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About Me, Avisto Travistorio
I do not know exactly when I was born. Probably 1952 or 53. I do not know where I was born. Maybe Madrid, maybe Seville. I grew up rough on the streets of Madrid until uncle Luis found me and took me in to help him fight the bulls. Uncle Luis fed me sometimes and let me sleep at the foot of his bed most nights after his woman left. Luis told me to call him uncle, so I did, and I did whatever Luis told me to do gladly. To not sleep in the street was wonderful to me.
I met Papa in the summer of 1959 when I must have been 6 or 7 years old, although I did not know he was Papa then. I was filing down the horns of a bull Luis was to fight the next day when Papa surprised me with a gruff “Luis is a coward, why do you help him? He sends a boy to do a dangerous job in the dark. I spit his cowardice.”
He had snuck up on me very quietly. I did not know he was watching. His Spanish was foreign sounding coming out of the dark but I did not know who he was until later.
Filing the horn was not as dangerous for me as Papa thought. The bulls liked me. They did not smell blood on me or fear. I liked the bulls and was sorry they had to die. But I was happy knowing Luis would buy a big dinner tomorrow, even though the bull had to die to pay for it, and then afterwards uncle Luis would let me eat leftover scraps from the table after all the men of his cuadrilla had finished, and then much later, after Luis was done with a woman, I could sleep inside his warm room with a full belly so I could wake him when he cried out in his sleep, so his men would not hear him and so they would not know he had bad dreams.
Papa did not know filing the horn was my salvation, my survival skill. Papa thought I was either brave or stupid. Really I was not one or the other. Filing the horn from a needle point to a shape like the end of a finger is easy once you find out how to speak to the bull and get his permission to approach. Bulls like to be worshipped and petted and are not afraid of skinny boys in rags who speak softly and scratch their shoulders and whisper endearments in their ear without fear. Without a needle sharp horn to snag a cape, uncle Luis would be safer working close in to the bull. His cape would flow over the horn like magic.
But Papa had snuck up and surprised me while I was being one with the bull and did not hear his footsteps approach. “What do they call you,” he asked.
“Avisto” I whispered.
“Get out of that pen, Avisto,” he said. “That bull could crush you before you could spit. Get out right now.”
I was afraid this burly bearded man would wake the guards and since I had finished filing the horns on the first bull anyway, I did what he said. Papa took me to his hotel and woke Bea and she fed me leftovers from their dinner. I slept on the floor at the foot of their bed that night and I was warm and happy to have found Papa. Papa also cried out in his sleep, but Bea was there to calm him. He did not need me to guard his honor.
The next morning Papa and Bea took me to a café for breakfast. I had sat in a café. Sitting at a table and eating with rich people was exciting. Breathing was hard. A waking dream feeling entered me with the smells of coffee and frying meat and cinnamon buns and the sounds of tinkling china, glasses, knives, forks, and people talking to each other while they slowly ate wondrous things. Bea kept smiling at me. I found out later her name was Beatrice. She was short with a round face and dark hair parted in the middle and seemed very excited and happy to be with Papa. Papa was like a bear, a burly and white hairy-faced presence, full of energy, sun burned wrinkled with dark staring eyes. I did not know what he wanted with me.
“What will you have, Avisto? “ Papa asked.
“You can have whatever you want.” Bea said.
“I will eat whatever is left you do not want.”
“Nonsense,” Bea replied, “you will have whatever you desire. Just tell the waiter what you desire.”
Bea was the first person to ever ask me what I desired. I wanted to stay with her. I wanted her to hold me tight. I wanted to sleep at the foot of her bed forever. I didn’t want to speak. I only wanted to breathe her presence. She smelled warm and good even without the perfume of Luis’s women.
“Come, Avisto, you must order.” Bea said gently. “What is it you would like to eat? What is your favorite?”
“I will be happy to eat whatever is left you do not want.”
“You should want what you want, Avisto,” Papa said earnestly. ”But you cannot know what truly you want until you try many things. Only then you can find out what truly pleases you. And when you do, then you will want what you want and you will be a man. So this morning we will start to find what you want. We will order one of everything for you to try so you will begin to learn what it is you want.”
...to be continued