Percy was a put upon pig. Everywhere he went, others pointed and stared. It was never Percy’s intention to be the focus of gossip and innuendo, but it seemed that from the moment he was born, other animals were destined to imbue him with all sorts of various—and often competing—meanings. Percy had asked for none of it. He thought of life as a rather simple affair. What made it complex and often baffling had more to do with what his farmyard friends projected onto him rather than anything that Percy would describe as pig related. As such, Percy had decided early on in life, that he would have no truck with superstition of any kind.
The horses would grimace as he walked by; the cows would shake their heads and smile as if … well, Percy could never work out what the ‘as if’ stood in for. It obviously, though, had something to do with long, long ago.
Recently, Percy had begun thinking about leaving the farm. This was not a decision to be taken lightly; in fact, it required a great deal of thought and careful planning: mulling over possible outcomes, unforeseen dangers and bends in the road. All clichés of course, but so many elements of any journey are. It was in the setting off, Percy reasoned, that the clichéd nature of any journey ended, and the individual narrative began.
Percy’s one friend in the farmyard was Ian the carpet snake, and like Percy, he was unpopular with the other animals. Ian was something of a philosopher and Percy enjoyed their occasional conversations, particularly when things were going poorly for him with the other animals. Which was generally often and generally for reasons that had to do with ancient history rather than any particular matter at hand.
“I think that it’s my body that’s the problem”, Percy sighed to Ian as he trotted into the barn.
Ian was never quick to respond, reluctant as he was to withdraw from whatever band of sunlight he had managed to slither into.
“And what problem is that little pig”, Ian demurred, unable to open his eyes just yet.
“Oh well, the same problem as ever I expect”, Percy replied, obviously troubled by his relationships with the other animals in the farmyard.
“They’ve been at it again have they?” Ian asked.
“The thing is they’re never not at it”, Percy said grumpily. “And I’m sick of trying to work out why it is that everyone has such problems with me”.
“Perhaps if you weren’t the only pig in the farmyard …”
“But that’s just it, I am the only pig in the farmyard and it’s becoming intolerable. I have no understanding as to why, for the horses, I am an utter disgrace: to the cows, I’m something to pity; the birds see me as an object of ridicule and the chickens … are so arrogant toward me. Chickens! For goodness sake!”
“And how is all this related to your body?” Ian asked.
“Well,” Percy began, “I can’t help but think I’m somehow flawed. It’s as if my body is a joke of some kind. And it’s a joke that everyone else seems to understand but me. And no one, and I do mean no one, is prepared to tell me the joke to my face. If only I could understand why they feel so strongly about my very presence I might be able to argue my case, assure them that I am somehow different to the pigs they have in their minds”.
“Mmm”, Ian muttered as he slithered into a coil and out of his sunlight.
This was always the moment of commitment with Ian; the moment that signified a conversation was becoming interesting to the point where he might be encouraged to say something deep and wise; profound even.
“Well, they do have a point, Percy”, Ian said. “You are enormously fat, your legs are very short, and your tail curls in disgrace at the size of your behind”.
“But that’s just who I am”, squealed Percy in despair. “I can’t help the form my body takes”.
Percy was close to tears, his frustration beginning to overwhelm him.
“Do not cry or I will not talk to you”, Ian demanded, suddenly forceful.
“Oh not you too. Can’t you see I’m distressed? My body”, Percy began, “is constantly hungry. It gives me no relief and my legs … can’t you see they have to be this way in order to support my frame? Being short means my legs are very powerful, they can move me about at more than a fair clip. It’s not right that the horses belittle me. It’s as if all the other animals think I’ve somehow asked to be born this way. As if … no one can see my good points”.
“And tell me, Percy”, Ian asked kindly, “what are your good points?”
“Well”, Percy replied, “I’m not fussy. I’m very pragmatic. I’m not a dreamer like the cows, or vain like the horses. Nor am I unable to commit like the birds. I have a great capacity to enlighten others as to the possibilities of pleasure and”, Percy continued, a little less sure, “I am loyal and kind”.
“Mmm”, Ian demurred once more, “and yet the others are still unkind to you”.
“The grasshoppers say that it’s a hangover from the dark ages; that no one actually remembers why it is they should hate me … it’s just that everyone’s sure that is what they’re supposed to do”.
“Perhaps,” began Ian, “If you ate a little less?”
“But you don’t understand either”, Percy cried. “You’re meant to be my friend, Ian. My one and only friend and yet you criticise me just like they do. As if … as if, my very pig-ness offends you”.
“Well I do know how you feel if that is any consolation, Percy. Trust me when I say that my fan club are not people you want to hang out with. Honestly, snake lovers are troubled folk. They simple don’t understand a snake’s desire to be left alone”.
“Well I don’t want to be left alone. I want to belong!” shouted Percy.
So loud did Percy shout, that the horses standing outside the barn overheard him. And the idea of Percy wanting to belong made them laugh and neigh so loudly that the noise threatened to bring the humans over. Which was never a good idea. Except at feeding time.
“Oh, Percy”, Ian sighed, as the horses cantered off shaking their manes in the breeze.
“You can’t escape your identity. You think I want to be a carpet snake? Well, I don’t. I want to be an eagle. I’d do anything to be an eagle but that’s just not going to happen. One has to accept ones fate. And unfortunately for you, what being a pig means in this particular moment, is … well”, Ian said rationally, “rather a sad thing. But I will say this, being a pig is better than being a rat. Rats are foul and nasty creatures and you will not find anyone to disagree”.
“Except perhaps a rat”, Percy exclaimed.
“Oh, they know what foul creatures they are alright”, Ian corrected Percy.
“But only because everyone thinks poorly of them”, Percy implored.
“Such reasons exist for good … reason”, Ian stated.
“Well I’m sure that the reason there are so many rats is because they know they have to stick together. They know the world is against them through no fault of their own”.
“For goodness sake, Percy … our identities are put upon us all. Depending upon who our parents are, what time and place we are born into. Tell me this … if you were born a hundred years ago in a different country, do you think you would be the same pig? Do you think you would even speak the same language?”
“Well … I don’t know. I’m sure I would have the same pig qualities”.
“Indeed. But those qualities belong to your body, to your pig-ness rather than to who Percy is”.
“But who Percy is … is constantly put-upon. Constantly manufactured by the other animals. It’s as if my fate was already decided when I was born; as if, just being born a pig was somehow wrong; somehow a disgraceful, offensive thing”.
“Exactly”, Ian agreed enthusiastically.
“Well, it’s not logical. It’s offensive and cruel”, Percy replied, suddenly agitated. “No one … not one single other animal has ever thought to address me as Percy. They simply see me as a pig. And the absolute worst thing about that is, being a pig, is somehow a dreadful thing for each and every other animal in the farmyard. No one thinks highly of pigs. Not even the dreadful fox who despite his cruel nature would never think to eat pork”.
“Well … I’m sure if you lost a little weight’, Ian suggested.
“Oh, you’re no help at all”, Percy exclaimed, suddenly angry. “Well I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to find a place where I belong. A place where other pigs like me have opportunities and the chance …”, Percy broke off, his courage suddenly deserting him.
“The chance for what?” Ian enquired rather cynically.
“It doesn’t matter”, Percy replied.
“Oh, I think it does” Ian added. “You do, after all, need to know the reason for setting off”.
“The reason I’m setting off is because I’m tired of being the only pig; the only animal in the barn who is put-upon is such vicious ways. Why have such dreadful meanings attached themselves to my pig-ness? It’s not fair. I want the chance”, Percy continued. “I want the chance to like my pig-ness, to celebrate my short, fat body and curly tail. I want to find a place where what it means to be a pig is normal rather than something obscure or somehow something to be ridiculed”.
“Mmm”, Ian muttered once more as he stretched his long body into the fading band of light. “Good luck and God speed little pig”.
“And I’m not a little pig!” Percy exclaimed as he trotted away from Ian, into the reassuring squalor of his pen.
Later that night, after all the other animals had fallen asleep, Percy gently opened the latch that kept the gate of his pen closed, walked to the open door of the barn, then disappeared into the bright and starry night.
The next morning there was much commotion in the barnyard. The farmer, upon realising that Percy had disappeared, mounted a short though thorough search of the farm. All the other animals were surprised by the farmer’s obvious concern for Percy. It was a concern that the other animals did not share.
“Good thing, too”, said the horses amongst each other.
“Dreadful little animal”, said the cows.
“The neighbourhood is so much cleaner already”, tweetered the birds.
“And less smelly”, chimed in the chickens.
“Good riddance”, agreed Ian the carpet snack, who was keen to use the occasion to ingratiate himself with the other animals.
“You know …” said the oldest and wisest of the cows. “To be born a pig is a punishment from the Gods”.
“Yes I know”, said the horse standing next to the cow. “That pig must have killed someone in a past life”.
“Yes”, replied the cow, “I never did like the way he tried to be so friendly when he was obviously such a foul creature”.
“His very pig-ness disgusted me”, agreed Ian.
“Still …”, replied the old cow somewhat suspiciously to Ian. “You did talk with him from time to time”.
“It wasn’t that I liked talking to the pig”, corrected Ian. “The pig would simply trot over to where I was … on those dreadful, stumpy, trotting legs and talk and talk and talk. Last time he did so I was asleep; I didn’t wake up until he’d uttered his last sentence”.
“You were giggling like a couple of school children yesterday”, corrected the horse.
“It wasn’t me…”, Ian replied, attempting to correct the impression that Percy and he were somehow friends. “If you really want to know what happened to the pig last night … I ate him”.
The other animals were suddenly dumbfounded.
“Liar”, said the old cow.
“Yes, liar”, agreed the horse.
“It’s not a lie. I always hated that pig and last night …. When everyone else was asleep, I ate the pig”, Ian lied.
“You’re a liar, snake. I saw the pig leave early this morning. He opened the latch on the gate to his pen and walked out the barn door without so much as a backwards glance”.
Ian looked around at the other animals. Then he slithered away.
“That damn snake is just as bad as the pig”, snorted horse.
“Worse”, suggested the wise old cow. “You know snakes are compelled to live their lives so close to the ground because the Gods cut off all their legs after one of them lied about what he was capable of”.
“Sounds just like that horrible carpet snake”, sneered chicken.
“And carpet snakes are called carpet snakes because they came from that dreadful country over the hill that makes the rugs that humans love so much”.
“Dreadful, dreadful, slithering snake”, hissed the blackest of the horses.
Percy trotted merrily in the bright morning sun, just off to the side of the dirt road. He found that constantly travelling suited him. The whole idea of living in a pen was actually not something he ever wanted to return to. In fact, despite his initial fears when he set off the night before, Percy decided there was very little he liked about his past life. Now that he had his freedom he was determined to keep it; treasure it like the most precious of things.
All the animals had decided at a hastily convened meeting that Ian the carpet snake had to be disposed of. Everyone agreed that the farm would be a much friendlier place without both the pig and the snake.
“This is our one chance”, horse said very slowly and seriously. “If we don’t grasp it now, we will be forever condemned to share our farm with creatures who none of us like”.
“It is a rare opportunity”, mused the cow.
“Well it simply has to happen”, said the chicken haughtily.
“What we need”, suggested the horse. “Is a plan”.
“Yes”, agreed the cow.
“Well I already have a plan”, said the bird from up in the tree.
“And what’s that?” asked the horse.
“Well, because the snake always eats all the mice before any of us birds have a chance to indulge, our plan is to poison a mice and then … just before it dies, place it near the carpet snake so he eats it and in so doing, poisons himself”.
The other animals all looked up at the two birds on the branch above their heads.
“You’ve really thought about this”, horse said.
“Well, of course we have”, fumed the other bird. “Why just yesterday I was swooping down on a little mouse and just as I reached out to grab it in my claws, that evil snake swooped from nowhere and swallowed it whole”.
“The snake is very greedy”, mused the cow.
“Yes. Nobody likes the snake. Am I right?” asked the horse.
“Hear, hear”, everyone agreed.
“Right. Put your plan into action then birds and let’s all meet back here in an hour”, commanded the horse.
“Good luck”, called the chickens after the birds.
Percy couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d heard the noise in the distance as he trotted along in the sun, and then, from out of nowhere, a truck had turned a corner on the winding dirt road and driven straight past him. On board the truck was layer upon layer of pigs; what seemed to Percy like millions of pigs. A whole high-rise city of moving pigs, all squealing and talking in a language that was unfamiliar to him. And as the truck that was filled with pigs rolled past Percy, all he could do was follow it with his eyes.
Suddenly Percy was overcome with a sense that his destiny lay onboard that truck; that if only he could manage to get inside the city of moving pigs then he would finally feel that he had found somewhere he could belong.
Percy set off at a furious pace, running as fast as he could after the truck. As he got closer and closer, he realised that all the pigs were calling out to him. They seemed to be cheering him on, excited … no, desperate for him to succeed. Percy thought that if he could just run up alongside the driver’s window and somehow get his attention—perhaps by squealing very, very loudly—that the driver would stop the truck and ...
The city of pigs continued to squeal desperately at Percy as he raced past their many faces. And Percy squealed back as best he could, desperate to get to the front of the truck and draw the driver’s attention.
The truck suddenly slowed to negotiate a bump in the dirt road and Percy found himself in front off the cab. He turned back to face the slowly rolling wheels of the truck and squealed at the top of his voice.
The truck’s air brakes hissed noisily and then the whole countryside went quiet for a beat. Percy was breathing very heavily; his face was deep red as he looked desperately up at the windscreen of the cab.
Both doors of the truck opened at once and the driver and his passenger hopped to the ground.
“Never seen that before”, said the passenger to the driver.
“No. Wonder where he came from?” asked the driver.
“I think he wants to get on board”, suggested the passenger.
Then both the men laughed as they whistled to Percy and slapped at their legs, encouraging the pig to join them at the back of the truck.
All the other pigs suddenly squealed as one, desperate to get Percy’s attention.
Percy had never heard such a noise; it was both completely familiar though unintelligible. The other pigs seemed somehow overwhelmed by his presence … as if, they’d never seen a pig quite like Percy before.
And Percy, as he trotted up the ramp of the truck into the comforting squalor of a million other pigs, squealed happily back at them, finally knowing what it felt like to belong.