Last Updated on October 18, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525
This novella is about an elderly colonel and his asthmatic wife in Colombia during a time of martial law. Their son, Agustin, is presumed dead, killed for passing out subversive literature at a cockpit. The colonel and his wife possess a rooster who is doted on by the other villagers. The townspeople are saving their money to bet on the rooster.
Every Friday, the colonel collects his mail, hoping for the arrival of his pension check. It never arrives. The colonel fought in the Thousand Days' War and was promised a pension. However, it has been fifteen years without any sign of the pension check. He and his wife must pinch pennies, scraping the very last of the coffee out of the tin with rust and all. As the story opens, the colonel is about to attend a funeral for a person that is the first to die of natural causes in many years. He wakes up with a sour taste in his mouth about the month of October, saying he feels like he has “fungus and poisonous lilies” rotting his insides. At the funeral, it is revealed that the colonel’s town is under martial law: the funeral procession is not allowed to pass by the police barracks.
Collecting his mail, the colonel meets the local physician who lends him the government-sanctioned newspapers. The physician comes to the colonel's house to treat the colonel's wife but refuses to take money for his services. He hands the colonel clandestine news in an envelope and asks the colonel to pass it along to Agustin's compatriots in the anti-government movement. Each week, the colonel goes to collect his pension, but he waits in vain, as he has been doing for fifteen years. Sixty years before, the colonel had been a revolutionary officer who had laid down his arms against the government.
The colonel is forced to try to sell his belongings, including his clock and picture, to support himself, his wife, and his rooster. Sabas, a local corrupt politician who is Agustin's godfather, tells the colonel that he can arrange to sell the rooster for nine hundred pesos. However, when the colonel returns to Sabas, the politician says he can only get the colonel four hundred pesos. The colonel then sees a man named Alvaro who passes him a clandestine note from Agustin, who is alive but in hiding. The colonel passes by a cockfight in which he realizes his rooster is fighting, and when the rooster emerges from the fight, people applaud. The colonel decides not to sell the rooster, as he believes it belongs to the entire town. He decides to wait forty-four days until the cockfight to collect the twenty percent owed to him as the owner of the rooster. By the end of the story, the colonel appears set in his beliefs, exuding a strange confidence. He firmly believes his rooster will win and that he will receive his overdue pension money in the coming days. His wife is frustrated by his attitude. When she asks what they will eat until the money from the fight comes in, the colonel answers boldly: "shit."