13 July 2013
Even at first light, outside the corral at Calle Santo Domingo would-be-runners and onlookers had swarmed like hungry horn flies, waiting for the Fuente Ymbro bulls to emerge.
Jeff pushed at his tousled hair – now hippie-style - and beckoned the others to join him. Steve, who was always up for it, and now seriously in love with a masked senorita from Bar Navarra, clapped while she sashayed on tip-toe around him – and Nigel, who looked at his watch and adjusted his specs as if doubting this latest escapade was ‘a good thing’, threaded through the crowd to an open space.
‘Half a mile,’ said Jeff, as if they had a choice. ‘Three minutes of pure adrenalin.’
‘Sure thing,’ said Steve, waving goodbye to the girl. ‘See you at the stadium.’
Nigel coughed. ‘I’m not so sure I…’ he lowered his eyes when Jeff stared at him… ‘Oh sod it, it’s crazy. What if a bull…?’
‘It won’t,’ said Jeff, laughing a little unkindly. ‘Not if you run like hell.’
And that was that. Jeff, the leader, Steve, the follower, and Nigel, the doubter, all shuffling around waiting for the San Cernin church clock to strike eight o’clock - then amidst a shouting crescendo of Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin and the firing of two rockets, the bulls were released.
Nigel’s mouth felt like sandpaper, his face contorted, and his feet froze as the sound of galloping hooves drew nearer.
Jeff’s challenging yell, followed by Steve’s shout, galvanised Nigel into action. Dust invaded his nostrils as he snorted shallow breaths and rushed after them, arms and legs pumping him onward like a puppet on a string. Runners milled around him, the bulls now bellowing behind.
His shoes slid on stones and he tripped, but was hauled erect by a white-tunic man sporting a red sash tied around his waist, and pushed forward.
A bull scythed past, its horn ripping his shirt as he twirled away. He could smell the fear.
Up ahead, the runners began piling up at the entrance to the bullring. A blockage. No escape. Nigel was pounded by a mass of moving bodies, as bulls trampled over them. He flung himself sideways against a wall and clung to it, praying to the heavens for merciful redemption.
Where were his friends?
He was still attached, limpet like when the doctors arrived and carted him to the infirmary with twenty others, among them Jeff and Steve. Lucky to be alive, lucky not to be crushed, lucky not to be trampled to death.
‘Piece of piss,’ said Jeff later, Steve nodding.
Nigel grinned. ‘Tomorrow there’s a wheelchair run. You guys game?’
‘Bullshit,’ said Jeff. ‘Bloody bullshit.’