The Peacock Syndrome

Date posted: August 1, 2006


Avian flu gave us all quite a scare; we stopped eating chicken, set our colorful pet birds free, boycotted eggs and mayonnaise, and got ready for Doom's Day. Then, like everything in life, it passed. We survived this one too – or so I thought until I saw them on the pool. Men! Our very own Egyptian men got hit! Poor souls got infected by some sort of unheard of virus that crawls into their tiny brains, fills their huge egos, and leaves "junior" dangling like a small pendant to remind them, and us, of what was and what could have been. The ferocious infection causes them to abandon their guts along with their hunter instinct, and while they develop a crest and arch their backs, they greet the world with a dislocated chest, protruded behind, and a strut. Alas! What a sorry sight! They are under the illusion that they are peacocks!

I went to the pool with a group of friends and as we sat there enjoying the sun and ice-cream, I spotted a specimen of the weird breed across the pool. He stretched his arms, flexed his muscles, strutted back and forth, turned and fluttered his ugly plumage at us. A minute later he was joined by another infected male who caressed his chest, adjusted his crest, and displayed his train of feathers. In an hour, there were seven of them strutting around the pool, graciously greeting one another, and looking busy and occupied with plenty of nonsense. They had their shades on, eyed every female on the pool, yet curled their lips as an expression of utter self satisfaction and lack of interest.

The sun was in the middle of the sky and I did not get enough sleep the night before; thus making me susceptible for hallucinations and visions. The fake loud laughter from the other side of the pool echoed the noisy alarm calls peacocks make when they are trying to get the attention of peahens in the mating season. Their territorial calls, loud music, and peacock-ish attitude brought back memories of the stories my very scientific father used to tell me about insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals. "The main purpose of the peacock's train is to charm the female (peahen) to get her to mate with him. He spreads his train and displays an incredible fan of beautiful blues, greens, violets, reds, oranges and yellows. Every area of the train changes color when struck by different angles of light."

Like peacocks, the infected men, acted as though they were pecking at food, with their heads to the ground and their tails above to draw attention to themselves. They were waiting for potential females to scurry over in hopes of grabbing a meal, while they stood upright and enticed the ladies with their shining tails. Just as peacocks vibrate their tails rapidly at females in an attempt to impress them, the men across the pool shook their wings and tails from left to right as they coyly eyed us from behind their sunglasses. However, even with this awesome display, in the peacock world, it is very rare that we ever see them mate. The peahen usually pretends not to notice the peacock until she is ready to lay eggs, and only then, she will decide to mate with the male.

In an attempt to get rid of the alarming line of thoughts, I got up and jumped in the water. My head definitely needed to cool off. But who was I fooling? One thought led to the other and Darwin took over. I was in biology class when I first heard of the Darwinian Evolution. Darwin also observed that females are rather picky about their partners. Students used to wonder how it would ever pay to reject a "suitor" but I never failed to see the basic rationale: random mating is stupid mating! Fifteen years later I still quote Darwin to my mom and to anyone who cannot understand my highly selective screening process of men: "It pays to be choosy because in a sexually reproducing species, the genetic quality of your mate will determine half the genetic quality of your offspring; ugly, unhealthy mates usually lead to ugly, unhealthy offspring. By forming a joint genetic venture with an attractive, high-quality mate, one's genes are much more likely to be passed on. Choosing a mate is simply the best genetic screening that females are capable of carrying out in any environment, with no equipment other than their senses and their brains."

Coming back to earth from my Darwinian encounter, I watched a recently infected man with minor symptoms of peacock-ishness strut towards us. He greeted a common friend then he turned to me as he flickered his long heavy eyelashes at me uncovering a lovely pair of blue eyes and a very cute smile. I gazed back with mesmerizing green eyes that lit up a sun-kissed face, and the tournaments began; table-tennis with words, fencing with flirtatious moves, darts with penetrating smiles, and the usual wrestling matches. I was exhausted, he shed his feathers all over the pool, and the game was over. Like a peacock, he showcased his tail of feathers and talents, and waited for me, the female, to run in pursuit of his genetic qualities.

But this female is fed up with the good-for-nothing peacocks; arrogant and stuck up for a bunch of useless colored feathers. I am so tired of being the go-getter. I have had enough of taking initiatives, playing games, setting plans, hunting, and scheming. When the heat was too much for me to handle, I escaped to the changing rooms, and as cold water washed away the images of the peacocks on the pool, I had an idea that will make me immune to the peacock syndrome; I decided to buy a long vase like the one at my grandma's, and as I drove home I vowed to fill it with hand-plucked feathers from any unlucky peacock who dares flutter his plumage in my face. The empty spotless clean vase is now in my living room and my cats are looking forward to tearing some featherless leftover peacocks into little pieces and shreds.

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