“Here are three dangers to your life, Miguel: horns, hooves and fire.” Paco was telling me a story I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear.
“A year ago, I was on duty at the clinic when they brought in the first victim. He was a young guy wearing a football jersey. The flames had melted the shirt to his back. I had to listen to his screams as I cut away strips of shirt and skin with my forceps and scissors.”
“Would you like to meet a bull with fiery horns?” Paco had asked. Yes, but I thought I would meet it from the safety of a balcony.
“The guy was lucky to lose only skin. The year before, a Belgian tourist got too close. He got gored and trampled and died in the hospital. Local or foreigner, the bull doesn’t care.”
No balcony for us. We stood side-by-side in a crowd of men in the plaza when they clamped metal baskets of some flammable stuff to the horns. “Miguel, stay next to me and never, never get near the bull.” Two men lit the fires and set the bull free. We all scattered like rabbits.
Runners chased the bull through the streets and in turn it chased us. Paco and I got separated. I stopped, lost and panting, and suddenly the horns and fires were right in front of me.
I could smell the bull’s breath and I knew it could smell my fear. Paco yelled from a distance, “Miguel!” then in desperation, “Mike!” The bull turned away from me to chase other runners.
Paco and I trudged out of the village in silence. He refused to even look at me. I didn’t blame him. Later he forgave me and my hubris for ignoring his warnings and putting my life in danger; had I been hurt or killed he would have felt the fault was his.
Years later I painted this portrait of the bull. Now it hangs in the home of the mayor of the village. But the bull who spared me is still in me.
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More images on my website: johnmichaelkeating.com