Around me, regathering chaos: Who were these people who obliterated the lines between dynamite and reverence, dance and insult, sex and fistfight, night and day? I leaned against a deserted building and felt alone.
Without purpose, I wandered. I found myself standing at an intersection, staring dully at an Indian woman beating sugared egg whites and finger-painting them on rings of bread. I whipped my head around—tinku!
It began of itself, a milling and strutting of Laimes on one side and Pampas on the other, balled fists, outthrust jaws, jiggling legs, heaving chests, insults spat, hoots from the throat. The crowd—the corner men, the matchmakers and referee—all suddenly materialized. The matchmakers pushed men forward, comparing sizes and ages for fairness; the corner men whispered encouragement; the referee, my drinking partner, whipped his belt to shoo back the mob. The fighters, eyes glazed from chicha, mouthed Quechua curses and stared one another down. Two young men fixed the Spanish-replica helmets on their heads, the onlookers shouted, and the fighters lunged for each other. No feeling out. No sweet science. The Pampa threw a roundhouse right that missed, a second one that landed; the Laime toppled. The crowd whooped, the Indian next to me grinned ear to ear and pounded me on the back.
The town's only cop sauntered by, borrowed a man's cap and waved it over the unconscious loser. "�Sin patas!" ("without kicking") he warned, then sauntered on. Finally the knockout victim rose, embraced the winner and smeared blood from his nose on the victor's shoulder. I smiled and beat my hands together.
A man who lived in the city shook his head. "I guess you cannot blame them," he said. "They live so isolated all year, they need this." I nodded without thinking about what he'd said.
Now the fights came off like firecrackers: a quick matching, a few jeers, a flailing of fists, a loser dropping, then hugging and humor. Few understood the kinetic advantage of a short, crisp, well-timed punch; the blows gusted in long, wild, angry loops. The fighting space moved with the fighters, the bloodied faces multiplied. Boys of 11 and 12 were hustled into the ring, men of 49 and 50. We in the crowd leaned on one another, cheering, grimacing, laughing.
Some helped up their foes and we applauded. Some kicked them and we screamed. One young man pulled a packet of white powder from his pocket, sniffed a little, wobbled into the ring and was flattened in two punches. Then a fat Indian woman waddled in to break up a fight. She caught a left on her ear and went spinning.
The church bells rang. Eleven a.m. Sunday, time for Mass. No one left the tinku. For the first time in a day and a half, no plodding music, no walking dead. Up on my tiptoes, I bobbed and weaved for the best view, knowing I would never see anything like this again.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a man throw a punch, miss the head he was aiming for and catch mine, a glancing blow to the temple. Everyone laughed, a few rubbed my head. I feigned wooziness and laughed, too.
Just then, the man who had accidentally punched me took a right hook to the mouth and crashed. Almost light-heartedly he sprang back to his feet and posed for me, grinning blood. Then he wrapped his leathery hand around mine and shook it.