Tiger asked me for whom I worked. "I'm only a stringer for UPI. Actually, I'm an English teacher," I said.
"Have you read Animal Farm?"
"Of course, Orwell."
We spent the afternoon together, talking a bit about Orwell but more about the implications of Animal Farm and the terrible pitfalls of revolutionary politics. He seemed to have a personal interest. He showered and dressed. His brown suit was on the shabby side, the jacket a shade lighter than the pants; his black shoes had gray scuffs. We walked briskly down Eighth Avenue. He was carrying a heavily twined package that he wanted to go out in the afternoon mail. It was destined for Aba, Nigeria.
I couldn't believe that, less than an hour after I had met him, I was walking in Manhattan with the former middleweight champion of the world. I assumed passersby recognized the celebrity and, by strong association, me, too. In truth, almost no one noticed us. Those who did happen to glance our way might have assumed that we were a middle-aged black delivery man and a winded white intellectual.
The Ibo tribal scars on his chest, Tiger told me as we wove through the crowds, were made by a very sharp, very hot knife when he was 10, unusually young for the initiation. No, they didn't hurt particularly. Then he corrected himself: An Ibo boy did not allow them to hurt. When we were finally forced to stop for traffic, Tiger looked at me carefully and said, "The politics of my country are a cause of great concern to me. There could soon be civil insurrection. The situation is classically Orwellian."
All the way to the post office and then back uptown he explained the volatile situation in his homeland. "Although we are not the majority," he said, "my people have held leadership in Nigeria since the British left. In recent years, military elements have taken control. We Ibo are not basically a militaristic people, but we will not permit ourselves to be shunted aside. Without the Ibo, my country would be a disaster."
Then he said something that all these years later I recall with clarity even though I hadn't written it down, perhaps because events have since conspired to underline its bitter irony. "Our opponents call the Ibo the Jews of Africa. It is meant as an insult. I interpret it as a high compliment."
A few blocks farther north—we were now on Tenth Avenue—Tiger stopped in front of a tailor's shop. He went inside, and I followed. He pulled off his suit jacket and showed the man behind the counter a long tear in the satin lining. The owner persuaded Tiger that it would be better to select a secondhand jacket from the racks in the rear than to have his own jacket repaired. Tiger and the tailor disappeared. When they returned, Tiger was wearing another brown jacket, a shade darker than the pants this time. The man wanted $5. They settled on $2.50, his old jacket and a ticket to the Rivero fight.