Shrilling, high-pitched, angry whistling screeched around the ring as El Fandi dragged a red cape around the sand, the bull following like a hungry dog, the haphazard lines caused by man, cape and bull making a woman in the crowd huff: “Bullfighting-this isn’t,” her glassy eyes stained with blue disdain.
The bull’s stomach heaved like a rough sea as it sucked in air, its pearly eyes shimmering with curiosity at El Fandi, who, thrusting the cape at the bull’s inquisitive irises, yelped: “Haaaaarrrr!”
The bull charged, El Fandi cape’s bottom edge dragging along the ground, the bull turning with the turning cape, the big, dangerous, black bull not passing El Fandi in flowing lines, the crowd whistling, the blue-eyed woman gasping: “I bet they let him get away with this.”
El Fandi’s first bull’s time-slowing orbiting around the bullfighting sun, whose clothes glistened like stars, ended with the bull’s snout facing skywards, front hooves airborne, that artistry now gone.
El Fandi targeted the heavily-breathing second bull with the killing sword. He hadn’t employed bullfighting’s mandatory moves. He had just intentionally tired the bull out. High-pitched whistling met this “slaughter without risk,” the blue-eyed woman sneering: “Grab the money and run.”
Only half the blade entered the bull, the bull still standing, looking unaffected, the crowd droning at this failure to kill, the blue-eyed woman quipping: “Maybe it’s retirement time?”
The bull attacked the pink capes cast into its face by El Fandi’s assistants, tiring it even more. The red caused by the banderillas on the bull’s black flanks matched the blood stain on El Fandi’s stomach on his suit of lights, the blood stain caused by his first bull making several passes by him, its flanks having brushed El Fandi’s clothes on its way to its snout rising towards that red wing flying in the sky.
He faced the second bull with a dagger. If the sword doesn’t kill, a dagger is used. Rumbling conversation returned, no electricity in that rumbling, unlike when bullfighters slow time with technique. This wasn’t a confidence crisis or a decline’s beginning, just an irrelevant hiccup, El Fandi’s unconcern misinterpreted as cynicism. Sure of his talents, El Fandi ignored silly criticism; but he wouldn’t have done that had he been younger. Back then, without an established reputation, he detested doubters. But those days had long gone.
The bull faced him, head down; holding its head up had become tiresome. El Fandi targeted its spinal cord. Exhaustion had relaxed the hard lump of muscle protecting the bull’s weak spot. A foot of steel blade through its torso had also reduced its enthusiasm.
El Fandi put the dagger’s tip into the sword’s hilt, hooking the sword out of the bull’s back. An assistant got the sword from the ground. The blue-eyed woman said: “Oh, brilliant technique. What originality. What genius. What can we expect next?” The bull, with donkey indifference, didn’t react to El Fandi’s removal of the blade from its back; it just stared at El Fandi whose clothes glistened with jewels of light, the bull’s indifference suggesting that having a foot of sharp steel pulled out of you is a trifle.
El Fandi targeted the weak point again with the dagger, rumbling conversation, without a precise source, filling the arena, El Fandi pronging the bull that jumped twice, front hooves lifting, the bull not collapsing, the crowd whistling, the blue-eyed woman sniping: “No shame whatsoever.”
El Fandi put the dagger into his left hand, his right arm hanging, pressure eased on his right wrist. The red over his stomach resembled a knife wound. The crowd jeered at his leisurely pace. They wanted the bull’s suffering finished. El Fandi, taking his time, wasn’t worried about sudden outpourings of collective criticism. Things can change quickly; he had been through it all.
The dagger’s second jab caused the bull to jump twice, the bull then lunging forward, two steps, stopping, the crowd whistling with disapproval, the blue-eyed woman hissing: “Disgraceful.”
Her voiced flailed with moral superiority’s lashes. El Fandi’s back had been facing her as the dagger plunged, so she hadn’t seen the pain flashing on El Fandi’s face as the dagger had struck the bull.
An assistant took the dagger, pronging the bull that plunged straight down, a relieving roar from the crowd. The bull rolled over onto its side, dead.
El Fandi raised his hat to the bullfight’s president, the presidential box a carved, timber construction, topped by blue porcelain domes, high up in the stands. The crowd mocked El Fandi’s “shameless eliciting of approval from authority”. A leathery-faced old man slung a cushion into the ring in disgust; people whistled; cushions flew, El Fandi’s suit glittering under artificial illumination.
“That’s it,” the blue-eyed woman said, “kiss non-paying arse.”
The man behind the woman had spent the day smoking cigars. The white clouds leaving his lips resembled unspoken thoughts that dissipated into invisibility, his face like a crocodile’s observing wildebeests crossing a river. His dark eyes highlighted his silver-grey hair. He was a retired boxer. He had seen what most hadn’t. He often saw what most didn’t.
El Fandi’s first kill had been beautifully executed, hilt reaching hide. His banderilla work had been elegantly imaginative, bull pronged at top speed, delighted crowd’s waterfall roaring unleashed by El Fandi’s fangs of aesthetic precision that had risen and fallen like precise pistons penetrating the hide. Given the crowd’s reaction to El Fandi’s second performance, the cigar smoker thought: Short memories fuel thrilling indignation.
When killing his first bull, El Fandi’s right hand had flicked with the jolt of contact. Close observers saw it. The ex-boxer saw it. The unobservant majority’s thrilling indignation eliminates explanations, easy money the easy explanation.
El Fandi refused to have his wrist bandaged. Talent helped him to chuckle at stupid criticism.
Before his second performance, he had thrown his hat to a man in the fifth row. That man had come down and had said: “Get it bandaged.”
“No,” El Fandi replied. “I’m enjoying this.”
He’s going to keep quiet about that wrist, the ex-boxer thought. The white cloud that flew away from the ex-boxer’s face blended into a silent, heavenly blue of long-lasting serenity.
Bullfighters must walk alone across the ring after a day’s bullfighting has finished so that a crowd’s sentiments can be expressed for a final time. Amid whistling, and cushion throwing, the blue-eyed woman saying sarcastically: “Let’s get our money back,” El Fandi cut across the ring towards the changing rooms, thinking: Let them find out for themselves.
Kim has worked for aid agencies in three conflicts: Kosovo, Iraq and Palestine. He takes risks to get the experience required for writing. He likes fine wine, art, photography and bullfighting, which probably explains why this Australian lives in Madrid. 137 of his stories have been accepted by 85 different magazines.