Two red junglefowl, a hen and her rooster, popped out of the shrubbery onto the lower ring road of the botanic gardens as I waddled towards the swan lake last week. They paused just long enough to determine that my duck posed no credible threat before retreating to a wedge of thick bushes and low trees, guarded by a girl on a swing, where the pair began, or rather, continued to forage with strong, purposeful kicks that sent leaves, dirt and debris up and back, and short, sharp pecks at whatever morsels their swiping had flushed, dislodged or uncovered from hideouts on the lawn.
The birds shot back into the undergrowth when my duck stumbled closer, issuing, as they circumvented the clearing, soft, fussy clucks that may have combined nuptial assurance with fowl insults. The hoo-hah was too much for another, unnoticed cockerel, who abandoned his efforts to spy on the couple with a beeline towards the gardens' fernery. His flight, which packed all the strength and speed of a fully feathered beast, would have shocked fans of farmyard chooks used to wings that lift little more than their appetites. Such powers of dispersal have allowed Gallus gallus to invade Singapore, using Pulau Ubin as a staging ground or by simply winging it across the straits of Johor. A small population has reached Tanglin, where they grub about in a sliver of a rainforest, dash through plots of plants that heal, thrill and kill, and wreck the thematic harmony of gardens in the way of a city at odds with its roots. The chicken may run but the cage remains open for those who tire of the game, of scratching hard for paltry returns and of the freedom to roam and roost where you choose, and settle for neither desire nor danger, but the comforts of the flesh and the rules of a long and whiny road.