We walk in with different attitudes. Trey is eager, I dubious, Alejandro, alert. He’s pretending to be an old hand. Trey has been talking about cockfights for months, and we’ve strolled in on his pesos—I planned not to have enough for this. We are tight from earlier and hoping not to sober up fast. We aren’t sure we have the money to stay this way, and at one-thirty in the morning, tomorrow’s workday looms. I spent last night with Lupe, so it’s two vigils in a row, though the focus is more on death tonight than what comes after.
Alejandro tells us we’ve missed the first set of fights and we keep our seats through a half-hour of arcane Mexican lotteries. Trey’s itching to put money on a bird, but he’ll wait until the raffle girls have finished. I expected a farmyard smell but it’s the same here as outside, the air untainted but as wet and heavy. The arena is tiered and while there are chairs around the broad flat top, most are sitting like us on the concentric concrete ledges that circle down to the pit in the center.
A pudgy campesino looks to be the referee, pacing in a sweatstained button-down open to his navel, stopwatch hanging like a narco medallion. Serious characters make the innermost ring, elbows propped on the retaining wall. They whisper to each other in confidence under black felt Stetsons wearing pressed jeans and entertaining girls who are either too old or much too young to be out this time of night. When the birds come out, they are thinner than I expected, looking more like young chickens than the roosters who strut through town. Svelte their whole length, most of their combs and dangling flesh has been shaved off.
The first is in the arms of a thin young man from the countryside, his plaid shirt tucked into too-light jeans that climb towards his armpits. It seems like his only bird, and he cradles it, talking and combing its feathers with one hand. The other owner’s is white, one of what seems like a big stable. The man looks drunk and his guayabera is open and discolored. A third man brings his contender into the ring to rile up the fighters. He shoves his bird at them, and then the owners hold them by the tail while they charge each other in place, feathered cartoon bulls.
The man and the kid turn and start to prep the birds. A slow process. Bandage from the lockbox, trim and cut, first one half on the leg and then the other. Their assistants open the knifeboxes and both owners consider one before taking another. They press them to the birds’ legs and start to bind them on with colored floss, green for the kid’s corner, red for the man’s. What the fuck, says Trey. They’re putting razors on ‘em. I shrug and nod.
It’s a bloodsport man. I expected some blood. Alejandro adds that without the knives, the fights would be too long.
Se necesitan las navajas.