Friday, November 23, 2012
Here's a new excerpt from my latest release, Mayon. Walk in John Buchanan's shoes for a while as he braces for another new experience.
“Now, what was it you wanted to do today?” John asked.
“Sabong means cockfighting.”
“Oh… I’ve never been to a match.”
“Then we should go. Ignacio raises some of the finest roosters around these parts; in fact, some of them are right here on this hacienda.”
THE cockfighting ring turned out to be nothing more than a large open-sided nipa hut with an enclosed pen in the center. The floor was packed dirt and there were no seats to speak of. The crowd milled about with peso bills in their hands, waving and gesticulating loudly. Most of the spectators were men. There were a few women in the periphery of the area but they stayed far back and were only there to peddle local street food. There wasn’t much chance to eat during the fight, but afterward, there would be. The vendors hung around like the constant cloud of flies, hoping to reap a part of the winnings.
When John and Greg walked in, they were treated like royalty. Crowds parted to let them through, and “Goyo” was thumped on the back in friendly camaraderie. People inquired after Ignacio, but the majority seemed happy enough to see the young overseer on his own. He was familiar with most of the men, having been a frequent visitor to this pit whenever he and the Spaniard were in the area. John felt like Gulliver again, towering over the group of men who huddled around Greg to admire his gamecock. Greg had mentioned that Europeans and Americans were aficionados of the blood sport, but right now, John was the only one representing his race, and he hoped that he wouldn’t disgrace anyone by puking up his breakfast.
There were several other handlers cradling their most prized possessions, stroking the newly groomed roosters with a gentle hand. The birds were minus wattle and comb, removed early on in their growth cycle, Greg had explained, to decrease the chances of getting torn off during a fight. It made them look different from the common, everyday rooster.
The contenders themselves were bristling with excitement, almost as if they were aware of their impending fate. There was no draw in this sport. It was kill or be killed, and the gleaming curved razor attached to each rooster’s foot would be the weapon of choice. John had felt the sharp edges earlier when he’d watched Greg prepare his bird. Knowing the blade could easily slice through feathers and rend flesh to bloody tatters was so disturbing he had to turn away. There was nothing he could do to prevent the eventual outcome of the match, but nobody said he had to enjoy it. Still, curiosity prevented him from refusing to attend.
The atmosphere in the crowded hut was similar to that of a boxing match. There was an unmistakable air of aggressiveness among owners, gamblers, and contenders alike. Smoke filled the air, and those who weren’t smoking chewed betel nut, spitting on the dirt floor without reserve. John could see clumps of red-tinged spittle everywhere. Wagers were placed with bookies who determined the odds by comparing the bloodlines and appearance of each bird. Voices rose in anticipation when Greg and the other handler met in the center of the ring. This ritual, preparatory to a fight, allowed the birds to stare at their foe face to face, working them up into a feather-raising killing frenzy.
By the time the animals were dropped to the ground, they were overcome with bloodlust, attacking in a flurry of flying feathers and earsplitting screeches of battle. Spatters of blood flew through the air as the cocks fought with vicious determination. The life-and-death struggle was over within minutes. Greg’s cock won, and he strutted around his twitching opponent, who lay in a bloody heap, pecking at him a few more times to deliver the final deathblow. John looked on in distaste as the winning cock glanced left and right, flapping his wings to garner more attention. He was the champion, and he puffed out his chest like Joe Louis, crowing out his victory in ear-blasting triumph.
Greg scooped up the blood-streaked contender, checking to make sure he hadn’t been injured too badly. He whispered words of encouragement the entire time he prodded and poked, and the bristly animal seemed to calm down, responding to the gentler voice now that the battle was over. Handfuls of money were shoved at Greg, who gestured to John to pocket the bills while he had his hands full.
“Makaon na kita,” the men invited, urging Greg and John to join them in a celebratory round of drinks and finger food.
There was a shaded area off to the left of the hut with a cluster of benches and stools, where several people had gathered. Greg shoved his rooster underneath one of the more ornate benches, a gallinera, he called it, Spanish for “chicken coop.” The space under the seat was enclosed with wooden spindles, keeping the animal penned in while still allowing the air to circulate. He threw in a handful of corn kernels so the bird could celebrate his victory with a tasty treat.
Glasses filled with a milky liquid were passed around, and John took a small sip of the harmless-looking drink. “What is this?” he asked Greg, holding it at arm’s length. It delivered a wicked alcoholic punch. “It’s not going to make me blind, is it?”
“No, only drunk,” Greg smirked. “You foreigners call it coconut wine. We call it lambanog―another by-product of the resilient coconut.”
“Bloody amazing tree,” John muttered, taking another sip. It was powerful, to be sure, and he’d be three sheets to the wind if he didn’t watch it.
Mayon is available for purchase here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3401