Here in Margariti, we've acquired several chickens and one rooster. And about a month ago, one of the hens produced a certain squawking sound that my brother-in-law, Fotis, identified as her desire to brood, which means sit on a nest and wait for the eggs to hatch. So, we put fifteen eggs in a well-cushioned nest and Mama Hen sat on the eggs for 21 days. I often emailed photos to one of my sisters who was spending the summer back on Long Island chauffeuring her two teenaged sons around while also jumping through hoops to entertain her six-year-old daughter.
"Twenty-one days until they hatch?" my sister asked. "Tell her to enjoy it while she can."
So, Mama Hen sat in her nest and once in a while I checked in on her, until one day, a few little chirping chicks emerged briefly from under her haunches and then scuttled back underneath. Upon closer examination there were ten unhatched eggs and five open egg shells but only four chicks. The one missing chick was a mystery with a plausible conclusion. A predator most likely ate it. Mama Hen could not leave the nest to fend for one chick when there were so many to protect. I obsessed over that one missing chick for a couple of days and then I just had to accept its unknown fate.
After a few more days, there were more chicks but four unhatched eggs remained. Eventually Mama got off the nest and left those four behind so she could teach the others how to scratch the dirt and find food. At one point a cat got into the area where her chicks were mulling around and Mama ran after him, pecking and squawking until the intruder gave up and left her area, her babies safe, her territory unmarred. But my eyes kept going back to the unhatched four that remained in the nest and the comparison of a teacher and her students was renewed.
"What about the unhatched eggs?" I asked. "Maybe they just needed a little more time."
"Yes, maybe," Fotis agreed, "but then how would she be able to feed and protect the ten who are here now. If she stays on the nest waiting for those four, she'll risk losing the others. She had to make a judgement call."
I nodded. I don't like it. But I understand.
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