I was living in Spain, and every once in a while, I would grab my backpack and head to the train station. Once there, I would see where the next train was going, buy a ticket, and go.
One early spring day, I headed out this way, and ended up in a lovely town. I poked around, ate lunch, and then suddenly felt tired. I knew I had to get up and walk. The towns to the north of Madrid have this golden quality; I think it is the sun on the yellow stones, the intensity of the sun, and the blue-ness of the sky. I walked out of town, enjoying the quiet and the golden light.
A path led up to the right. I took it. It looked like a legitimate path, worn with use. I took off the hot pink, black, and yellow jacket my mom had sent me, and patted my familiar puffy down vest. I was walking up a hill now, and every once in a while, there would be an opening in a fence. I would walk through these openings as I continued up the hill.
I stopped, to admire the landscape as much as my progress, and noticed a large flat rock. It was perfect. I sat on it and let that bright Spanish sun work its way into me. I flipped my vest up under my head, made a pillow with it, and covered myself with my jacket. The sun soothed me. I slept.
A cool breeze woke me up, or maybe it was a snort, I don’t know. But when I woke up I was surrounded by enormous black bulls. I didn’t move. I had been in a bull ring with a dog-sized bull once before then, but I had been drunk, and my friends were there to help protect me. This time I was staggeringly sober and alone.
I could breathe, and I did so, trying to see if I could really truly figure this out. I looked at my jacket: two of the colors of the capes they use during a bull fight. Olé for me. Well, my L.L. Bean vest was a nice somber blue – and it was puffy – surely that would protect me.
I could see where the gate had been closed about 200 feet from my rock. About a hundred feet away, there were some scrubby trees. I calmed myself, “It’s not like they are predators; they won’t circle me and punt me around. They may trample and gore me, but, yeah, I can do this.” Another deep breath, and I lowered my feet to the ground. They were stiff from my nap on the cold rock, so I flexed them to warm up. The bull closest to me blew out through his nose. He would be my first point of contact, if there was going to be one.
Legs ready, breathe steady, I stood up. I tried to walk as if I were one of them. I am a little more than five feet tall, so I was just about their height. I did not look them in the eyes. Instead, I kept my eye on the first tree and kept the bulls in my peripheral vision on a sort of hyped-up radar. My days sneaking up on my siblings did me in good stead. I made no sound. I let the brightly colored jacket trail a bit down my leg. I might have to use it to throw and distract.
A bull on my right looked up and kept his eye on me for a moment, which seemed like an hour. I paused, took another deep breath, and checked my path to the tree. It was about ten more steps. The bull put his head down to graze and I walked those ten steps as though every pace could be my last.
I made it to the trees, paused, and noted gratefully that most of the bulls were lounging in the sun, smart animals. I went on. I made it to the gate, opened it, and went through. Shutting that gate gave me the same relief as when the wheels of the plane touch the ground after a turbulent flight.
I wiped my sweaty palms on the sides of my jeans and patted my puffy vest and, with a look back at the bulls, slipped on the loudly colored-jacket. “Olé, for sure.”