Looking into the Bullseye
A Short Story by Olivier Champagne.
Joaquin couldn’t do it.
All his life, it seemed, had been leading up to this moment. His father, his uncles, everybody- had been shaping him for this moment, when he would prove that he could finally join “The family business” as everyone around him called it with a snicker and a laugh. They all tried to toughen him up, to make him able to commit the literal kind of dirty work that was the purview of all the men in his family.
But he just couldn’t do it.
Now, on the ‘killing floor’ itself, as it was called, with a once-proud and strong beast looking at him dead in the eye, with an expression that would have been called pleading if it had been borne on a human face, he just couldn’t do it. He let the ornate and gaudy sword he was holding fall from his grip, instead of using it to slash his would-be victim’s throat as he had rehearsed to do and had seen his father do well over a hundred times. It hit the dirt with a soft clang.
“Hijo, what are you doing?” Joaquin could hear his father’s excited voice coming from the stands. “Finish it! Make us proud!”, as well as another cavalcade of excited shouts coming from here, there, and everywhere, yelling at him to go on and do his duty, and to give the crowd a good show while he was at it. But he just walked on, straight ahead, towards the center of the Plaza de Toros, where the life he was supposed to have snuffed out as part of this grand and grim spectacle was waiting for him. What he would do when he got close to the beast, he did not know.
Coming from a long line of enthusiastic Toreadores and Matadors, it seemed only natural that Joaquin de la Riva Martinez y Gonzalez would follow his father and grandfather into the bullfighting ring. He had grown up a strong lad, and had excelled at sports while in school, as well, so it seemed to his elders that a career following his forebears’s path would be assured.
But the Veracruz of today was no longer the Veracruz of ages gone by. Modern sensibilities and international globalisation meant that blood sports such as the Corrida were increasingly frowned upon by the vast majority of people as a whole, and the bullfighters became less glorified as heroes and more vilified for their violence, despite everybody in town still seeing them as a good source of entertainment for a Friday night- just not one that anybody would admit to liking in a public forum.
Joaquin had always thought that the Corrida seemed wrong, somehow. He had nothing against hunting or the slaughter of animals for food- men need to eat, after all- but what was portrayed as a modern-day gladiator match he had always thought to, in fact, be extremely unsporting. The bull- like the one now standing only 5 feet from him, breathing heavily and eyeing him with caution- was bled, often fatally, before even being sent into the arena. They were disoriented, panicked animals, who, whilst extremely dangerous when lashing out, were doomed to die here anyways, no matter what happened to the Matador.
And Joaquin had seen his father and eldest uncle start to be...changed by the arena and their performance in it. They started to like the killing, to time and place their thrusts so as to cause the bull maximum pain and bring forth the most gore- all for audience satisfaction, they would say, while not sounding sincere at all.
“Pick up your sword! He’ll kill you and run you down!”
His father’s voice brought him out of his reverie. He was now inches from the bull, who had risen to his full height, pacing in front of Joaquin and huffing menacingly. For a moment, he wondered if he should listen to his father, run for his sword, and stick the bull while he had a chance.
But the eyes didn’t let him.
That bull’s eye was still shining with the glow of animal intelligence, with the pain from the wound where he’d been bled, and with fear at his unusual surroundings.
Instead of reaching for his sword, Joaquin merely held a hand out to the bull’s snout, ready to be brutally gored. He did not care. In this moment, all he wanted to do was not be the one who did the goring.
To his surprise, the bull didn’t charge, no goring horn or hoof came.
It merely bowed it’s head to him, allowing him to pet its snout momentarily.
The pleading disappeared from its eyes. Bull and bullfighter faced each other for a moment, before the angry cries of the other staff could be heard and a vet and handlers were summoned to ‘make it ready for it’s next fight’
Joaquin, though, knew he would not have a next fight.
He’d looked into the bull’s eye, and killing was not for him.