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The search for the lesser-spotted Bouguereau
Ornothology and the arts
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 moving on.
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 muttered.

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....?