By James Morena

The Filipino boy, maybe ten, mahogany skin, disheveled yellow tank top and green corduroy pants, tight-fisted the wire fencing that made up the rickety, oval cockpit. The two-foot-high fence, zip-tied together, snagged his shirt or gripped his jeans as he bobbed and weaved along with his Kelso. Feathers exploded, then fluttered from—and lingered in-the air. Squawks and crows sliced yells and hoots. Slaps and smacks reverberated off threadbare t-shirts and light, summer jackets.

It had felt wrong seeing some child here, after midnight, watching a cockfight in an abandoned downtown building sticky with Mexican beer and American smokes, and even more fucked having that same snot-nose in the front row while me and these birdrats bobbed and weaved in the back rows just to catch a glimpse of the roosters’ slashing middle toes, jabbing beaks, and clumsy flapping and flying about ’til death—theirs or their opponents’—ended their one-time service. 

The Asian bro, maybe Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, next to me was no help when I asked, “Who’s that kid?” The guy, pointing into the crowd, said in a thick accent something I couldn’t make out.

“That boy there,” I said, also pointing.

“Yes,” the guy said.

“Yes, what?” I looked at his smiling, almond-shaped eyes. “That boy. That boy. Him.”

“Yes,” the guy awarded me with two thumbs up, then turned to the man beside him and said something funny. The other man craned to look at me, then laughed at the joke.

I called the kid Tukoy because I have a cousin on my mother’s side, my Filipino side, with that name, and I have always wanted to call someone by that name. So I said, “Tukoy,” to no one. Later when the fight started, I noticed tears flowing down Tukoy’s bony cheeks, accentuating the grooves and divots below his eyes and next to his nostrils.

Some former bartender of the Austin, live-music venue we loitered in had organized tonight’s fight. “Ain’t nobody ’bout to know,” the dude word-of-mouthed for a month prior, since the joint—and pizza and ma and pop’s and bowling alleys—had shut down. The dude too had set the rules: fifteen minutes of bloodsporting, fifteen minute break, then another round. One minute before the match, though, there’ll be observations—the rooster’s size, his aggressiveness, human’s bullshitting and shit talking—then two minutes of stakes and claims, minimum $200 buy in, before the battlers waylaid, and spit and sweat splashed from spectators’ lips and brows.

Word meandered through the crowd when betting had opened:

“The boy own the rooster,” someone said.

“We’re using the kid’s pet?” I asked.

“It Kelso,” a co-worker informed me.

“What’s that?” I asked. 

“It has world class lineage,” a gambler across from us said.

No one replied to me. Bullshit was everywhere.

I had never seen a cockfight before, but some of my Asian co-workers—they cooked the ramen, I delivered their creations—had claimed: “You’re white-Asian, not Asian-Asian,” because I had yet to attend an event. But I wanted to be more Asian-Asian so I hopped a ride with a group of them to the fight and to my full-Asian-ness.

Someone shouted, “The betting stops in thirty seconds.”

I looked about the room. Tried to gauge who to bet on. Is it bad luck to bet on a child’s pet? Is it good luck because it must have been cared for? Loved?

I imagined Tukoy dancing around the chicken coop when his Kelso was laid. I imagined Tukoy squealing and laughing at the large brown egg popping out of the “chicken’s ass.” I imagined Tukoy cradling the egg, hiding it in his laundry basket to keep it warm, then helping to peel away the shell after the chick, his Kelso, had pecked pecked fought its way into Tukoy’s spindly arms. I could see Tukoy playing hide and seek moments after Kelso had imprinted Tukoy as its mother. Tukoy and Kelso jogged and sprinted with and away from each other. They scaled mounds of dirt, then huge hills. Tukoy and Kelso ate from the same dinner plate. They were inseparable. I saw in my mind Tukoy saying, “I love you, Kelso.” Then as Kelso grew, the roles changed as the gamecock protected Tukoy from other roosters, from dogs, and from Tukoy’s five siblings. Kelso proved to be strong and determined, then valuable and absolutely necessary in the pits.

Before the timer had buzzed, I threw down $1500 in cash. My co-workers had said to bet like an Asian-Asian, which meant big even if I didn’t have the money to waste.

I said, “I am Asian-Asian,” as I watched some bookie scoop my bet, then disappear into the crowd.

The bartender, now match ref, snatched Kelso from Tukoy’s arms when the time came. The dude paraded Kelso for the onlookers, holding him in both hands—arms extended straight out then overhead, then straight again. Smoke thickened and blued the air. Heat emanated off the heads and backs of the now crazed bystanders. The bartender made two laps around the pit. I noticed each time he came full circle Kelso and Tukoy stared into each other’s eyes. Parent and child, mother and chick.

Two dudes let loose the roosters. A detonation of feathers and screams and fist pumps. Grown men shoved each other. Cigarettes dangled from mouths. Everyone except the front row prairie dogged for better views. Tukoy remained still and straight-faced when the bout started. His hands dangled at his sides. He stood pigeon-toed.  I kept my eyes on the kid. His winces. His recoils. His surrender to the wire fence. His hands looked so small. He looked even smaller. When Tukoy’s chin fell to his chest, I began to cry along with him. I whispered, “Kelso.” Tears trickled down my cheeks because I knew that my rent money had been lost and that my co-workers would finally deem me an Asian-Asian.

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Image by Toàn Nguyễn from Pixabay