Señor Delgado was a wonderful dancer. When he wasn’t dodging bulls with a magnificent twirl and spin, he was breaking hearts somewhere on a dance floor. His charm rarely left him. Even when he took down vicious beasts attacking him, there was an elegance to his moves. His sword was golden, and his muleta was green. He rarely wore the tight shiny clothes, disregarding them for a salsa dancer’s suit.
For a matador, he was quite bulky. He had more muscles than subtlety. The kind of man that left you wondering how he could obviously try so hard, but make it look so simple.
My fondest memory of him was when I first saw him on television. He was pitted against a bull, ‘El Empalador’, three times the size of the largest bull I’d seen. A large bastard that impaled and dislocated limbs, yet never saw the chopping block. When the town decided it was his turn to die, Señor Delgado stood and told the congregation that he will take care of him, and so, it was his final dance.
The sun shone hard that day. We could see it through the cameras, and the sweat on everyone’s foreheads. Everyone but Delgado’s. He simply stood, like a magnificent structure, immovable by fear or heat. No blazing star could shine harder than he.
When the bull was released, the crowd cheered, and the Señor bowed for him. As if there were an unspoken respect between the two, the bull lowered his head, bowed, and let out a gust of air that set out the dust from under him, and started digging his hooves into the ground.
Señor Delgado unsheathed his sword, and it shone. It shone so hard the camera could show nothing anymore. I clenched my hands onto the couch seat in excitement. I could taste the crowd’s fear in our living room.
He took out his green muleta and yelled.
“Come beast. One of us will no longer dance tomorrow.”
El Empalador rushed with no hesitance. Señor Delgado stood firm, and tall. The two beasts held nothing but respect for each other. The crowd yelled, and cheered and warned the mighty matador of what came.
Neither of them needed warning. It was a war that no one could fight for them. All fights our own. El Emapalador neared, and rushed, and sped. But the matador never moved, and held his green muleta in front of him.
When the beast neared, ready to stick its horns into Señor Delgado. The muleta went into the air, and the crowd retracted into a large grasp. I myself yelled in fear for the great matador. He did not hear me, nor did he hear the crowd. Our eyes all followed the muleta. El Empalador was no different.
The beast’s eyes went upwards, and Señor Delgado fell on his back, and struck his Golden sword into the bull’s heart, and the Bull’s innards fell out onto the sand.
Untouched by blood, Señor Delgado rose back to his feet in a swift sweep, and quickly removed the dust from the knees of his black pants, standing back up to a loud cheer, and clapping.
I myself was jumping on the couch, with nothing but amazement in my eyes. There was beauty in El Empalador’s death. Even the bull knew that to be a truth, laying on the ground, taking what it understood were its last breaths.
Señor Delgado stood and marinated in the crowd’s cheers, and the pleasure of a mighty kill. Cleaning his sword up, he walked towards the bull, that now laid on its side, looking upwards at the sky, and put his hand on its head.
No one could hear what he whispered to it. But the bull closed it’s eyes, and rested itself on the ground, no longer fighting death, no longer wanting. Señor Delgado put the sword to its throat, and with a swift swoop, removed its head.
He was held as a hero in our country. Señor Delgado showered in the attention, and the media lavished him with it. I found myself fawning over the re-plays of his magnificent kill for months after that. My brother and I played against each other. He always wanted to be Señor Delgado. It was sufficient for me to be in a remaking, I didn’t mind him pulling my hair, and whispering nonsense into my ear before ripping my head off with a single swoop.
Not long after had I decided to become a matador myself. I was thirteen when I told my father, who laughed me in the face, but never stood in the way. I started working after school at the butcher near our home, making twenty pesos a week, enough to put me into the ‘Escuela de tauromaquia’.
There, I met my instructor, Apis. He was an old man, with a large belly, and a narrow figure. His mustache shook along with him when he spoke, and his favorite phrase was:
“Bullfighting is a conversation with the Gods, and I am hear to teach you how to speak their language with respect.”
On my first day, I met a boy, Thesos, younger than myself, but blessed with a strong build, even before he reached puberty. He was darker than I, and much more sturdy, but always had an air of unimportance he carried that his father instilled in him by beatings and insults. Apis always told him he would grow to be a great matador if he showed that same respect to them. It was only three weeks after that I killed my first calf. And every three months, I faced one larger than the other, each that I had to pay for from my own pockets.
Two summers after that, I had spent enough money to feed my family a hundred good dinners at a restaurant, and enough time to make that same amount of money. But the world’s most beautiful currency could not replace the pleasure of becoming better at something I loved.
I had trained with Apis and Thesos, and we were on our way to becoming the most well respected matadors of our town, maybe even España. We only needed to prove it. Thesos had taken down three calves. Some the size of a medium bull, but he lacked the poise that drew me to the art. I think it was because he never watched Señor Delgado on the arena. He never had a chance to see him, mostly because Señor Delgado never performed after El Empalador, and because they could not afford a television.
Thesos always bruised more from his father than our fights, and when I would ask, he would find a reason or another to not spend his money on a new home where he lived alone instead of giving it all to his father who spent it on gambling and wine.
He would always explain how “Family comes first, even if they rob you of your dignity. Don’t forget that they are the ones that gave it to you in the first place. It is not yours.”
Apis thought it to be the way to go about things, but even mentors could be wrong. Apis always found Señor Delgado a disgrace to bullfighting. He thought him too dramatic and theatrical.
“Bullfighting is nothing to be mocked. Not with the dancing, or the silly clothes. It is a life you’re ending. Sometimes, a life that ended others. It shouldn’t be a spectacle, but a beautiful end marked by a struggle.”
I never agreed, but always took it in stride. Any person who witnessed beauty like it, couldn’t deny that there was nothing but respect in it. To die handsomely is the greatest honor. Both to man, and bull.
When I turned twenty one, Señor Delgado had fallen from the public eye, and the world had forgotten him like a star that turned off, and never returned. It had been eleven years since his final joust, and no one had heard of him. Not on the arena, or on the dance floors, but I hadn’t forgotten. Thesos had ruptured a lung during a dance he had with a bull. It took him five months to recover, but he turned to alcohol, and soon ended like his father. Bitter, ugly and mean. After a year, the bull hadn’t died, and only grew in size, so Thesos returned, and shot it fifteen times before it fell. He was shortly arrested, and condemned to three years in prison where he was stabbed by someone his father stole money from.
Apis cried for him. I had never seen him cry before. Before they lowered him into his grave, Apis left a message to him behind that no one read. We never learned what it was. By that time, I had reached a level of bullfighting that the country took notice of. My father, who once laughed me out, looked at me in pride. He held me in high spirits, and so did the rest of my family.
At the arena, during my first public fight, I was paired with a bull that was no larger than a calf. Our gym had suffered a loss, and the association did not want another mess on their hands. I never was so afraid in my life. The bull was no threat. It was the people that worried me. They judged harder than any sword. It took me three stabs, and three swords to take him down. He was a nameless bull, and I was a nameless man. I remained as such until my second fight, which was with a considerably larger foe than my last.
My nerves were strong, and so was my resolve. The people cheering, and booing had melted into the background, and all that I could see was the bull. I chose for a spear that I lodged into its head as it ran towards me. I was dragged ten meters on top of the spear before it fell to the ground, and had three broken ribs, but the crowd cheered, and to me, that was the greatest success.
Apis scolded me. He reminded me of Thesos, and he yelled and ranted about respect. I could not hear him, nor did I care to, over the sound of the cheers that remained in the back of my mind.
For three years, I continued to perfect my craft, out of the public eye, away from any arenas. I learned how to dance, and raised my agility and strength. As I looked into the mirror, all I saw was the man I wanted to become, the dream I had as a boy. In the mirror, I found Señor Delgado staring back at me, but more handsome, if I can say so myself.
When I returned, I had decided to leave the typical matador clothes with their tight golden grip behind. I opted for a more official look. I approached the bull with an italian cut suit that I had spent two hundred seventy pesos on. I was no longer fighting the bull, I was there to seduce it, and its death was my orgasm. The crowd cheering was the cigarette I smoked after.
I danced that day. I danced better than any man had seen. I was a golden God that moved with the elegance of a cat, and struck with the ferocity of a leopard. When the bull would rush near me, I would feel the heat coming out of its horns, and the sound wave of the crowd gasping. I exhausted the beast until it laid on the floor. It was no match for me. I went to its hind, and put my sword, a small needle like thing to the back of its spine. With one hand holding it, I raised the other, and the crowd cheered.
I hammered it into its neck, and heard the crackling sound, and a final release of air. It never occurred to me before, but I had started to think about what I was doing. I was no longer a matador, or a bullfighter, or a dancer. I was a gladiator, a murderer by choice, pleasing a crowd of fools.
They cheered that day. Louder than they ever have. I cried. I cried like a man that had reached his dreams, and realized they were illusions. Apis was no longer there, nor was his wisdom. There was no longer an art in my work. It was too simple for me. The hardship of creativity is what made it worth it.
I was adored. My family had never been prouder, and I could afford all the dinners I had once spent on becoming the man I was. At twenty three, I was the man I wanted to be, with nothing left for me to achieve. To that avail, I spent three days and three nights in bed. On the fourth day, I had received a letter.
I do not know if you have heard of me. You might be too young to have witnessed my reign. I am who they called ‘Señor Delgado’. I have watched you bullfighting, and there is a beauty to your movements, an eloquence in your strength and a mystery behind your motivations. It is always easy to see why a man fights a bull. It is almost always personal to him. The bull is his enemy. He is there for the kill. But you, I see nothing of that in you. I see a man, meaninglessly dancing around hardships he put himself through, to no avail. I fear you have a problem I myself have faced.
It has become too simple for you. Nothing in this world can cripple a man quite the same way as simplicity of life. You rob life of its difficulty, and you rob it of its essence. I truly believe the same applies to bullfighting.
I wish for you to come visit me in my farm in the south of Barcelona. I will be patiently waiting for your response.
A matador once, and a matador forever,
There was no bigger honor than being admired by your hero. Nothing other than being understood by them. But all the honor in the world could not return my energy. I mustered all I could, and wrote him back, and it was no sooner than a week that I was being greeted by him at his farm.
“Señor. I’m so glad to be here.” I said.
“The honor is all mine.”
His welcome was warm, and his hug was tight like that of a brother. We did not talk of the matter until we had a hearty dinner, and a lot of wine. He started off.
“I understand from your messages that you have seen my fights before.”
“I remember you and El Empalador. Fondly so. It was partly the reason I became a matador.”
“You honor me.” he replied “But I must tell you, that was the fight that brought my career to an end.”
“I cannot say I did not notice that you stopped after. Why is it, if I may ask?”
“I was faced with a mighty beast. One I felt that would cause me great difficulty.”
“Obviously it did not.”
“And that is exactly why I found myself away from the arena for so long.” he said. “It was the final blow for me. I had fought so hard, for so long, that fighting was second nature to me. I perfected my craft. There was no longer any use for it.”
“What did you do for so long?”
“I waited.” he said.
“You, my young matador.”, it was only hear that I could hear a happiness in his voice. A true pleasure, not one that you find on a table full of drunks, but one that held itself in for too long, and came out in a wonderful honesty.
“I don’t understand.”
“I could not die peacefully knowing that I was the best.”
“Is there any better way to die?”
“Maybe not for you. Maybe not now.” he said, letting out a sigh. “But when you love something more than yourself, it becomes a burden to see it worse off without you. The only relief you can have is seeing it progress.”
I had nothing to say. So I remained silent. He was expecting me to speak, but he allowed himself to continue for the sake of the conversation.
“I cannot say I am not pleased to see how well you treat the art. How well you dance. But do not be foolish. Not like me. Raise a better generation. Impart your wisdom. Forget the fools that believe in the one way. The roads to beauty are plenty, and paved by the blood of those who took it before you. Pave your own, or continue the ones laid down before you, but never accept that a new path is not laid down.”
I could see tears swell in his eyes. That was when I noticed there was nothing in the house that spoke of a family. The living room was empty, aside for the furniture. The only pictures he had were of himself, in younger days.
“I will try to remember that.” I said. “But why are you telling it to me?”
“You will understand, I hope. And if you do not, then there is no wrong in me trying.”
It was not long before he changed the subject, and returned to the smile of a drunken man on a table. There was no sincerity in anything we spoke about after. We both continued to drink, and eat, until early in the morning, remeniscing of his older days, and sharing stories of glory. When the sun broke early, I was on my way home. I myself stayed in bed for another week. Seeing my hero had done nothing for me. I found no solace in it.
At the end of the month, I had received a news paper. The headline explained how a dear matador had died. It was Señor Delgado. My hands shook as I read the story that went in depth about his death. A neighbour of his had witnessed the entire thing. The story went as such:
Señor Delgado stood in a bullpen alone with a large taur. He was dressed in his former bullfighting costume, and held his green muleta. The bull noticed the waving of the muleta, and started angrily grunting, and digging its hooves into the ground. Señor Delgado stood firmly, and waited. The bull began to rush at him. In an act of defiance, Señor Delgado dropped his muleta, and merely waited. The neighbour yelled, and warned him, asking him what he was doing, but Señor Delgado did not respond, and instead, stood.
The bull caught him in his horns, and mangled him. He beat him onto the ground until blood and brain left his skull. By the time the paramedics had reached the scene, Señor Delgado was no more than a lump of flesh that was viciously ripped apart. The police marked it as a suicide, as it surely was. The bull was later found out to be a descendant of El Empalador.
I was not surprised. Nor was I saddened by the news. The horrific death only meant one thing to me, as I am sure Señor Delgado wanted it to be. He was no longer the best. No longer undefeated. His beautiful path was paved, and it was done, while mine had just begun. To that end, young matador, I write this story.
You might have a wretched road awaiting you, and it may be filled with thorns that will make you bleed. But know, and be gleeful, that you are indeed not the best. Nor do you have the curse of being the most wonderful dancer there is. Revel in your mediocrity, for you will never taste the hardships of perfection. Remain flawed. Your scars and your failures are what will forever mark you as truly wonderful. Never be looked up to, for then you would have reached the heights. Stay low. Aim lower. Do not succeed, nothing awaits you there.