Wednesday, October 14, 2009

“The Carnival Bullfight” by Matayoshi Eiki

This just in! Tom Kain's original translation of "The Carnival Bullfight" (カーニバル闘牛大会) (1976) by Okinawan writer Matayoshi Eiki (b. 1947):

At the U.S. military carnival, the American bases that covered the entire island opened their many heavy gates to the Okinawan people.

After two or three hours the boy was already tired of looking at and touching all the cannons, fighters and tanks. But that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. He wasn’t that interested in them anyway, and, most of all, he didn’t feel like going to the trouble of waiting in those long lines.

Hideo, a friend the boy had come with, eventually pushed himself into the line for American-made ice cream, so the boy left. He had stayed up all night for the obon[1] ceremony, and with the rice cakes, fish paste, meat and sweet sugarcane sitting heavy in his stomach, he didn’t really feel like waiting in a line with hundreds of people in front of him.

The boy walked on an endless, wide paved street that cut through a grassy plain, putting on and taking off his canvas shoes all the while. The ground was baked. Walking barefoot got his tired feet going. The boy was thirsty. His spit was white; he pursed his lips, but nothing would come out. He wanted water. Out in the boondocks there were wells all over the place, but zilch here. All of a sudden he started to feel lonely. By the time Hideo made it to the front of the line, the ice cream would be sold out. That kind of thing happened a lot, the boy thought to himself.

Thick wooden boxes, rectangular boxes that you could fit a whole truck into, were lined up, stacked on top of each other, and no matter how far the boy walked, there they were, left and right. They were made sturdy, with big nails. He wondered what was inside. Today was the first time he had ever really thought about them. Until now, they had just been part of the scenery. The boy was surprised that these boxes that had once looked so small from outside the chicken wire fence were really this big.

This year, 1958, there was a special bullfighting competition next to the Zukeran gymnasium in Kitanakagusuku village[2]. The noon siren had just sounded, and there was still a little bit of time before the festivities were scheduled to begin. The boy pressed his nose up against the glass of the gym window, and, after watching twenty or so American kids playing basketball for a while, sat on the grass under the window and looked blankly forward. The grass, which the boy had always dreamed of looking at, laying down and rolling around in, running through and doing headstands on, was thick as a blanket and stuck into his rump. Without making a shadow, the grass rolled in rich waves, spreading all the way to the distant chicken wire. From the bottom of the fence running the length of the hill a giant column of clouds climbed and set itself in the sky. The noisy cries of the cicada out in the countryside were nowhere to be heard. No trees. The grass, cut beautifully, sparkled a whitish green in the sun. The pain in his rear wasn’t going away, so the boy spread his straw hat underneath him. And here stood the biggest gymnasium in Okinawa. It cast a three foot shadow. The boy was barely safe from the direct rays of the tropical sun; when he looked up even for one moment into the stark, empty blue sky, the white light burned. Roasting in the heat, the surface of the gymnasium blurred like a mirage. The only spot that was completely dark, where one could see normally, was the little corner of the shadow where the boy was sitting. It was really clear from there. It was the kind of day where the heat gradually crawled up from the ground and sizzled in the sky, then sank; a silent day, but strangely loud.

The bullfighting ring was set up in the area the soldiers used for football and soccer. In the dirt, which had been trampled on, kicked and scraped up by feet, they had sunken some logs as stakes and wound a metal rope around them to form a circle. There were also about a hundred simple chairs placed around the ring to form a spectator area. The bulls weren't there yet. There were a few of them tied up to a thrown-together bunch of timber about a hundred feet away.

There was a hum of voices, and suddenly, there was shouting, and the boy watched as the men rushed together, bunched up and made a circle. The boy stood up, putting on his hat, and ran to where the log stakes were. A crowd of fifty had already formed. A short, fat, middle-aged dark-skinned woman was standing on her tiptoes and peering between the heads of the people in front of her. Five elementary school runts were staring at the same spot, laughing in an oddly soundless way. At the woman's feet there was an old aluminum basin in which a bunch of Cokes were chilling. The boy looked at the Cokes, then the elementary school boys, then the woman. He repeated this process countless times. His sweat was running. The spit dried small on his tongue. When the woman's eyes happened to meet his, he panicked, and, diverting his eyes, squeezed his way into the middle of the throng.

There was a little Hispanic-looking man going off at a young Okinawan man who was holding the bull's bridle. If you didn't notice the man's nose, which was a little on the big side, you'd mistake him for an Okinawan. The bridle boy had his head down and wasn't saying a word – he was just keeping the bull quiet with a few deft pulls of the reins. Keeping a bit of distance between themselves and the commotion, men young and old alike were looking at each other and nodding, muttering to themselves, and keeping an eye on the foreigner, the Okinawan, and a big black foreign car. The boy finally figured out what was going on by listening to the people's chatter. He looked at the car, which was about ten feet behind the bull. There was one heck of a dent in the passenger door and a whitish scratch a few inches long that the bull must have made with his horn. The boy figured that the bull must have headbutted the door. But why hadn't the bull's short, straight horns made two holes in the door? That was puzzling. The boy turned his head in the bull’s direction. The bull had been born with that pair of horns, which shone dull in the hot glare, seemingly aiming for something deep in the sky. The boy saw something above the animal's eyes, on top of those wet black eyes – a big bump. So maybe the bull had hit the car with that knot. It sure had a big head – probably as heavy as a boulder. One might think the car had made it out of the fight in pretty good shape, actually.

The foreign man, brandishing his black eyes, was shouting words the boy couldn't understand; he sounded like a live news reporter, the way his words coursed forth. Because it was hot, or maybe because he was trying to look threatening, the man slowly unbuttoned his flowery Hawaiian shirt. There was no wind, so the shirt simply hung there, open. He wasn't wearing anything under it. You could see his ribs in between sparse patches of chest hair. As the white of the sun blurred with the white shirts and hats of the onlookers, and as the black - of the shadows, of people's eyes, the bull – intensified, the foreigner's colorful shirt and reddened chest stuck out, incompatible with their surroundings. The crowd, about one hundred strong, stood. There was hardly any movement. What's wrong? the boy thought, looking around. One of our people is getting laid into out there! Alone! Why don't we do something? he thought. The foreigner was saying “Hey, come on! Hey, come on!” to the young man holding the bridle. He stepped over to the car and, shouting something, slammed his right fist into the dent. Three or four chips of paint peeled off and fell to the ground. Beneath the car's well-polished black coat shone several silver pockmarks. Seeing this sent the foreigner off the deep end, and in his heated rage, the man kicked the car repeatedly. The chipping and peeling got worse. The onlookers did not disperse. No sign of any commotion. The people were thinking that damaging that car was quite a thing to do. But, of course, they thought, the bull was the one that did it. It had nothing to do with us...

The boy started to fear that the man might pull out a gun, and he pulled up the brim of his adult-size straw hat to get a better look at the scene. Surrounded by this huge mass of people, he felt pretty safe. As far as he could see, there was no pistol. He looked at the young man who was holding the bull's bridle. The bridle boy's head was still bent slightly downwards, and his eyes did not move from the foreigner’s feet. The sun beat down on his head towel, and sweat ran down from the base of his ear. This bridle boy, a bit over twenty years-old, was from the neighboring village. Whenever the boy smiled and said hello to this bridle boy, the young man responded with a rude glare – the boy did not like him. That strangely murky gaze the bridle boy had when he would stick his chin up in the air, as if he was scowling at something, was nowhere in sight today. His eyes, cast continually downward, did not even blink. For an instant the boy felt like taunting the bridle boy, but he didn't. The spirit with which the bridle boy normally made the bull fight seemed like a lie now. Even though he would usually stomp around, screaming “Git! Woo! Git! Woo!,” give the bull hell, whip it and force it to fight, now, he himself refused to fight. What had happened to him? How could this bridle boy, who would always divert his opponent's gaze, throw sand in the other bull's eyes, and slap bulls with his rope, become this docile? The only one not fixed in place was the bull, not knowing what to do with its bulking body. Its face was as composed as always. It wagged its tail at the foreigner as if to say “Get the hell outta here, you pesky fly!” This battle-worn bull was calm anywhere, anytime. But now, it seemed like it wanted to make something happen. You could tell by the way it shook its big black body that the bull wouldn't back down from a fight with the foreigner. His black eyes were clear, wet. The eyes of a victor. Eyes with confidence behind them. The kind, big eyes of a true hero. And the horns: symbols of invincibility. These were the hard, rust-white horns with which the bull faced all the foes in this world. That's what the boy thought when he looked at the bull. The flock of people gathering around looked helpless as babies. Inferior, powerless.

Behind the bridle boy, there were several other bridlers wearing blue happi coats bearing brewery logos and others wearing green ones with soft drink logos. They folded their arms and kept their eyes fixed on the foreigner, sometimes turning their glances to the bull, and sometimes to the bridle boy. In that crowd also stood a small, middle-aged man who appeared to be the bull's owner; he, too, had his arms folded. Keeping his eye on the foreigner, the man whispered a word or two to the man next to him.

Many times the boy had seen and heard of bull owners wasting no time in killing and eating bulls who had lost in fights or been injured. As today's poor bull stood in the sun, the boy looked at the man who seemed to be its owner. Concerned, the boy compared the bull and its owner countless times. He couldn't understand how an owner, who raised his precious bull, tending to it day and night, could turn it into beef just because it lost or got hurt. Didn't the owner have any second thoughts? The sheen of that hair, the warmth of that body. How could he forget about that? Bulls aren't toys. They aren't machines. Not fashioned by human hands. At times, a bull might be the only creature to which an owner could express his deepest feelings. The boy sensed that. One year earlier, a man from Onaha in Nishihara village[3] had come to the Naha beef center to sell that very bull that now stood next to the big black car. A Mr. Yamashiro, who came from Ginowan[4], just happened to be there when the bull was brought in. He fell in love with the bull's fine horns and fierce grunt and bought it on the spot. The boy had no idea that the bull had been about to die.

Every time the boy looked around, the crowd seemed to be swelling. However, at the center of it all, it was still the foreigner’s one man show – a stage for the little guy who almost looked Okinawan. The boy sliced up the crowd with his eyes in search of anyone who was getting riled up. He found two young men across the ring, standing in the front row with arms folded. The boy knew them: a carpenter and a military employee. Short and muscle-bound, both had jaws that jutted out and both walked in the same way, with their feet pointed unnaturally outward. Both also had pretty bad reputations. The boy saw toughness in them. These men, with their protruding cheekbones and jaws and the marks of razor blades still evident on their tanned faces, their big shining eyes and their fat lips and big, tall noses, were countless times more imposing than the little foreigner in the middle of the ring. And you didn't need to think twice about which side was better built. There was no way the men would lose to the little guy. Even though they were strong, the boy wondered, why wouldn't they fight? Even though they had more than 100 allies behind them.

The boy’s eyes naturally started looking for others. There was old man Tōma, who liked to get the village boys together and show off his supposedly excellent karate skills. Maybe, after all, the boy thought, it was all for show. But he did strike an imposing stance, his arms folded, staring at the little foreigner. It looked as though at any moment he might take a step forward. Still, that stance remained just a stance. Mr. Tōma wouldn't do. Old man Iha was also standing with his arms crossed. The boy had heard that Mr. Iha had lost his wife and only child in the war, and to distract himself from the pain had devoted his days and nights to training bulls. He fed his stock rice and tofu you would be hard pressed to find on normal dinner tables, not to mention egg, winter melon and chicken scrap stew. Because of all this extravagance, the story goes, he had been forced to sell off most of his land. Mr. Iha's bulls were mighty, but he wouldn't move an inch.

Nobuhiko, a young man the boy knew, was so tall that the boy was still able to spot him in the middle of the throng. The boy wondered if Nobuhiko, a fisherman, had taken the boat out today, and remembered one time he had held his big, tough hands. Nobuhiko, whose veins carved out deep blue ridges in the muscles of his arms, had a mighty grip, but now, clad in iron-pressed slacks, a crisp, open-collared white shirt and polished leather shoes, he was a different person altogether. He didn't have an ounce of his normal toughness.

Bald, big-headed Mr. Yoshimura was a former vice-principal with a fine command of standard Japanese and an excellent reputation on the islands, where he held powerful sway in various negotiations and elections. However, he wouldn’t come forward. He was holding his straw hat over his hairless head, so his face and neck stood out and made him look suddenly older. For a while the boy did not take his eyes off of Mr. Yoshimura, and even when he looked away momentarily, his eyes darted right back to the man. Next to Mr. Yoshimura was Mr. Higa, who made his living in the slaughterhouse business. This plumpish, fiery-eyed middle-aged man who seldom smiled was now strangely silent. They say he wrote off women as good-for-nothings, refused to get married, and woke up every day with his cattle, whose care consumed his every waking moment. There was also an older, slightly hunchbacked man. This fellow had supposedly once stayed awake day and night for three days tending to a dying bull. After the bull finally drew its last breath, for three months the old man hit the bottle hard and cried his nights away praying to god or something of that sort. He was a remarkable cattle man. However, perhaps because the little foreigner had yet to lay a hand on the bull, he was content just to stand, expressionless and indifferent.

Right, the boy thought. Ichirō. His heartbeat quickened. Searching desperately, the boy could not find him; he canvassed the crowd slowly, carefully, but still no sign. He even tried scanning in the opposite direction. No luck. While the boy was disappointed, he was also a bit relieved. Ichirō, the boy thought, would jump headfirst into that ring without a second’s hesitation. It had not even been two months since that fateful bullfight at Ōyama. There, the bulls locked their horns and drove their noses into the ground. They wouldn't budge. Losing his patience, a big, young, shirtless military-looking man hurled himself into the ring. The bulls, drained of their body's moisture and energy in the sweltering afternoon sun, crusty white saliva dripping from their mouths, dug their hooves into the soft, dry earth. Yawning, the boy wondered why the bulls kept on fighting.

A combination of the relentless sun and several bottles of beer had turned the man's naturally ruddy face even redder. He scurried around the bulls kicking their rumps and pulling their tails, yanking them and shaking them recklessly around. Ichirō, who had been holding the bull's ropes from the edge of the ring, shouted something, dashed into the ring, and twisted the man's fat arm behind his back, and began forcing him out of the ring. At only about 5 feet 6 inches, Ichiro was dwarfed by the big man and had to struggle awkwardly out of the ring, as if on his tiptoes, but really, the boy had thought, he was quite a guy. That the big man had refused to let go of the bottle of beer in his right hand was pretty amusing, too. At that Ōyama bullfight, just like today, the crowd had not done a thing – the people had chosen to simply talk busily amongst themselves. If only Ichirō were here now, the boy thought. Ichirō wouldn't hesitate. He would throw this little wimp right out of the ring. Still, that little foreigner didn't know the terror of the bull.

The boy scanned the crowd again. There were many people wearing American-made dark green sunglasses. The boy didn't think they looked right. Big sunglasses on wide, angular faces. Oversized sunglasses on small, delicate faces. Giant sunglasses ready to fall off flat noses. Sunglasses paired with face towels – plainly ridiculous. There was also something odd about people who wore shady straw hats and sunglasses. A bald, plump, tight-lipped Okinawan man wearing American leather shoes two times too big for him was standing about ten feet away from the little foreigner. It was the boy's uncle. Two or three years earlier, he had been vilified by the boy's parents, grandparents, and other uncles for accepting lump payments for land to be used by the American military. Rumors that he would emigrate to South America had been spreading. With the money he received, this bald old man had apparently purchased two fighting bulls and three dairy cattle. The boy feared that the old man might be getting too close to the foreigner – that the man would get caught up in all the ruckus and get hurt. The boy, however, turned his gaze elsewhere. Mr. Miyahira also looked a bit odd, but quickly the boy realized that because hardly anyone in the crowd understood English, Mr. Miyahara might be able to step in and be of some assistance. Mr. Miyahara was a taxi driver for Americans, and he was constantly making trips to and from the military facilities, so the boy thought that he ought to be able to understand and speak enough of the language. But even though the boy concentrated on the man for a while, his expression remained very uncertain, and his crossed arms didn't even flinch. Suddenly the boy thought that if Mr. Miyahara couldn't use English to level with the foreigner, he might as well use Okinawan dialect[5]. The boy continued to look around, but he soon tired of all the searching.

“Kill that fucking American!”

There was a wild cry. It sounded like a young person. The words came fast, from way in the back of the crowd, and the boy couldn't hear them well. He strained his ears. Since that first volley, though, there hadn't been any other shouts. The crowd sparked with murmurs. Most people were turning their heads around in search of the voice. It seemed to the boy that the throng was trying to elicit another exclamation. Then, another voice rang out from the opposite direction.

“Yeah! Get 'im!” It was piercing, but still far away and practically unintelligible. The crowd turned in the direction of the second voice and, for a moment, fell silent. There were no more words from the voice. Again the buzz arose, spreading gradually and growing increasingly animated. The people couldn't find the source of the shout if it was so far away. Although the boy doubted that these screamers were really serious about attacking the little foreigner, he was also rather excited. He felt that someone, at least someone, might emerge from the crowd to make something happen.

The boy looked again at the men standing around the ring. Sunburned faces, faces hidden by the thick shadows of straw hats, all faces with unclear expressions. The coarse tracks of razor blades on their cheeks and necks looked savage. The men's oily eyes, like those of cats, glowing in the darkness – what were they staring at, the boy wondered; what were they thinking about? Many of the onlookers pulled the brims of their straw hats down and covered their faces. They gathered in groups of three or four and began speaking to each other in quiet, unclear words, which the boy finally realized was Okinawan dialect. The boy felt as if everyone was petrified. When the people spoke they didn't take their eyes off the foreigner, the bull, or the bridle boy, and didn't even move around or adjust their stances. In this field of indolence, the little foreigner's behavior looked even more exaggerated. Every time the screaming man pointed alternately at the bull and the car, his large ring twinkled brilliantly in the sunlight. The image of that sparkling ring etched itself into the boy's memory.

To the boy, the crowd seemed to have grown a bit. They might have been fearing that the foreigner had finally snapped. He wasn't wearing his hat, and you could see the traces of comb lines in the tight curls of his short black hair. The sun did not let up for one second. Heat filled the infinite white space. The foreigner's cranium was left almost unprotected against the sun's oppressive rays. His brains must have been boiling. Boiled numb. That's what the boy suspected. The man was too persistent. It wasn’t normal anger. His hair wasn't wet because of pomade[6], it was sweat seeping out of his scalp. The sweat trailed down his face and neck and flowed down his back, which was now so wet that his loose Hawaiian shirt clung to his skin. His head wasn't right. It was the heat. This place was too hot, unsuitable for foreigners. The best way to defend yourself against the heat was to pull your hat low and fasten all your shirt buttons. The man didn't get it. To prove it to him, the boy looked around the crowd again, looking for examples of this wisdom. Look around, the boy thought. Only the people who were born and brought up here understood. They didn't blink an eye at this heat. They didn't even go about wiping the sweat off their arms. They didn't care. Not one bit. They could just stand there, not minding, for hours. See, I'm fine, too, the boy thought. The heat didn't get to me, here in my sleeveless shirt and running shorts. But the members of the crowd were not simply spectators. Looking so calm, peering with unblinking, glossy black eyes from under their straw hats, they sent their silent support to the bridle boy. The people knew well that if they held their tongues and kept their hands to themselves, everything would work out peacefully. This was absolute confidence. They knew if they could withstand the ordeal, everything would be fine. The bridle boy, too, persevered. The people around him as well. There would be no pain. The crowd did not pity the bridle boy. He would keep his head down from start to finish, even when the little foreigner raised his voice louder. With gentle pulls of the reins, he would continue to control the bull – the mighty bull which, desperate to fight, shook its hulking head and lifted its face, rustled its body and waved its tail, stirring up clouds of dry dirt with its hooves.

The bull was restless. The boy wanted it to fight. Don't take these insults from this puny foreigner, he thought. The man didn't know the quickness, the force of the bull's dagger horns. The bull would terrorize that foreigner if he kept on storming around. If the bull went off, that car wouldn't do you any good, the boy thought. The boy didn't know how highly-ranked the bull was, but no matter the skill, no human would match up to it. Something told the boy the bull wasn't a gentle one. He knew that the man had no idea of the long tradition of bullfighting. If that was indeed the case, something would have to give him a taste. Then the boy realized – if the bull's owner told it to stand, it would stand; if he told it to sit, the bull knew to sit.

The boy looked hard at Kiyo, the bridle boy, as if to tell him to "accidentally" kick the bull and send it into a panic. The puny man would foam at the mouth and run away like a scared little rabbit. But the bridle boy kept his head down. The boy thought about shouting instructions at him – if he used dialect, the little foreigner would have no way of understanding. However, the boy couldn't force any words out. He looked repeatedly at the foreigner, the bridle boy, and the bull, tried countless times to open his mouth, but every time he swallowed his saliva and held his tongue. The spit gradually dried up and went away. The people around him could sense that the bridle boy was toughing it out. A wordless communication. Mutual understanding. The boy wanted everyone to just go crazy. If they did, he would too. He wanted to whip a big rock into the foreigner's flapping mouth. Right, he thought, he could just throw a rock at the bull to rile it and get it to destroy that black car. If he could get it to thrash the car to bits, the foreigner wouldn't have anything to complain about anymore. He looked for a rock. There were none. Although he was naturally disappointed, he also felt a little relieved. He didn't feel like launching another careful search. The boy thought that the powerlessness of the crowd paled even in comparison to a bunch of children. The only one the boy could place any hope in was the bull. For an instant, he began to envy this little foreigner, who refused to shrink before the stares of the throng. The midday sun was directly overhead, and the crowd was silent as it cast a short, thick shadow on the dry, rusty dirt.

This puny foreigner would just not let up. He continued to point at the bull and the car and repeat the same things over and over. The boy thought the man was clearly different from other Americans. In situations like this, Americans would normally fly into an uncontrollable rage. However, they would quickly give up when they considered the annoying paperwork one would have to dredge through if they caused any damage. It seemed that this foreigner just wanted to be mad. It wasn't real anger. Perhaps, the boy thought, the little guy had always been picked on. Maybe he was just blowing off years of bottled-in steam.

At some point, big Mr. Mansfield had shoved his way through the crowd and into the ring. The boy had carefully surveyed the faces of the surrounding onlookers several times, but when the boy had been searching earlier, maybe he had been unconsciously concentrating on finding "Okinawans." Still, he thought he would have spotted Mr. Mansfield's overwhelming frame: six foot five, 280 pounds. Maybe the boy hadn't noticed him because the giant was simply too unlike an Okinawan. That, or because the man had passed too swiftly, without hesitation, through the mass of people. The boy felt he had been tricked.

Mr. Mansfield stuck his bulge of a belly into the little man’s face and said something in English. He had a low, mighty, clear voice. The bit foreigner’s English, with its high-pitched squeal, now seemed suddenly weak. Looking straight up at Mr. Mansfield’s face, he carried on the same routine he had done well over a hundred times: point at the car, the bull, and the bridle boy. His words didn’t slow down, either. However, the boy felt that his shrill chirps had subsided and he now cut an altogether sorry figure. The more he ranted, the more he resembled a frightened weakling making excuses and begging for his life, a helpless fish out of water flopping around on the dock, its mouth gasping desperately for air.

Suddenly, Mr. Mansfield blurted “Holy cow!” in clumsy, odd Okinawan dialect, and the bystanders erupted in laughter. The boy, startled, smiled and opened his mouth, but he didn’t laugh. When the roar of the crowd finally fell to a silence, a slim man in his mid-20s took several determined steps into the ring, bent down, ran his finger along the scratch in the car, and said something to Mr. Mansfield, who had been taking a look at the bull’s horns. After listening to the man and nodding in understanding, Mr. Mansfield turned to the little foreigner and said something in fluent English. He spoke for a long time; it was as if he was trying to persuade him. When he spoke Japanese, Mr. Mansfield normally stumbled over his words, so the boy was amazed at the power and fluidity of the big man’s English delivery. The slim man had probably whispered to Mr. Mansfield that the whole matter was the small foreigner’s fault, having put his car right where the bulls were supposed to enter the ring. You could have parked a car anywhere in this massive lot. Why, the boy thought, would the little guy park his car right there? Mr. Mansfield had most likely made this mistake clear to the foreigner: you should know, he probably said, that fighting bulls want to fight so bad that they are itching to get going; these animals come all the way here to do battle. It’s your fault for putting your car here. A bull wouldn’t give two hoots about a car, no matter if it was an American’s, no matter whose it was. Maybe the bull did it on purpose just because it was an American’s. They’re pretty smart, you know. It might have even been acting on someone else’s behalf – maybe its owner hates Americans. That had to be it. It must have been trained, Mr. Mansfield had probably said. The boy began to feel a pounding in his chest as he began to sense something out of the ordinary. Something was different about Mr. Mansfield. It wasn’t because he was talking so deftly in English, no; it was because he was angry. He was livid. He was fuming, with sunny beads of sweat trickling down his face. It was hard for the boy to believe.

Mr. Mansfield was different now from the man the boy knew, a man who before and after the bullfights in neighboring villages would always gather all the boys together, hoist them high up in the air, set them upon his broad shoulders, hang them from his thick arms, and dole out candy and toys the boys had never even laid eyes on. There was no trace of his gentle, fleshy face, with its small eyes and toothy grin. The boy strained to recall that face. At bullfights, Mr. Mansfield would always dig rare, delicious snacks out of his large pockets or from a paper bag and give them to the boys, so the children were always swarming around him. And, with shy smiles, the boys would always ask for more.

He was good with faces, so if a boy had already received one piece of candy but tried to trick Mr. Mansfield into giving him another, the big man would strike an exaggerated frown, saying “Hey, boy, you already got one,” and shake a big finger at the culprit. But that was a charming, likable face, and the boys would get carried away and hold out their hands three, four, or five times.

The boy thought that today, Mr. Mansfield was an entirely different person. It couldn’t be the same man.

Mr. Mansfield’s sense of humor, too, had made a big impression on the boy. He remembered the scene at an earlier bullfight. Two bulls of almost exactly equal strength locked their horns together and remained essentially still, their hooves digging deep into the earth, neither one able to drive forward. The bridle boys lifted up the bulls’ dominant legs, hit the ground with their whips, lifted the legs and hit the ground, wound up the ropes of the bridle and jerked the bulls to and fro, all the while whooping and hollering in hopes of tipping the fight one way or the other. Meanwhile Mr. Mansfield, smoking a cigar or something of the sort, started to interject his own shouts into the bridle boys’ ongoing chorus. He had marvelous timing, and what’s more, did hilarious, albeit mistaken, imitations of the boys. If the bridlers yelled “Scat!” Mr. Mansfield shouted “Cat!” If someone shouted “Git!” Mr. Mansfield echoed with “Guy!” To “Come on, now!” he yelled “Don’t know how!” in a funny voice. The boy, who didn’t laugh often, laughed so hard he cried. The substitute bridle boys sitting in the corner drinking Coca-Cola couldn’t hold in their laughter, either. The two boys in the middle of the ring, with their stoic expressions, seemed out of place.

The boy remembered another scene. It was last summer’s bullfighting tournament in Agena[7]. A bull called “Feisty Iso Number 1,” which had suffered a barrage of attacks on its left horn, now loose in its socket, rushed his opponent from several feet away. When he made contact, there was a sound like the collision of two giant hammers, and Feisty’s horn fell right off. Blood gushed from the hole, drenching the bull’s forehead and face, soaking the base of its ear and neck crimson. Then, the bulls, even more riled up, trying to crush their opponent’s – or their own – head, whacked their skulls violently together; there was no end to the blood that flowed seemingly everywhere. Before long the bright, fresh blood turned dark, stained the ground black, and hardened. Sitting close to the boy, Mr. Mansfield distorted his face and dumbly cried “No, stop it, look at him!” With a sound like a mother cooing her baby child, he sunk his face into his hands, grabbed his trusty folding chair, and disappeared quietly into the crowd behind him. The boy knew that there were still several bouts on the card and was consumed by the current match, but the image of a teary-eyed Mr. Mansfield lodged itself into his memory. Although he realized that the fight was not an ordinary one, the boy, who had always been awed by Mr. Mansfield’s giant body, now thought of the man as a bit of a coward – perhaps his toughness was just a guise. The boy felt that that experience made him even fonder of Mr. Mansfield.

The boy thought that Mr. Mansfield should have been mad at the Agena bullfight. Mad at the bridle boys and owners who drove their stock into bloodstained battle, mad at the organizers of the tournament, mad at the crowd who reveled in the carnage, even mad at the bulls themselves. Getting mad then would have been much more natural than getting mad at the little foreigner. And getting mad at foreign people – the Okinawans at Agena – made much more sense than getting mad at one of your own countrymen. Famed bulls, silhouetted by the glowing sun, step firmly on the ground, roll like big black boulders, roar with the thunder of spirit, make the spectators feel that mighty power, and then, at that second, concentrate all of their muscles, all of their power, and with no hesitation tear their opponent apart blow by blow. Then, after driving themselves to the very end, they are slaughtered that same evening. When the butcher takes a swing into the space between the dead bull's eyes, the hammer sinks gently into the bull's head, all the way up to the handle.

The little foreigner, who had begun to calm down, suddenly gave two or three large nods, laughed, and extended his hand. It was a soundless laugh. His teeth were big and light yellow. The boy felt odd. Mr. Mansfield, saying something, shook the foreigner’s hand with his big paw. The little foreigner opened his mouth wide and let out a raw, throaty laugh. Again, the boy sensed something unnatural.

The little foreigner looked briefly at the bridle boy out of the corner of his eye and got into the car. He turned his back on Mr. Mansfield and faced the boy, and though the boy was uncertain whether or not his foot could reach the pedal, he slammed on the accelerator, gunned the engine, and sped off in a cloud of dust and exhaust.

The boy thought that his eyes had met the foreigner’s. He saw a gloomy face. He didn't know why, but he guessed the man would have trouble sleeping that night. Why, the boy wondered, hadn't the man demanded to have his way? All of a sudden, the little foreigner seemed rather pitiable. Mr. Mansfield and his usual exaggerated shoulder-shrugging and hand-waving seemed like a fraud. Something seemed off. His small reddish lips began to seem venomous. The boy noticed three or four young men speaking to Mr. Mansfield in fluent English. The crowd, however, was not shrinking. The people kept a fixed distance between themselves and Mr. Mansfield. They huddled together in small groups and spoke to one another in low, hushed voices. The boy sensed from the crowd's chatter, which, caked in thick Okinawan dialect, was a murmur that the boy could at last decode, that things had finally settled down, but there remained a kind of a coldness, a feeling that the conclusion of it all was nothing to rejoice about. Then, the boy thought that surely this massive audience, too, found Mr. Mansfield a bit eerie, somewhat ominous. They couldn't be truly happy. Normally people would crowd around Mr. Mansfield, praise him for a job well done, give him a pat on the back and shake his hand, hoist him into the air (in a good, celebratory sense); at the very least, they would say thank you. There was none of that today.

The bridle boy, however, was the opposite. Right after the black car made its exit, the boy, without taking off his head towel, made a silent bow to Mr. Mansfield, and took a few steps with the bull, whose entire body, save those two horns, shone in the sun like an immaculate black velvet coat. Then he stopped, turned around, and bowed again. Even when the throng concealed him from view, he could still see Mr. Mansfield's face, so he continued this process until he became a faint blur in the distance. Stopping, turning, and bowing, over and over and over again.

The boy started to think about Mr. Mansfield's beloved palm-leaf summer cap, which was currently perched atop his head, and how bad it looked. It didn’t seem made in Okinawa anymore. Mr. Mansfield used a blue towel to wipe the sweat from his face and neck and armpits and forearms, but he didn't touch the chinstrap of his hat.

[1] Obon is a Japanese Buddhist holiday to remember the spirits of one’s ancestors. On the Japanese mainland, most areas celebrate obon in August, but Okinawa celebrates the festival in July to correspond with the lunar calendar that is used there.

[2] Kitanakagusuku village (北中城村) is located about 16 kilometers northeast of Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture, and currently has a population of roughly 16,000.

[3] Nishihara village (西原村) has a population of over 30,000 and lies just south of Kitanakagusuku village. The University of the Ryukyus and Okinawa Christian Junior College are located in Nishihara.

[4] Ginowan (宜野湾) lies to the west of Nishihara village, and has a population of 88,000. One-fourth of the city’s area is occupied by the Futenma air base, a United States Marine Corps military installation.

[5] “Okinawan dialect,” called Okinawa hōgen in Japanese, actually consists of six groups of Ryukyu island chain languages, and many linguists prefer to consider them altogether different languages from Japanese. Debate over whether the languages should be considered Japanese dialects continues to this day. Matayoshi employs “dialect” at certain points in this story. As the narrative takes place on Okinawa Island, the main island of Okinawa prefecture, the author uses words from uchinaaguchi, the language associated with the island.

[6] Pomade (also called pomatum) is a greasy or waxy substance that is used to style hair. It was popular in the early- to mid-20th century.

[7] Agena (安慶名) is an area in Uruma city (うるま市), which lies in the center of Okinawa Island, northeast of Kitanagakusuku. Uruma city has a population over 110,000.


Anonymous said...

Your translation is really superb (I say this without having seen the original; but I'm sure it is accurate). By far the best thing ever posted on . You should drop this translation-for-money business, and just do works of fiction. Maybe start your own publishing company.

-Meredith Utrabui

Tom Kain said...

-Meredith Utrabui,

Oh, you are too kind. perhaps your flattery is just a plug for your friend's website (HTTP://WWW.BEHOLDMYSWARTHYFACE.COM)?

Meredith Utrabui said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meredith Utrabui said...

Not so. I could have plugged the website without the flattery, eg, "your essay posted today on really blows, dude!"

Josh Landers said...

I got an email from some ethno-cartographer guy calling himself Papal Morrizone representing a company Devil's Translations. They are expanding business to include patois->Japanese translations so I thought to seek your advice.

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Thanks for any pal you can offer. Thanks.