcass handed to me in a  black plastic bag, the experience was meaningful. I felt a little enlightened. It made me appreciate my food a little more. I gained a little respect for chickens and the sacrifice they make so that we can eat. I appreciate the multi tasking entrepeneur and his comrade for slaughtering with care.

Thank you.

Dinner is ready. Time to eat.



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