Fast, furious, fatal, and facinating
The heat is oppressive. I start to sweat the moment I walk in. I don’t notice it yet, though, as I am deafened by the sounds.
Men screaming, yelling, flailing about with mad intensity. Words reduces to shouts, repetitious, guttural, filled with hope or despair.
Hands always in motion, signaling, gesturing, figures up, out, curled, then wrists dipping in unison, a match made in sign, owners still yelling, but now to each other.
This a cockfight in Manila and I haven’t even seen the ring or the birds yet. This is just the stands, where action is overwhelming, then silent.
All eyes, all minds, all hopes, dreams, egos are focused on two roosters in a small ring. The cocks eye each other warily. They circle for a moment and then it’s a flurry of feathers. Faster than my eye can see, my mind can register; they attack with beak, claw, and razor sharp talon.
Then it is over. Less than a minute and one bird lay dead. The other, wounded but alive, is carried with pride from the ring. The still motionless, still untouched looser, is cursed by many in the stands.
As it is taken away, treated like the dead bird it is, the men exchange money. Philippine pesos transfer from looser to winner, bettors both independent and with the house with smiles and frowns.
Then two trainers enter the ring, holding their birds with love. A third cock is brought in to anger the antagonists. Pecking, clawing, plucking, the roosters are agitated and excited by this third bird.
Now the trainers put the cocks near to each other, to see their adversary for the first time. Both birds stand at the ready, crowns peaked, head high, death in mind.
The shiny steel talon, cover removed, surface wiped, gleams in the light. This talon, on the right leg, over the natural spur, is the agent of death. This talon, razor sharp with a mortal curve, is the weapon for a win.
Men now scream again, deafening all with shouts of odds and birds. Fifty, eighty, one hundred pesos for this or that rooster, for this or that chance at a win. Dreams again are held tight as the cocks are released, and the trainers fall away.
The birds dance with wing, with flight, with grace and death. Into the air they jump, flashing talon in the leap, driving it home in the dive. Again, a bird does not move. Victory is at hand for one, death near to the other.
A dozen times this scene repeats screams then silence, feathers and fight, life and death. And I then depart. I wander out, around back, and see whereto these roosters go.
Cocks victorious are not without pain or wounds, life precarious. To the cock doctors these go, stitched and saved, living to breed the next young warrior. Cocks lost are quickly fixed too, as supper for those hungry, defeathered while still warm from defeat.
This is a Manila night of cockfight.