Le Coq Sportif

by David Foote

I am Dusautoir.  That is my name.  It is my considerable dishonor that before today I didn’t know I needed one.  If I thought of myself as anything it was as Dàshī, the maestro, king of a disputed kingdom.  I sat in my box at the market, enduring the wall eyed, frenetic squabbling of my neighbours, and watched as one by one they were removed.  Where were they taken?  Tiān ā, I knew little and cared less!

Soon only one other was left, and him I called duìshǒu, the rival.  Across from us we could see our guīfáng, the broody courtesans we both knew to be our birthright.  How I longed to cover them all, batter them with my wings, and crow my triumph to the heavens.  Only the bars between us kept me from scratching out my rivals eyes with my spurs.  My hour would come though, and during those long hot nights towards the end of summer, as the sleepy murmuring of my harem drifted across the narrow gap between my cage and theirs (exciting in me a fever I thought could never be quenched) the image of my duìshǒu’s bloody comeuppance is all that sustained me.

How was I to know that beyond my cage, outside the market even, far, far away, there were bigger wars than even my all consuming rivalry, matters of honour more serious, and wonders to see besides.

That morning, Lǎo Zhū, the old man who always brought the food did not come alone.  There were two guǐlǎo with him.  They wore blue shirts and smelt of spoilt milk and sour mash.  Perhaps they will take the duìshǒu, I thought.  Strange to say,  but it did not occur to me that these strangers might also take me.  I was a surviver.  destiny was on my side.  The guīfáng, who watched these events with sleepy disinterest, would all soon be mine.  Such was my way of thinking then.

Lǎo zhū reached into my rivals cage and pulled him out clucking stupidly.  I cackled as the  duìshǒu’s legs were bound tightly to his chest and he was sent tumbling head first into a plastic bag.  Laughter turned to a stone in my throat as the old man reached for my cage next.  I struggled and pecked at his wrist, but soon I too was face down, on top of the duìshǒu, in the bottom of the bag.  In surprise and indignation I used the only weapon left to me, and drove my beak weakly at my rivals pillowy flanks.  How frustrating to be so close finally, only to have my spurs bound up under me like broken grass stems.

“Keep pecking, by all means” the duìshǒu told me, “I’m sure there are still one or two undigested grains in amongst all the shit I have stuck to my tail feathers.  You are welcome to those Biǎo dì … if you can find them.”

“I am not looking for food Duìshǒu!  It is my intention to kill you… or see to it that you are so disfigured no woman will ever want you.  Ugly as you are, this will not be hard.”

“Tch, you peck like a woman Biǎo dì.  I am unconcerned.”

“Stop calling me that.  We are not related,” I screamed. “You will spend the rest of your days leaking bile from a hole in your side!”

But the bag was too small, my attacks too expansive, and with the weight of my body bearing down on my neck, I was doing more harm to myself than I was to the duìshǒu. I spat feathers and relaxed.  His end would come soon enough I reasoned.


It was Dominique’s idea to bring the roosters.  He said there was this guy who sold them in the Wànhángdù wet-market.  He thought it would be funny.

I said, « Ok sure, why not!  I go with you. »

I was already some little bit drunk you know, and well… I never went to this wet market before.  Shameful I know, drunk  before 3 o’clock, but this was a big day for France.  So I drink some beer with lunch.  Nothing bad.

Then Dominque, he says, « there is something missing. »

We are wearing the French rugby jerseys and he is trailing the tricolor out of the window of the taxI (Bu yao, bu yao, the driver shouts at us wrestling one handed for the flag as he weaves through the traffic on Shaanxi Bei Lu) but still something is missing.  « We need a mascot, » Dominique says, « that will fix those bastards. You’ll see, le coq sportif to bring us luck. »

Personally I do not think this is a good idea, to bring a farm animal into the sports bar with us, but Dominique he just shouts Allez le Bleu in my ear for three blocks until I agree to go with him.

It is a noisy, dirty, maze this market.  There are live and dead animals everywhere, and at every stage between, or trickles of blood or puddles of fishy water to step over and around.  We buy dumplings from a stall near the gate and we try to not to mind the smell of blood and shit from the man gutting rabbits in the stall next door.

« Let’s just do this and get out of here,» I tell Dominique.

He points down the busy central aisle.

« It’s this way, » he says.

The old man who sells the roosters takes one look at us and his face splits into a toothless grin, like a unpricked sausage.  Maybe it is the fake mustaches Dominique insisted we wear today or our tiny rugby shorts.  We are getting stared at more than usual in fact but Dominique does not seem to notice this.  He just burps and points at the rooster cages.  Liang ge, he  tells the chicken man who wraps his hands around the neck of the first rooster and reaches for his cleaver.  Bu yao, bu yao we yell at him, and Dominique adds, huo zhi, we need it alive.  The old man laughs at us of course, crazy laowais, but he bags the birds for us anyway.  Ar shi kuai he says,


The two guǐlǎo and another man took us away from Lǎo Zhū in a little room that moves very fast.  A great wind was inside the room and a mighty shaking and jolting.  I wondered if the wind moved the room, or the other way around.  I also wondered if all the air might soon be sucked out of the room by the wind and would we both die then, the duìshǒu and me… but I did not want to lose face in front of my rival, so I said nothing.  Perhaps this is how the guǐlǎo kill their food, I thought.  Anything is better than Lǎo Zhū’s hatchet.

One of the Guǐlǎo held my rival up to the man in a plastic cage at the front of the little room and told him in Pǔtōnghuà “this one we are naming Yachvili.”  Next he held me up and said, “and we are naming this one Dusautoir after the Captain.  They have a very important job.  They are going to help us restore French honor and defeat the dreaded All Blacks.”

“Do you hear that Duìshǒu, I am a Captain.  Even the guǐlǎo can tell I outrank you,” I crowed manfully to my rival.

“Idiot,” he responded, “did you not hear them? The guǐlǎo want us to fight someone for them.  Someone awful by the sound of it.  What kind of thing do you think would carry such an ill omened name as All Blacks ā?  Nothing good Biǎo dì, that is for certain.”

“I told you not to call me that! My name is Captain Dusautoir,” I screamed. “You are talking to a superior officer remember.”

“Your name?  Your name is it?  Don’t be pretentious, chickens do not carry names.  You are not a soldier, you are dish of crispy chicken.  You just haven’t stopped moving yet.”

“Traitor!  Mutinous swine!  You are the one who will die,” I told him, pecking again in earnest now.  Still, my best efforts to bring his prating to an early end left the duìshǒu annoyingly unaffected.

“Tch…Look around yourself Fool,” he said. “The only thing smaller than us in this city are those spoilt post-90’s dogs you see everywhere… and even those could give you a run for your money if they were hungry enough, and someone took their little booties off first.  Āiyā, it is a sad day for guǐlǎo honor when they turn to the likes of you to restore it… and don’t look for me either ‘Captain’, when the feathers start flying.  I will be as far away as I can be, keeping my head down, waiting patiently for my chance to escape.”

This is the longest speech I ever heard the duìshǒu make.  Such a pity to have wasted it on cowardly drivel like that.

“Call me a fool if you like,” I responded, “I, at least, know where my duty lies.”


Dominique puts the roosters in the bottom of his gym bag, along with a bottle of Camus Cognac Cuvee and a couple of joints for later.  He covers it all with a towel, to get them past the doorman you see?  «I hope the birds don’t eat the pot,» Dominique says wriggling his eyebrows at me and giggling like he is crazy.

It is no big deal to get into the bar though.  The doorman are gigantic for chinese, but we pay our money and they do not check the bag.  There is a big marquee in the garden bar, with a screen at one end and a small grandstand at the other.  The heads of the japanese sports presenters are bigger than melons, bigger than beach balls on the screen.  They smile down on us like benevolent oriental gods in suits.  Watching the game here will be in some ways better than watching it in person I think to myself.  It is good to be a young and white in China.

Already there are a wall of black jerseys in the grandstands.  We make a point to come here early on purpose, to get the good seats and make some fun before the game with the other french fans, but apparently the New Zealanders, they have arrived here even more early than us.

« Come on, » Dominique says, « let’s take the high ground back for France. »

A big batard chinois stands at the opening to the grandstand.  He has a grimly smiling little blond tai tai in a black shirt beside him.

The doorman puts a hand on Dominique’s chest.

“Card,” he says in english.  “You need card.”

“We already pay to get in, see,” Dominique says showing him the stamp on his wrist.

The big fellow in the badly fitting jacket shakes his head, “you need card.”

The taitai says that, during All Blacks matches, the grandstand is reserved for the All Blacks fan club and if we don’t pay for to be part of the fan club we can’t sit in the fan club seats, “simple as that,” she says.

“Then point out to me to the French fan club seating,” Dominique tells her, “Where is that?”

She points at the expanse of astroturf behind us, “there’s still some room down there I think.”

“On the ground? C’est un scandale…what about our human right… this is discrimination.”

“Write a letter to your ombudsman mate… this is china,” she says to him, looking bored.


When I, who was born into the hell of Wú’s farm fresh fowl, tell you the place the guǐlǎo took me to was as loud and chaotic as any place I have ever been or hope to go again, you will understand it for the considered opinion it is.  Even my numerous brothers, uncles and male cousins, all crowing together, a sound that I heard every morning in Wú’s rooster sheds as a boy, were not as loud as this.  Those who would answer that I just have a soft spot for my family clearly do not know roosters.

Before I saw anything I heard them singing.  It was as beautiful as it was terrifying and I knew, when the guǐlǎo carrying me began singing as well, that this must be their war chant. My ears rang and boomed with it. I wanted to join in but before I could add my voice to theirs, the guǐlǎo who was carrying me took me from the bag and held me high above his head. The first thing I noticed (apart from the enormous and very gratifying cheer that went up when the other guǐlǎo saw me) was a mysterious square of flashing lights and colors covering one end of the opened sided barn I now found myself in.  It mesmerised me and at first I could make no sense of it at all.  Eventually though I found that if I squinted my eyes and concentrated the lights began to resolve themselves into shapes and the shapes into figures and after a while the figures resolved themselves into comprehensible forms.  Two tribes of giants, one in the blue of my guǐlǎo bearer and the other all in black, seemed to be doing battle on the far side of this strange hole in the firmament, on what looked like the largest and greenest stretch of grass I had ever seen in my life.  If this great treasure was what the guǐlǎo were going to war over I could certainly see some merit in it.

In fact my own attraction to what was on the other side of that strange hole in the world was so immediate and all-consuming that, when the guǐlǎo who held me in his hands turned me away from it, I thought my heart was going to break.  Think only of the quantity of worms that must live in such an expanse, how fat and lazy they must be, and perhaps you also will come to share my enthusiasm for it too.

“Look at them Dusautoir,” the guǐlǎo told me, again in Pǔtōnghuà, pointing at a big group of perching humans, also all dressed in black, peering down on us from the back of the barn.  “There sits the enemy.”

Finally I understood my task.  The guǐlǎo, in their wisdom, intended that I should lead a diversionary attack on this other group of humans, drawing some of the giants away from the great grassy field, and to the aid of their weaker, smaller allies.  Nothing could be clearer or more obvious.  It would be dangerous, I was certain of that, but, with the giants dressed in black divided, the giants in blue might have a better chance of victory than they would have had otherwise.  And to the victors the spoils of course.

As the chanting around me subsided, those in black above us began a ragged battle cry of their own.  You will say I am being uncharitable, but I name it ragged, and ragged it was. It seemed more like a song for lovers than something sung as a prelude to war.  They sung to save face not for the joy of shouting their defiance to the wind.

Then something changed.  Some of the males pulled off their black upper

coverings and began to beat at their pale and naked breasts.  They crooked their legs and slapped their thighs. They puffed and hissed, Eyes unnaturally wide, one of them shouted something unintelligible and the rest replied with grunts and protruding tongues.   The words do not matter anyway.  My understanding of the dòujī, the dance of men, came as I escaped the egg.  They will attack us soon, I thought to myself.

Something cold slid between the shoulders of my wings and I was freed, then up and moving, still not under my own power, as rope slipped and faltered from the tips of my out stretched limbs, but I could feel its promise in the guǐlǎo’s trembling hands. His breath coming in short huffs, both of us crowing, he threw me.

I was all beak and claws at the first.  Full grown men scattered before me in the press.

“Come you tigers, you few, you brave few!” I shouted. “Make for the thick of them.  We shall have such an accounting brothers.  Fly for freedom, fly for justice, fly for victory and a red dawn.”

Buffeted on all sides, flying in a cloud of my own feathers, I felt invincible.

Then I realised I was alone.  Where was my command?  Where were the wingmen flying in formation behind me.  I’d been betrayed.  Cowards! Traitors!  Tyrants!

Āi no….many hands grasped and tore at my handsome feathers, blood dotted my flanks, and soon the enemy overbore me.  I pecked and scratched like a demon, but to no avail.  The tallest chinese human I had ever seen, reached into the jumble of guǐlǎo, lifted me out easily, and, with a smile, gave my neck a very sharp twist indeed.  No one should have to listen to their own spine being broken, but bùxìng ā, it is now one more thing I can speak about with authority.  It sounds like chewing on a mighty beakful of gravel Duìshǒu.  It is awful.

The world grows quiet now and cold.  The night comes early. You were right Duìshǒu, tiān ā, you were right. I  hope my next life will be less of a disappointment. Speak up biǎo gē, speak up.  I do not want to be alone.


We are ejected from the bar, Dominique and me, before ths game has even start. He swears vengeance and stumbles off into the clear blue afternoon, down taojiang lu, leaving me with two roosters, one dead and the other silent and watchful, so puffed up with fear he is more air now than chicken.  I lay the dead one to rest in a bin outside the bar.  “You fought well Dusuitoir,” I say.

I climb high into a plantain tree with the other, and carefully pick out the knots holding his wings to his body.  He buffets and scratches me but I try not to take this personally.  He makes a short stuttering flight to a nearby tree limb and looks after me warily.

“You are free,” I tell him.

He does not move. I climb down and look for another bar to watch the game at.

It is autumn now.  The trees outside have been chopped back and wrapped up ready for winter.  Rain leaves inky pockmarks on Starbucks plate glass.  As I wait for my morning coffee, I hear a cock crowing in the distance and I wonder if it its Yachvili.