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October 15, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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The Running of the Bulls

Red is the colour of roses and rage. It is the banality of ketchup; the tedium of traffic lights; the cheap facades of dairies in bed with the devil. It is the colour of the handkerchief I tie around my neck on Friday nights.
I prepare a pot of coffee and take a shower while it brews on the stove. After dressing, I pour a cup and climb onto the roof, scaling the fire escape just outside the window. I walk along the tiles and find my perch among their weathered grime, facing the city. I light a cigarette, inhale deeply and wait.
I track the failing daylight. I attempt to perceive the gradient shift of each passing minute. It is has a calming effect but I find it hard to concentrate for long. Distractions bubble up from the street below like geysers. A woman laughs suddenly,
a machine gun; her bleats bleed into a stuttered exclamation “No wa-aaa-ay!” A car drives past; its stereo gores the air. Vocals thrown backwards as it tears around the corner, “upon this tidal wave of young blood young blood young blood.”
The distant darkening silhouettes of offices and flats frame an invitation: Share a Coke with… Matt. I try to imagine a city without advertisements but can’t. I try to imagine a world without cities. Sally, Will, Paula, Charlie, Sarah, Kate, Dave, Mark.
I light a candle and use that to light another cigarette. The flame blusters and whinnies for a few seconds, shivering in the cold evening air. I close my eyes and imagine the heat of Pamplona nights, picture the moment when the source of the heat reverses— from the sun to the ground beneath your feet.
There, the preparations begin at dawn. The roads are cleared and the buildings fortified. Shop windows are boarded up, ambulances parked among the revellers on side streets. Even the dust on the ground seems weighted, tied down. For seven days every summer, the small Spanish town parades its passion, buoyed by the power of symbolism and a sense of its roots.
I’ve propped a photo frame up against the Sky dish and fastened it there with a shoelace. I focus on the figure in the frame, Saint Fermin, and deliver him a whispered prayer. His head is dark against a circle of white. I touch the scar to the right of my abdomen, trace its smooth raised track upwards and allow myself to fill with the familiar fear. I bow my head and ask the Saint for protection.
It is getting late now and the neglected final glug of coffee has long been cold at the bottom of the cup. I remain alert for the signals from the city. A concrete clock ticking in tides. The supermarket queues have been, an hour of frenzy that decimates the bottom-shelf Basket Deals—single bottles carried off in brown paper—the BYO hour. Others have witnessed the full time whistles of the pitch and are sunk into their third or fourth rounds in the bars.
And then I hear it, splitting the air: the first siren of the evening. It pulses distress. The noise rips through the channels of buildings and grips me momentarily to the roof tiles. Emergency! Emergency! The gates are open! The Bulls are out of the corral!
I descend back into my flat. I swill the coffee from my cup with hot water and scrub the pot, the last sediments rich and tar like, bonding to the metal like rust. I make for the front door before my nerves overcome me.
The runner aims to keep abreast of the bulls for as long as they can. I have heard tales from those who have felt the heat of a bull’s breath on the backs of their necks. They report a moment of clarity amongst the washing machine panic of the fleeing crowd of participants.
I approach Courtenay Place at a jog. The sounds of panic and commotion carry on the thin night air. I try to distil the noise into parts. Screams, grunts, the whine of alarms, smashing glass, car horns—all set to a syncopated beat of chart toppers. I cover the last hundred metres of Cambridge Terrace at a sprint and as I swing round the corner I bump into a man leaving the Craftsman pub.
My breath catches awkwardly in-between the syllables of my apology, but the man—a frail guy in his seventies—just looks at me with a withering glare. The intensity of his disapproval forces me to turn and I start to run again.
I can hear screams ringing in my ears and ANZ but when I look around, I only see people laughing Chicken Nuggets. There! A woman is jumping up and down, gesticulating wildly. And over there! Two guys are high-fiving, their other hands pumping in triumphant fists.
I make for a gap in the traffic and a driver breaks abruptly. The driver slams her fist on the steering wheel and the horn fires a long unbroken expletive. The car behind does the same and almost instantly there is a symphony of horns up and down the street. Apply for an interest-free loan today.
A man is pissing in a narrow alley between two restaurants. Passing partygoers tread in the urine, I hear their wet shoes slap along the tarmac.
I run faster, pushing people out of my way. No-one else tastes my fear and this becomes scarier than the approaching stampede. I shout warnings and give people meaningful looks as I shove past them, my sweaty brow furrowed and loaded with concern. Fresh or toasted? One guy raises his hand after I elbow him in the stomach, he yells “Oi! Fuck! Watch it!” and I yell back “No, YOU watch it… buddy!”
The guy lunges at me but misses, knocking a woman onto the bonnet of a nearby parked car. He’s all rolled-up-shirt sleeves and red in the face. A chair is thrown, a window smashed. I turn my head and see a girl, barely sixteen, vomit over a cashpoint.
The liquid splashes back at her, staining her dress with a liquid QR code. People are jumping out of our path now, jeering. I can hear the guy’s pounding footsteps, hear him yelling obscenities. I try to shout at him but words clog in my throat. GreatCoketastezerosugar, Hash tag doggerel. My mouth approximates an apology but as we flash past another bar, I accidentally kick a man and my gaping lips sync we found love in a hopeless place.
I grab at a green wheelie bin parked at the curb and fumble at the handle as I pass. I manage to pull it over and for a splitsecond this is a movie, detonating empty glass bottles on the concrete.
But I trip on one of them and fall to the ground. We’re changing the face of banking but not the faces in your branch. A lone shoe with stiletto heel lies in the gutter, toes stuffed into an empty Burger King chip packet. I feel hot breath on the back of my neck and turn over to see a pair of horns and then black.

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