The matador confronts the bull as it storms blindly out into the bright sunlight. He knows that the bull has not yet realised that he is the target and not his distracting magenta and ochre coloured cape, so he has placed it in front of him like a shield. He goes down on his knees behind the cape as the bull charges, all its weight and strength focused into its shoulders and neck. At the last minute the matador flicks the cape to his side in a graceful ark that the bull follows, grazing past the wiry figure on his knees. “¡óle!”
The matador springs to his feet, walking with his chest puffed out, swiping at the air with his hand in triumph. If he wasn’t hyped before, he is now. The band starts up a Pasa Doble. He feels like a rock star, punching at his stomach and daring the bull to take out his gizzard. High on adrenalin, he goes down on his knees again.
What the young Conrado hadn’t realised was that he was missing the vital ingredients that would forever keep him out of the elite, because without the name of a famous family or the right connections and backers, no matter how good he was, no matter how much he had given, he would never be given a chance to become one of the immortals.
After the matador and others have weakened the bull’s thrust power through the stabbing of short bandarillas into his neck, and taunting him with capes and side steps, the time comes for a smaller red cape covering a long thin sword.
The deception hit him in his hunger for recognition. He became bitter, cynical and angry, watching as lesser bull fighters were given opportunities that never came his way, all for the lack of a famous name or family connection. He gave up in despair and disappeared from the scene altogether. He also disappeared from his wife and young son and he went to wander, literally. He lived poor, desperate and lost under a tree, smoking and drinking himself into a numb cloud for months on end.
Hip to hip the matador dances with the bull a slow death in elegant steps and hushed óles. The crowd breathes in with him as he then balances on tip toe, still as a pillar, sighting the target down the blade of his sword. It must be quick and clean. The sword must go in to the handle.
Out of this despair came some sort of epiphany, because one day he crawled out of his cloud, back into the world and returned to his wife and young son to rebuild his life with them. The draw of the bull ring and the great toro bravo pulled him back despite his anger. However, unlike in the movies, his return wasn’t that of the triumphant and by honest hard work, he never managed to achieve the position he had craved. But somehow out there in the wilderness, he had lost his hunger for it. He began to work again as a regular torero and during the off seasons, he now works as a tenant farmer.
The bull is panting, his tongue lolling out the side of his foaming mouth. This is his honour, his power that has awed the spectators and humbled the Matador, reduced and running in red rivulets down his shoulders and dropping onto the dusty ochre coloured earth. As if by some private agreement, the bull charges with the last of its strength and the sword goes in neatly down his spinal column, the Matador side stepping lightly as the bull passes and swipes at nothing.
Slowly, the panting bull’s legs give way and he crumples into the dust. It is finished. His feet are bound and he is dragged behind jingling mules across the arena and through a red gate to sounds of another gay Paso Doble from the band while the matador stands and salutes the applauding crowd.
I asked Conrado what he would miss when one day he retired from bullfighting. He told me he would miss many things, but mostly the fear.
The echo of the crowd fills his ears and the smell of the ochre earth his nostrils, the taste of his own salty sweat is still on his tongue. The snorting toro bravo stands, black eyed, black silhouetted against the sun, with death paused in the space between them. The Matador feels his adrenalin surge, ever laced with fear.