My dad built a pen for the birds, but once a day, he would let them out to roam all over our backyard, shit all over the joint and chase me around until I’d hide inside the house with my asthma puffer, convinced they had flapped some kind of virus all over me that would enter my bloodstream and take control of all of my facilities.
It wasn’t until Dad decided we should bond by making dinner together that I started being less anxious. He could sense that I was afraid of the entire world and he wanted to change that.
The first time we cooked together, he grabbed a bowl, a bucket filled with boiling water and his cleaver. He walked into the backyard and let the chickens out to terrorise me. He chased one around for a few minutes and brought it over by the neck. In my mind, its talons grew to twice their size and it was scratching around the air while flapping for freedom, convinced it could somehow fly out of my dad’s grasp. His laugh at its powerlessness didn’t unsettle me or make me think that he was a serial killer in the making. It comforted me, because for the first time since we got the chickens, I thought to myself, “You stupid bird.”
Then, Dad did something completely irresponsible but completely in line with his parenting style. He handed his cleaver to me as he held down the neck of this bird and said, “You do it.”
There was no question as to what I was going to do. One of my strongest memories as a child is of my dad laying out Chinese newspaper on the tiles of the kitchen once a week, securing his chopping board and smashing through the bones of a whole steamed chicken with the proficiency of the men at the Chinese barbecue chop shop. I knew I wasn’t going to tickle this bird to death with the blunt end of a cleaver, which had travelled all the way to Taylors Lakes from Dad’s destitute village in Hong Kong.
I was a very weedy kid and swinging this cleaver took the force of my entire body. Naturally, I didn’t kill the chicken in one stroke. It took a few chops, accompanied by Dad laughing at how difficult it was for me to kill something pinned down like Catherine of Aragon making way for the Reformation.
Well, another kind of reformation was happening, because when the head of the chicken finally rolled off the stack of bricks and I watched my dad drain the blood into a bowl to be steamed into jelly for congee, pluck its feathers and remove its guts, I felt some kind of confidence for the first time in my life. Sure, I had killed a living thing, but the infectious disease that my mind inoculated it with did not exist, and I watched it literally being stripped down to become nothing more than food.
This is probably how King Henry VIII felt when he established the Church of England. It’s way too much power for a seven-year-old to handle.
This is probably how King Henry VIII felt when he established the Church of England. It’s way too much power for a seven-year-old to handle. Just like the Catholic church, my father created a monster.
I slowly got over all the things that made me anxious. Dirt? Let me roll in it. The cold? I’ll run around in a singlet the whole afternoon. Being identified as Chinese? Yeah! Just look at my face. Friends? Don’t need them! Not excelling at piano? My piano teacher can suck it! Bullying? I’ve killed a chicken; I can kill you too! Death? I had no idea what it was like before I was born, and I’ll have no idea when I’m gone.
I thought I had gotten rid of all my anxieties until I started working in bars and restaurants. I was wrong.
Edited extract from Raised by Wolves (Affirm Press) by Jess Ho, out now.
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