It was hot and dark on the thirteenth floor of the block of council flats. Leo, inappropriately dressed in a long black trench coat and a pair of wraparound sunglasses, sat in the cramped waiting room. The walls of the room were tinged a sickly green, as were the carpet, the coffee table in the centre, the moth-eaten old chairs ranged around the outside, the water cooler in the corner and the faded calendar on the opposite wall. Leo began to wish he hadn’t drunk that fourteenth crème de menthe.
His search for the oracle had been long and arduous. He’d expected nothing less. He’d also expected to have to wait once he found her. She was the one person everyone wanted to consult when they had an intractable problem. And what with everyone being slaves to the machines, most people had a lot of intractable problems that needed sorting out. Because of this Leo had expected the waiting room to be full. However, what he hadn’t been expecting was the nature of the other visitors. He was the only human there.
The waiting room was packed with farm animals that looked as if they’d staggered in from a fancy dress party. In the chair on his left sat a pig dressed as Elvis who muttered, ‘Thangyouverymuch,’ at regular intervals, punctuated by porcine grunts. On his right a sheep in a chambermaid’s outfit was taking experimental nibbles at a plastic spider plant. Across the other side of the formica-topped coffee table a horse wearing a cowboy hat and a chequered kerchief was removing stones from his hooves with the aid of a Swiss army knife. Among the other occupants of the room were a family of ducks dressed as gangsters, a goat sporting Elton John spectacles and a powdered wig, and a cow in combat uniform.
Just as Leo’s alcohol-befuddled brain was trying to make sense of all this, a ginger cat poked its head around the door to the kitchen and called out, in a voice reminiscent of the mellifluous tones of James Earl Jones,
‘Mr Adamson, the oracle will see you now.’
Leo entered the kitchen. There was no-one there.
‘Dude,’ he said, addressing the cat, who had jumped up onto the kitchen counter, and was sniffing a baking tray full of macaroons, ‘where’s the oracle?’
‘Oi’m down here, you eejit,’ came a female voice with more than a hint of an Irish lilt. Leo looked down.
‘But you’re a chicken!’ he exclaimed.
‘Ten out of ten, Oinstoin,’ replied the chicken, fluttering up onto the counter and pecking the cat’s nose, just as it was about to purloin a macaroon.
‘Who are you?’ asked Leo.
‘Oi’m the oracle,’ replied the chicken.
‘But you can’t be. The oracle’s an old woman who – ‘
‘Oi’m the animal oracle,’ replied the chicken, a hint of annoyance in its voice. ‘Surely you don’t think you humans are the only species to be farmed by the machines? Nothing special about your basic human, you know. Your lot’s so-called superior brains are neither here nor there to a machine. All they’re interested in is how many of volts of electricity they can squeeze out of you. As far as a machine is concerned, all meat’s the same.’
‘You mean it all tastes like chicken?’ enquired the cat lugubriously, now sitting on the windowsill, grooming itself.
‘So,’ continued the chicken, addressing Leo and staunchly ignoring the cat’s remark, ‘You wanted to consult the human oracle and you found me instead.’
‘Looks like it, dude,’ replied Leo. ‘And I don’t have time to find the human oracle. Can you help me?’
‘Well, maybe Oi can and maybe Oi can’t,’ replied the chicken, tartly. ‘But first, have a biccy.’ She pushed the tray of macaroons towards Leo with her foot.
‘No thanks,’ replied Leo.
‘Oh go on, go on, go on, go on, go on,’ said the chicken.
Leo took one hesitantly and sniffed it before taking a tiny bite. His mouth contorted in displeasure.
‘Chickenfeed flavour,’ said the cat, by way of explanation.
‘Now for the answer to your question,’ said the chicken, pecking some crumbs off the counter.
‘Yes?’ said Leo.
‘Oi’m clairvoyant, you know,’ said the chicken.
‘I gathered that,’ said Leo.
‘It means Oi can see things other chickens can’t. The future and so forth.’
‘So what’s the answer to my question?’ asked Leo.
‘You already know the answer,’ replied the chicken. She sat down on some eggs that were lying in a wire basket on the counter and wiggled her bottom until she got comfortable.
‘No I don’t,’ said Leo. ‘If I knew the answer already I wouldn’t need to consult an oracle.’
‘Ah but you do, you see. That’s what makes the whole thing so… so Zen. You already know what the answer is but you’re not telling yourself. And the question that immediately springs to mind is, why?’
‘Forget it,’ snapped Leo. ‘I’d be better off talking to a budgie.’ He stomped out of the kitchen.
‘Eejit,’ said the chicken.
‘Next!’ called the cat.
A bald-headed child of indeterminate sex, wearing orange robes and an irritatingly self-satisfied expression suddenly appeared in Leo’s path.
‘Dude,’ said Leo. ‘You’ve come to the wrong address. This is the home of the animal oracle.’
‘On the contrary,’ replied the child, smugly, ‘I am exactly where I intended to be. I have not come to see the oracle, but to see you, Leo.’
‘Me?’ said Leo. ‘Why?’
‘I need to tell you something. Something very important.’
‘The thing I have to tell you is a thing you already know, but you do not yet realise you know it.’
‘Hurry up, dude, I haven’t got all day,’ said Leo testily.
‘In a very real sense…’ said the child.
‘What?!’ hissed Leo.
‘…there is no macaroon.’
© Helen Lewis 2010