Later F. would tell me, "See what you would miss if it weren't for me?" and yes, I would have missed it entirely if he hadn't turned around on his bike and said, "Did you see that? Aveva una gallina!" So we stopped, backpedaled, and sure enough, a man was walking down Corso Garibaldi with a rooster on his shoulder.
The man was strolling down the street at dusk, in an old blue shirt and jeans, and the rooster was happily settled on his shoulder, beautifully dark colored and shiningly clean. It hardly fluttered a feather as they made their way down the street together. We watched as the man stopped by a cafè and started a conversation with the three people, two men and a woman, who sat outside. While they talked, the men amused but willing, passersby feigned disinterest, turning around to stare only after they were out of the man's sight. Of the conversation, we heard the man say something like, "Sorry to disturb you, but I can only stay outside of locales, sai, they're always kicking me out."
And one of the men saying, "But it's not you, it's him!" Gesturing at the rooster, who adjusted his seat on the man's shoulder.
"Well anyway, I'm armed. Like in the old west." And he pulled up his shirttails to reveal a bottle of beer in each of his pockets. They all laughed and he continued on his way, but not before praising the beauty of the woman they were with.
"Che dici, lo seguiamo?" said F. Perhaps following a man with two beers and a rooster is not the city response to strange occurrences, but of course I agreed. We walked with our bikes a little ways behind him. He crossed the street and we watched as he greeted every person he passed, singing "Bandiera Gialla," sometimes stopping to talk, another time making an obscene gesture at a signore who offended him. The rooster rode peacefully, every so often flapping its wings to regain its balance. It didn't make a sound. On our side of the street three little girls and their moms passed, and the one in front cried,
"Cel'ha una gallina lassù quel signore! C'è una gallina!" That man has a chicken!
But her friends didn't believe her and couldn't see as far. "Ma era un cane, dai."
And we smiled because we knew the truth.
Finally we sped up and crossed the street, so that we would be in his path as he passed. I pretended to look at some flowers, watching him approach out of the corner of my eye. He stopped beside us, and from up close I could see he had a big bushy beard and sparkling eyes, a sweet face really but the kind that could turn frightening. He stood next to F and told him that he shouldn't be afraid of the chicken, non ti fa niente. And so F reached out a hand and stroked the rooster, who seemed to retract his head into his neck in contentment. A woman behind us was saying, "Che meraviglia, what a miracle, quel signore ha una gallina. Che bello."
And he said, "No, pardon me, you know what the miracle is?" Smiling he pointed at me and the woman who worked at the flower stand and then swept his arm to include the women passing by on the street and said, "Sono loro la vera meraviglia, they're the real miracle. Le nostre compagne. Our companions."
And excusing himself for the intrusion, he continued down the street.