Easter Sunday, 1958. Juarez, Mexico. Opening day of the bullfight season at the city’s Monumentāl Bull Ring. The late afternoon sun created magical images in deep reds and purples on the sea of perspiring faces across the ring from where Bill and I had worked our way through a six-pack of Carta Blanca. Minutes ago, the sixth and final bullfight of the day had ended. Approaching the coup de grace, the bull – smallest of the day’s card – made his final approach. To the clear disgust of the locals, the young Matador placed the sword awkwardly and as the bull stood on wobbly knees the crowd turned from the scene and began to sift down to the exits and through the corral gates, which had been opened to allow easier access to the parking lot behind.
A white-shirted groundskeeper entered the ring on the far side, raking the sand where the picadors had worked. The bull turned his head toward the little man and, attracted by the motion of his rake, trotted slowly in his direction, the sword’s handle still jutting from his back. The attendant looked up from his rake and just to be safe moved quickly toward the barrera, the bull now in semi-pursuit. With the complacency of long experience, the attendant planted his rake firmly in the sand and vaulted the four-foot wall.
Suddenly a roar filled the arena! The crowd was on its feet! Cameras flashed! The bull had jumped the wall. He was loose in the crowd, and wounded.
The first to reach him were the tequila-soaked members of the local aficionado gang who inhabit the “Sol,” the bullring’s equivalent of the bleachers. Like any bleacher crowd worthy of the name, they are the loudest, in Spanish for “moider da bum,” and the first to cheer a brave foena, or pass with a resounding “Olé!” They arrive drunk at noon to start the serious drinking early. By the sixth bull of the day, they are, like the first bull, feeling no pain.
As the bull trotted toward the exit passageway, one of their crowd approached him with an old raincoat, spread wide like a cape. “Aha toro, aha,” he yelled at the confused animal and toro responded with a flip of his horns that sent the gentleman 10 feet into the air. He seemed, from where I stood, like a pizza that’s twirled and tossed to expand the crust before adding the sauce. By the time he landed, I had snapped out of my initial spell and was rushing toward the scene, winding my camera as I went, Bill close behind me. A large scrum of people rushed from one section of the stands through the nearest exit passage to the area behind, only to be met there by flashing horns as the bull reached the parking lot ahead of them. The scrum’s rapid return to the stands resembled a silent film running backwards.
At this point, the embarrassed matador whom the bull had deserted on the sand in search of adventure, picked up his sword and mulletta and, gathering as much aplomb as was available under the circumstances, strutted from the floor of the ring in an effort to retrieve his quarry and do right by him – and salvage whatever honor he could. With all due respect to the young man, he should have left well enough alone. Making a clean kill in the isolation of the bull ring is difficult at best, but when things are complicated by a gaping wound, idiotic people running in every direction and trigger-happy policia standing around like vultures, it’s pretty nigh hopeless. After a few futile attempts to bring the animal to its destiny, the slim, brightly clad torero retired in shame departing to the hoots of the tequila crowd, leaving his adversary to the ministrations of the Juarez police.
The next few minutes pass through memory in a kaleidoscopic haze of running and shouting, of young girls in tight skirts and high heels tripping and falling, and a bull swerving this way and that as he trotted from one end of the parking lot to the other. Clothes were torn and knees cut on rough surface as the crowd stumbled in mild hysteria, their yells punctuated by the sounds of gunshots as the police, delighted with this opportunity to flash their chrome-plated pistolas, attempted to bring the animal down.
Standing safely behind the mob, I fixed my long lens and clicked off shot after shot until I suddenly found myself part of the milling flow of people, not just its recorder. Pausing between two cars to check my film count, I looked up to discover that the bull and I had a close and unobstructed view of each other. His heavy breathing was loud in my ears and his blood-soaked sweat filled my nostrils as he stared straight at me. I stepped back three slow steps and scrambled onto the hood of a ’55 Chevy on my right, just as the bull decided to come on through. His labored breathing, his smell, his wide-eyed panic filled the air around me as 2,000 pounds of snorting horn-tipped muscle rumbled past my island of safety.
Moving more slowly with each brief charge, the beleaguered bull trotted into a corner of the lot as though it were a paddock where he might rest, sleep, perhaps and wake up once again on his owner’s brilliant green pampas. But it was not to be. By now the police had gathered sufficient courage to approach more closely, and they surrounded the animal’s place of retreat. I don’t recall how many shots it took, but the air was suddenly filled by a fullisade of explosions that dropped the bull first to his knees, then to his side. A low cheer went up, but mostly there was silence as the remnants of the crowd edged forward for a last look at the beast that had challenged his destiny.
My eyes went to the now lifeless black coat, browned with bloody sweat and sand, whose horns would no longer toss in defiance of the Great Ballet and from somewhere down inside a voice whispered above the hubbub of the crowd and echoed across the empty white circle of sand. “Olé!” it said. “Olé toro!”
George Duncan is a veteran, award-winning marketing copywriter and consultant in Peterborough, New Hampshire. His book, Streetwise Direct Marketing, was published in January 2001. Democracy Held Hostage, a collection of Letters to the Editor from 2004 to 2008, was published in 2009. George has had numerous articles published in marketing and trade publications and on leading Web sites. In 2008 he retired from a 50-year marketing career and today is finding new joy in writing memoir, creative non-fiction, fiction and poetry.