by Leon Arduous
Part 5 - the market
I won't go into what occurred in that tiny adobe hut only to say that if
you superimpose a chainsaw massacre over Romeo and Juliet and give it 6
hours to blend then you will well understand how, when I escaped (sorry
left), I had already made certain promises regarding the combined future
prospects of Samaria and myself that no decent advocate would care to
dispute. The good news was that Samaria thought she knew where I might buy a
rare Spotted Bouguereau.
When we visited the bird market the next day, the first bound lines of cocks
were being brought out and held aloft by their handlers. Free of their tiny
cages they blinked in the scorching light before being hooded.
Like most other commodities this late in the season, their ranks were
thinned and fewer than two hundred specimens were on offer. Most of those
remaining were old or frail, thin with sickness, scarred and bloodied from
fighting or almost pecked bare of plumage. There were a sorry lot and buyers
always chary of a bird over-scarred as it usually indicated a modern style
of bird, incorrigible in personality, not amenable to learning. A poor
plucked Picasso or a bow-legged Matisse.
Previously, when passing through such markets, I had averted my gaze, had
tried to avoid studying the birds, my repugnance and pity too troubling. But
now, with the boy and our new Mexican guide Samaria, we took up a position
that enabled us to make a quick scan as the birds passed by.
There were two or three in the line who seemed to be of the type I was
seeking, long necked and strong despite their bound feet and leather hoods.
But when I touched Samaria's arm and glanced across at her in inquiry she
shook her head impatiently.
'Nothing?' I asked quietly despondent.
The last of the handlers were filing past, and Samaria had so far shown no
interest in any of them. 'Our bird is there,' Samaria contradicted me, 'but
the handlers were watching us. I feared not to point him out.'
I half allowed my spirits to soar. 'Him' I thought ... it's a cock!
The birds were lead to their tethers around the square and each was tied to
its post. The handlers took their seats in the shade, wealthy men,
complacent, richly dressed, attended by their personal bodyguards, who
brewed coffee and lit the fat cigars that were reputed to have been rolled
on the thighs of Cuban virgins (now, like the Bouguereau, in short supply).
Eyes slit and sly, they all watched the two gringos and the Mexican girl as
we made their slow circuit of the market.
Samaria stopped midway along the first line and examined one to the birds, a
big cock and a warrior of many fights by its looks. The handler pulled off
the hood to show its comb as if it were some undiscovered masterpiece.
'Not more than three years of age senorita, the man said. "Look at those
spurs and legs - another ten fights in that bird. Tobacco juice dribbled
from the side of his mouth that had remained clutched to the fat cigar. I
thought it a miracle that he could speak at all with such a impediment.
Samaria blew a gentle breath at the head of the bird, but it just stared
back like the dumb Red Rothko it was. She shook her head, and they passed
along to the next bird to repeat the performance. Other times she would
whisper to the birds in a dialect ancient to the primeval forest before
I realized she was slowly working her way toward the cock she had already
selected. I looked ahead, trying to guess which bird it was, and then, with
a sudden certainly, I recognized some features described in my book and
attributed to the lesser-spotted Bouguereau. The bird in question was
featherless except for a few broken wing quills, a medium sized bird with a
thin wiry body. There was no fat or soft flesh on him. His comb was damaged
but firm and red, but his eyes were bright and piercing.
Gradually we approached the group in which the bird was tethered, we were
all careful to feign disinterest in the one Samaria had chosen. we inspected
another cock and a hen nearby, then much to the chagrin of the owner, we
made as if to move on.
As if in afterthought Samaria turned back to the little man. "Show me his
craw and spurs,' she demanded of the owner who nodded to his assistant.
Between them they grabbed the bird's legs, turning the bird horizontal, and
offered the feet to Samaria for scrutiny. Samaria concealed her satisfaction
and I my joy. The spur was a cerulean blue and the first talon had worn nails.
'This is your bird,' Samaria said to me in English but made it sound like a
rejection. I shook my head as if confirming the rejection. We turned away,
leaving the disappointed owner staring after us.
'What about the feet?' the boy asked me, without looking back. What is it
that has marked them in that way?'
'The delving,' I replied curtly.
'But one foot only?'
'The Spotted Bouguereau is an ancient and gentle bird and like the beautiful
Lyre-crested Hagan of the Australian rain forest,' I explained, 'the male
delves a hole in the forest floor for the hen to lay her eggs. Strangely the
Spotted Bouguereau it does this with the right leg only an only by the light
of a full moon.
My boy had difficulty visualizing this. 'It must be a strange sight,' he
We completed their leisurely round of the market, then casually returned to
where the little man stood. 'He is double tied, at feet and spur,' Samaria
pointed out in her perfect English. 'And look at his body.' We all looked at
the half-healed scars that criss-crossed the bird's pale skin. 'They have
beaten him savagely, trying to break him to their will, but you can see by
his eyes they have not yet succeeded.'
Samaria circled the bird slowly, peering at the pale plucked body and the
proud erect head and whispered and blew slight breaths on the bird. At first
the cock's eyes seemed sullen and uncomprehending. Now Samaria switched
again and tried making soft clucking sounds with her tongue. This time the
bird started and turned his head to stare at Samaria in confusion and
amazement. Then he made a tiny sound.
'That is his call,' Samaria explained to us, in whispered English. 'The
unique call of the Spotted Bouguereau.'
I accepted the owners invitation to drink a Southern Comfort and a beer
chaser, the essential accompaniment to any civilized session of bargaining.
Within a very short time, I sensed that the owner was eager to rid himself
of the scrawny and truculent merchandise, and he was able to press the
advantage. After an hour of haggling, the owner threw up his hands in
despair. 'My children will starve. You have ruined me with your
intransigence. You leave me a pauper, but take him! Take him an my very
blood and bones with him.'
.... next will the Bouguereau regain its plumage and amaze all and sundry
.... or will I run out of energy for this saga....?