Gordianus blinked rapidly in a futile attempt to rid his eyes of sand. Full summer in Rome and the white-hot disc of the sun was just past the zenith. The buzzing of flies was thunderous in his ears, almost drowning out the roar of the cheering crowd. Gordianus could feel the flies crawling over his chest and belly. Their feet were like feathers on his blood-streaked skin, and he thought it would have tickled if he hadn’t been in such agony.
Gordianus corrected himself: part of him was in agony, the part where a huge tiger had mauled him, shredding the belly flesh. He could not feel his legs. He realized he could not move his legs. Judging from the unnatural twist to his abdomen, Gordianus thought “I must have broken my back when the tiger pushed me backward over the rock that had been behind me”. His throat spasmed as he sucked in a wheezy lungful of air, grit scouring his raw windpipe. Gordianus coughed weakly and spat into the sand under his right cheek. It felt warm and wet. He could see four fat drops of blood beading up on the sand, hard and bright in the unforgiving sun, like the eyes of a tarantula.
Gordianus felt a wave of dizziness was over him. He was beginning to feel cold as the blood leaked out of his ruined abdomen. He became aware that his left arm was pinned, held under something large and furred. Swiveling his head, he turned to find his face mere inches away from the enormous fangs of a dead tiger. The mouth was gaping open slightly, a thin foam of bloody spittle trailing out onto the sand. Gordianus could smell the remains of its breath, a steamy combination of wet iron and rotting meat. A huge paw rested on the sand between them. He resisted the urge to reach out and shake it. The eyes of the tiger were half closed as if awakening from a pleasant nap. Just beyond the thickly muscled shoulder the blade of a heavy sword jutted out from between two ribs, its hilt against the sky like the mast of a macabre ship. Gordianus realized his last blow had been lucky. He must have hit the lungs even as the tiger was ripping into Gordianus’ belly. “My friend”, he thought, “If only we had been sleeping, lying on the plains of my homeland. I am sorry you and I have come to such an end.”
The gladiator’s eyes began to dim, and he knew he was dying. He lolled his head back, seeking one more glimpse of the Colosseum that had been his second home. He waved his right hand feebly in goodbye; the approaching slaves thought Gordianus was trying to send them away. They hesitated, in awe of the fighter. Gordianus’ mouth twitched up in a small smile, shuddering as the final breaths left his lungs. As his vision went black, he mouthed a prayer, beseeching the gods to allow his soul to rest with all the others trapped among the stones of this arena.
The tiger said nothing, mute and unseeing, Gordianus’ hand resting on its massive paw.
~ Irish Gumbo
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