The thing with a funny day is that you can’t force it. A funny day just bursts upon your boring, routine filled week. Much like a rainbow.
So this day had started very normal. The neighbour and I headed to the market to get some groceries. We picked up a few things from Tesco – salted butter, bread, cauliflower and eggs. Right next to Tesco was the butcher. The neighbour is a vegetarian. Her husband isn’t. She has a heart of gold and had volunteered to pick up the chicken from the butcher.
What sort of chicken are you looking for, I asked.
Well, all he has said is – go to the butcher, pick up a whole chicken and then ask the man behind the counter to cut it up curry style.
Okay, I said.
Now ever since we moved to Dublin, we have almost always bought our chicken from Tesco. In Reading, we had a preferred butcher. It was at a Pakistani grocery store that housed all the ingredients needed for our Indian cooking and the butchers there were my husband’s favourites. The store was always kept sparkling clean and the butchers knew what sort of cuts we preferred.
We never really found our own butcher here in Dublin. You know this thing about having a butcher that you will always go to? Much like the hairdresser? It’s a relationship and an important one at that and in Dublin, we only made friends with the chicken and fish and lamb at the aisles in Tesco. We did not have our own butcher.
So this was my first time into the butcher’s shop. (The one we ventured into was an Irish butcher, though there is a butcher at the Indian store too. The Indian store was a short walk away and for some reason, we did not end up at the Indian store that day, which in hindsight is strange. Because we are always greedy for fresh okra, ivy gourd and small, purple baby aubergines and these are never found at Tesco.)
The neighbour picked up a whole chicken. It wasn’t very big or very small. It looked like an ordinary chicken. She then went to the butcher and asked him to cut it up in curry pieces (style). After it was done, we went to the billing counter and I thought I heard it wrong.
That will be 20 Euros please, said the man behind the machine.
The neighbour paid.
There was a moment of silence. I swear you could have heard the chicken flapping its wings.
We made our way out of the shop.
The neighbour turned to me and said, how much do you pay for your chicken at Tesco?
I was still in shock.
I think five or six euros. But I could be wrong.
Okay, she said.
You know what, R? I think it is because Tesco is a supermarket, they get the chicken really cheap? Maybe at the butcher’s it is a different deal.
In reality, I was lost. I had no clue why we had paid that amount and why did it cost what it did.
Through the entire way back, thoughts lashed out in my mind, one after another. Is this why we never buy the chicken at the butcher? Is it because it is so expensive here in Dublin? Are we eating a really cheap and not nice chicken? Surely, the chlorinated chicken from Donald Trump’s land hasn’t made it to Tesco?
When I reached home, the husband was on his laptop, busy typing away.
I looked out for a pause in the typing. When a suitable one came, I ventured a hello.
Hello, he replied, without looking up from the computer.
I need to ask you something.
Okay, he said, still not looking up.
How much do we pay for a whole chicken at Tesco.
Five, or six, he said, his eyes not meeting mine.
And not twenty? I asked.
Twenty? Of course not. Who pays 20 for a whole chicken? Except of course when you get a tandoori one at the restaurant.
I could hear the chicken wings flapping again.
I gathered some courage.
We paid twenty.
Twenty? Still not looking up.
Twenty, I repeated.
TWENTY? He said, finally looking up, eyes wide, shock all over his face.
My yes was diminutive. It was like a mouse hiding in a corner.
I took my phone and Whatsapped my neighbour.
I got an immediate reply back. Her husband was in shock too. And asking her all kinds of questions.
Now both husbands were texting each other. Mine was also mumbling something.
Is it a turkey we got by mistake, I texted my neighbour.
No, she texted back. The husband has removed the cling film wrapping but it wasn’t a turkey.
I typed a message again – no chance of it being a duck or some sort of an exotic bird? Like a peacock?
No, she typed back. The husband says it is definitely a chicken. And not a very big one at that.
I started googling. 20 Euro whole chicken Ireland. The only entries that came up for those key words were for organic chicken.
I texted my neighbour. Can you retrieve the cling film from the dustbin. Does it say organic chicken on it by any chance?
It was an organic chicken. Both of us had mistakenly picked up an organic chicken raised with compassion and fed with corn and allowed to pasture. I think we don’t even buy organic garlic. Or tomatoes. This was a first.
The husband was laughing and then he was not. How many years have we been buying chicken, Prerna? Couldn’t you tell that there was something wrong?
The chicken, I believe, is quite right. It looked normal.
You know what I mean. Something wrong with the price. She’s a vegetarian who doesn’t go shopping for poultry or meat. But you aren’t one, are you?
In the evening, the neighbours sent us a bowl of the chicken curry.
The husband said he felt guilty about eating a curry made from a 20 euro organic chicken – one that his wife had helped buy.
It tasted nice. I could smell the fragrant curry leaves and the fresh coconut that the neighbours had tempered it with. It became the fodder for many conversations steeped in laughter. The husbands tease us ever so often. We don’t mind. We laugh as well. It is now an inside joke. The mere mention of the word organic sends us into peals of laughter. I know it sounds silly. It looks silly if you were to see us – standing in a grocery store aisle and laughing without any apparent reason.