#2: La Loma Cockpit Arena // 19.05.2016 // 13:57pm

Mr Chow’s right hand clamped down hard on Benny’s left shoulder.

‘So Bengie my boy,’ rasped Mr Chow as he drew a cigarallo to his wet lips. ‘ Are you ready to make me rich today?’ The smoke blew in Benny’s face and made him splutter. Mr Chow’s veneered teeth seemed to float in the air like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. But as the grey smoke cleared the rest of his face came into view again; the eyes now studying Benny intently. He could feel Mr Chow’s hand pushing down more on his shoulder and the inside of his mouth suddenly felt dry. ‘ I have a lot of money riding on this match.’ Benny’s mouth twitched slightly, seeking out words until the saliva had returned. ‘ Yes, Mr Chow. Of course! Danger is in a good mood today. It’ll be hard for anything to beat him!’ He wasn’t sure if his forced smile was convincing the boss man. ‘But I should start getting him all kitted out now and I’ll meet you backstage?’ He hadn’t meant for his voice to rise at the end but his nerves seemed to be getting the best of him. Mr Chow’s face was unreadable but Benny dared not break eye contact with him at this point. ‘Yes Bengie boy!’ He turned round and snapped his fingers at the graffer, his gold watch jangling round his wrist. ‘Let’s get on with business!’ He winked at Benny as he headed past him to the group of owners huddled in the corner.

‘Hey Benny! H-e-l-l-o Benny!’ He shook his head and his eyes darted about the arena until they focused back on Jimmy Sharp. ‘Hey man, where did you go? You need to stop daydreaming and focus on the match.’ It seemed as though the volume of the arena had suddenly turned up and the shouts of the crowd and the sound of flapping wings thudded through Benny’s head. He patted Danger gently as he cradled the rooster in his arms. He stared at Jimmy’s fast paced hand movements measuring the blade against Danger’s leg and then fastening it with thread. ‘Win this one for me,’ he whispered as he clutched the rooster closer to his body. He then focused on the rooster’s heartbeat he could feel in his right hand and tried to slow his own to match it. It was always his way of becoming one with the roosters he raised before they entered the cockpit. Lisa always teased him about his superstitious ways but it always seemed to work for him.

He could still remember the way she had kissed him goodbye this morning. How she had looked up into his face and her eyes had been so full of hope. He had promised to ask her father for her hand in marriage today. He had tried to persuade her to elope but she was too traditional to contemplate the matter. She wanted her father’s blessing. And so Benny had spent all morning praying for good fortune, for Danger to win the match. If Mr Chow won big today he would be in such high spirits that maybe, just maybe he would allow a nobody like Benny to marry his daughter. How a beautiful, classy girl like Lisa had ever fallen for him he had never quite understood but he felt like the luckiest man in the world whenever she looked up at him adoringly, wrapped her arms around him and then shyly buried her head into his chest.

‘Bengie my boy!’ hollered Mr Chow, his face briefly caught in mid-scowl. He ushered Benny towards him impatiently and descended down the steps to the cockpit. Benny followed his disappearing silhouette into the brightly lit ring, bells buzzing and arms waving in every direction he looked. Within 4 minutes it would all be over.

He took a deep breath, rubbed his right foot behind his left leg three times and then climbed up into the white void.