The matador thrusts the sword down between El Toro's shoulder blades, burying it to the hilt in an estocada aimed at the bull's heart.
El Toro plunges at the matador, sword embedded in his frame, driving his horns forward and up, and again with another charge, thrashing at the man with all he has in a final futile effort to thwart him.
But that is all he has left. The sword has entered his lungs. Blood runs from his mouth.
The animal staggers forward. It musters all its dying strength to keep from collapsing but, after a prolonged struggle, it succumbs onto crumpled legs. A péon moves in and strikes a dagger into the bull's spinal cord, swiftly—and finally—killing it. White handkerchiefs are waving in the cheering crowd. The bull's ears are severed and awarded to the glorious matador who walks around the ring to accolades, holding the ears aloft, while the animal is ignominiously chained to a team of mules and dragged out of the arena.
El Toro has lost.
• • •
In the morning the town's plazas are empty but for a few souls drifting under a new silence. Workmen wind up a giant white pall, dismantling the marquee which yesterday shaded musicians and revellers. A wind picks up under the grey shroud of today's clouds. It squalls through the lanes and alleys, whipping up papers and scattering the feria's remains.
I lug my pack through the cobbled grid of streets, remnant of military planning, back to the rental car; past yesterday's coliseum, where someone has torn down a poster for the corrida. I recall the painted matador on the wall of my father's garage, towering over the scrabbling black strokes of the bull. I didn't remember it before, but now I see his gaunt and pinched face, eyeless, not exquisite but pitiless, inexorable. The face of fate.
Before Ronda, these were pastoral lands for cattle and sheep. Rome brought civilisation, a society which became a culture. Here in Ronda are the remnants of Rome. As I toss my pack into the car, I can hear what somebody once said to me: that culture is not always a defence. “Many a sin has been committed in the name of culture,” he said.
I'm leaving Ronda with a sense of melancholy at the end of everything. Celebrations are finished. The town is dead. It feels like something's been lost.
I pat my pockets. My keys.