The Lazy Artist
Bull Danceby Sarah Cuypers
Tara took her usual short cut through the farmer's market. It was raining ever so slightly but she didn't mind getting wet. At this early hour most vendors were still busy setting up their stalls and putting out their merchandise. The main street of the village was already lined with half-filled stalls. There were but a few customers yet, but the air was slowly filled with a variety of smells of fruit, spices, and roast chicken.
Tara looked briefly at the apples, but finally decided against them and walked on. It was Thursday, she remembered; the cattle market would open soon. Not far off, she could already hear a cow loudly voice her displeasure at being manhandled down the ramp of a lorry.
Her phone rang, and Tara took the call with a suppressed sigh when she saw it was her mother.
"Hi, Mom… No, I didn't forget Dad's birthday… Yes, yes, I know... No, not next Friday, I have a competition then… Mom, it's the regional championship, I cannot not go… No really, I can't… How about Saturday instead? ... Sis has a recital then? How is that any different? ... No, I'm not going to argue again... Yes, Sunday's fine... Yes, fine, bye."
With another frustrated sigh, Tara ended the call. "It's the twenty-first century, Mom," she muttered when she put the phone away. "So if your daughter wants to make a career in gymnastics, that's her choice, whether that's a 'real' job or not."
This was not the first time the issue had come up, nor would it be the last. Tara's mother had often expressed her low opinion of gymnastics. A glorified hobby, she had called it, without value in real life or on the job market.
Digging through her pockets, Tara finally found her MP3-player and started putting in her ear buds. Maybe some music could -- at least temporarily -- soften the memory of her frustrating mother.
But before John Lennon could work his magic, she heard shouts, followed by a crash as if one of the stalls had fallen over. Alarmed, she turned around and saw that a sizeable black bull had broken loose. Distressed by the unfamiliar sounds and smells and frightened by the crowd, it fled away from the men trying to get hold of it. The shouts and cries of the surprised bystanders did nothing to improve the beast's temper. Drool dripped from its open mouth and it bellowed in annoyance.
The bull crashed sidelong against a stall of melons, toppling it. Veering away from the falling fruit, it lowered its head and ran into the only direction still open to him. Unfortunately, this meant a dead run straight for Tara.
Tara stood frozen on the spot, her MP3-player still in hand, one ear-bud half-way her ear. Moving a foot felt like having to move a continent. People shouted warnings, but Tara couldn't focus on anything but the approaching bull. All she noticed was how black the bull's hide was, like a moving black hole, shimmering with light at the edges; before even that was sucked in.
There was a sound, a sound of heavy fabric being torn.
Now all Tara could see were flashes, as if she was witnessing the scene from the side: How the bull barreled into her, how it took her on its horns and tossed her away, not with malice, but just because she was in its way. How her body hit the cobbles, how blood started to soak her shirt...
Again she heard the sound of tearing fabric.
Suddenly the street was gone, the farmer's market and the bull, gone; the bloody body on the cobbles, gone. Instead she found herself in a small darkened room. Two oil-lamps on the wall threw a dim light on her surroundings.
The walls of the room were of plastered stone. The floor beneath her feet was covered with fine, yellow sand. There was no furniture. To her right was a single lighted doorway, which seemed to lead outside, into daylight.
But she was not alone. On the ground, opposite of the doorway, sat a girl. Tara thought she was roughly her own age. The girl was holding her ankle and rubbing it gently with a grimace on her face. There was a bump on the ankle that shouldn't be there. Tara was reminded of how her sister's foot had looked when she had broken it some years ago.
"The Goddess be praised. The Pythia said you would come," the girl said. "You saw what happened; you died. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can save us both."
Tara was too confused to reply immediately. Then she noticed the strange girl was wearing her own clothes. If she is wearing my clothes, then what am I... To her horror Tara discovered she was only wearing a loincloth. It was made of a purple fabric and richly embroidered but it was far too skimpy for Tara's taste.
"How..." she began, but the other girl interrupted her.
"There is no time!" The girl spoke only in short sentences, divided by quick, deep breaths. Her ankle obviously hurt a lot.
"Bringing you here took long enough. It's up to you now," The girl went on. "You must dance with the bull. Or else we will both die."
"GO!" The girl pointed to the doorway in a wild gesture. The urgency in her voice drove Tara through the doorway, before she really had made up her mind to do so.
The doorway led to an open-air courtyard, covered in sand. Above, a bright sun shone in a cloudless sky. The courtyard was surrounded by stone walls and on top of those stood many people, looking down and cheering in a language Tara did not understand.
She stared at the crowd. For a moment she forgot she was half-naked. I have been here before, she thought. On holiday, three years go. Was it Greece? No, not Greece. Crete. But it was different then… there wasn't any sand, and the walls had been older and more damaged, if not gone completely. There had been no people above and there had been certainly no bull.
Tara blinked. Before her, on the other side of the court yard, paced a bull. It was not the same bull as on the farmer's market. This one was larger, sturdier and probably older. It also had a deep, reddish-brown color instead of black. The horns were longer and wrapped in gold. The sunlight glinted on them every time the bull moved its head. Its skin gleamed with sweat.
The bull ran from one side of the court-yard to another, obviously agitated. Occasionally it tossed its mighty head. Tara realised it probably hadn't noticed her yet. Bulls had generally poor eye-sight.
Without really knowing why, Tara started running toward it. Just like on training...
The crowd suddenly fell silent. Tara could hear only her own light footsteps, the thundering ones of the bull and its deep breathing. When she could almost feel its warm breath, she took hold of the golden horns, just as the great head bowed down. It was the first time she had ever been so close to a bull and yet, this felt oddly familiar.
The bull reacted almost immediately, shaking its head upwards. Tara was prepared and allowed herself to be pulled up. She used the momentum to launch herself on the great beast's back. The rippling skin beneath her bare feet felt warm and moist.
The bull, feeling an unwanted weight on its back, bucked with a loud bellow that echoed between the courtyard-walls. Tara jumped off the bull's hindquarters and somersaulted. She landed with her feet on the sand, her hands raised high. Her coach would have been proud of such a landing.
For a moment it seemed the crowd held its breath, but then they erupted in a deafening choir of cheers and shouts. Many started waving with brightly coloured shawls. Tara felt equally elated.
There was another sound, clearly audible above the cheering crowd, the sound of tearing fabric.
The sand beneath her feet had in an instant turned to cobbles, the bright sun overhead blinked out into a grey, overcast sky of an early morning. Gone was the crowd, the bull, the courtyard and (much to Tara's relief) the purple loincloth.
Farther down the road, the farmers were trying to fence in the recalcitrant bull before it did more damage. On the ground, around her feet, lay her belongings that had rolled out of her fallen purse. Trying to order her thoughts, she started picking them up. The bull had trodden on her cell phone but Tara couldn't really bring herself to be upset about that.
She felt an unfamiliar movement at her wrist and pulled back her sleeve to reveal a broad gold and copper bracelet. There was a bull engraved on it, but Tara hadn't expected anything else. It made a crazy sort of sense.
Her MP3 player, on the other hand, turned out to be missing; but she considered its disappearance a fair trade. She wondered whether it might turn up again one day. Perhaps even in Crete, where a soon to be very puzzled archaeologist would be working on the grave of an old woman with a distinctly broken foot. And if he brushed some of the sand off the skeleton, he would see something that would make him say: 'Hey, that's funny…'
The imagined scene faded before her mind’s eye as one of the stall-vendors came closer, an awed look on her face.
"That... was amazing," the woman said. "I thought we'd be scraping you off the ground for sure. But you just took that brute by the horns and jumped right over him! I- I've never seen anything like it..."
Tara managed a crooked smile. "I guess gymnastics wasn't such a waste of time after all. But I think I'll pass for the next dance."
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