By the time she managed to find her seat, the opening trumpet had blown, the paso doble strains of La Macarena were filling the arena, and the ceremonial procession was half over. Juan and another matador were walking side by side, looking straight ahead, and Esperanza suddenly remembered that the posters she'd read while waiting for Roberto and the ticket had advertised a mano a mano, hand to hand, a corrida with only two matadores instead of the usual three, each trying to outdo the other in skill, grace and courage, though each bout would be separate. Having two bulls in the corrida at the same time would be far too confusing. She suspected from the easy way the men walked together that their rivalry existed only in the arena, that in their private lives they were friends, and she was sure of that when she saw Juan turn his head to say something under his breath, and saw the other man's quick answering grin.
Ceremonially, the toril--the bullgate--was opened to the sound of a trumpet, and the first bull bounded out. Unusually, for fighting bulls are normally black, this was a barengo, an animal mostly white with a scattering of black spots. Juan had stationed himself near the toril, so that his glittering clothes and the movement of his cape in an action called a larga would be the first thing to catch the bull's eyes as it moved from the semi-darkness of the pen out into the sunlight.
But this bull was not interested in the cape. It galloped out of the pen faster than a racehorse, directly past Juan and into the middle of the ring, where it stopped short and turned nimbly to try to reenter the pen. Finding the toril closed now, it ran back to the middle of the ring, kept running, and cleared the inner barricade, the burladero, in a single bound.
This is a thing that happens fairly often. The usual procedures to herd the bull back into the arena began, when the bull did what bulls almost never do: it jumped again, over the outer fence and into the stands, where it stumbled over the rows of benches as terrified spectators fled.
Quickly determining out how to use the seating as a stair, the bull plunged on, halfway up the stands, where it paused to look around.
It had all happened so fast that both matadores were still down on the sand, running toward the place the bull had cleared the burladero. Tossing its head, the bull proceeded purposefully but fairly slowly, unsure of his footing on this irregular surface, toward a panicky crowd of people falling all over each other while trying to jam into the exit.
Esperanza began to take off her jacket.
A voice inside her said, "You can't do that, you're no torero"; but she knew she could do it and she knew she was going to do it.
"Huh, toro," she tried to shout in as deep a voice as possible, and then she realized she had only whispered it. "Huh, toro," she tried again, this time audibly. A few people paused their flight long enough to glance at her; but the bull, still trying to decide which target to address first, ignored her.
In desperation, she yanked its tail. Then she backed away hastily as the enraged animal, stumbling over seating again, turned to see where this new indignity had come from.
Juan had told her the first bull of the day is as big as a cathedral. This one certainly was, especially from several steps above her. And he had warned her that the mouth of the person facing that cathedral is as dry as the sands of Sahara, and that clearly was true. But he hadn't mentioned (or had he?) that the cathedral comes armed with sabers on its head.
But he had told her that although bulls can see color, it does not interest them; rather, it is the motion of the cape they follow. She knew the motions, and this brown jacket would have to do.
"Toro--toro," she said, and backed down the stairs, the bull following with its eyes on the constant motion of the cape.
"Toro--toro," she called again, waving the jacket in a wide sweep to keep the bull's attention, so that he wouldn't be distracted by the chaos of screaming, fleeing people who by now were in far more danger from each other than from the bull. This had better work, she thought grimly. I can't let him too close to me, but I can't let him lose interest. So I have to keep him just interested enough that he'll keep following but not charge.
She backed farther down the stairs and the bull followed slowly, his head cocked to one side, eyeing the motion of the jacket. He tossed his head a little to the right, flicked his right ear and snorted, and then tried to impale the jacket on his right horn. Her mind stored that data--he gores to the right, watch my left side--and she went on down and the bull followed.
There was an almost-familiar barnyard smell about the animal, a smell that might have made her relax, except that mingled with it was an indefinable feral stench that was not at all reminiscent of a dairy cow.
The bull had little eyes, for its size, and big eyelashes. Long eyelashes. She'd just as soon not have noticed that.
She continued to back cautiously down the stairs, feeling her way with each step, because if she fell in front of the bull she was dead. The bull continued to follow, but she saw a growing wildness in its eyes, and both ears twitched at once. It tossed its head again and she flicked the jacket; it thrust toward the jacket. She was actually controlling the animal! It did work! She wasn't five feet tall, but this half-ton killing machine was following her as if it were a kitten chasing yarn, and she loved the feeling.
By now the screaming rout had ceased, the arena was almost totally silent, and she could feel thousands of eyes fixed on her and the bull. If anything could break her nerve now it would be that, not the bull.
A quiet voice behind her said, "Don't look around, but listen carefully. Use any pass that will move him past you, and then you step out of the way, into the side aisle, and let me have him."
"I can get him to the ground," Esperanza protested.
"I know you can, but I need to take him now. Please do as I say, Esperanza; this is no time to argue."
He was right; this was no time to argue. "He flicks both ears and gores to his right," she warned. "I haven't seen him hook. Tell me when."
"Gracias," Juan said. "In that case, move to your right as you step into the seating. Give him to me--now!"
But it wasn't an ordinary pass she used; if she had to let this bull go, she told herself stubbornly, she'd do it in style. And she turned in a sweeping (and highly dangerous) arruzana--a pass she'd learned from Juan, who'd learned it from his father, who'd learned it from its inventor Carlos Arruza. That left her standing straight, barely an inch off the main aisle, the jacket held disdainfully behind her as the bull brushed past her so closely that some of his loose hair stayed on her blouse.
She heard a dry chuckle from Juan, before his voice began with that guttural huh that all toreros use. "Huh, toro, vete, toro--toro." She turned to watch.
Juan's commanding voice and the movements of his yellow and magenta cape were controlling the bull now, not his actual words, and she wasn't too surprised to hear him in that same richly controlled voice damning the bull as a spotted bastard, a manso abomination that should have been turned into veal cutlets as soon as it dropped from the whore cow who had undoubtedly mated with the devil.
She sat blindly in the closest seat, assuming its real owner would come and evict her, but instead she was instantly surrounded by a swarming mass of humanity offering her wine, offering her oranges, asking her autograph, and just wanting to touch her.