Now heads were turning, I heard murmurs. The crowd went quiet. I craned my neck. The young stud in the green vest, the one who had coldcocked the armless man the day before and demolished three two-armed opponents of his own size and age today, was adjusting his helmet and shoving up his sleeves. I looked to the Laimes' side. A well-built man in his 40's, starting to go soft and gray, stepped forward and took four practice jabs. Something about his eyes—he never blinked.
A man behind me tapped my shoulder, pointed to him and nodded. I understood. This was their Louis, their Ali, their Frazier—past his prime, coming back to take on the young buck. Is he crazy, I wondered, that young guy is a killer. He's going to get his head kicked in, and nobody's even going to pay him. Why does a man who doesn't have to fight—have to fight? The crowd edged closer. And why do other people let him?
The fighters circled. The man with the belt forgot all about waving it and stared. The old champ took two cautious steps forward and let go a crisp combination, enough to make the young buck backpedal and think. The people pursed their lips and nodded—yes, yes.
On they went this way, unlike the other fighters, considering every thrust. And then a right like a rockslide came down on the old champ's cheek; he buckled to the dirt and it was over.
The people grew silent. The young man strutted. The old one's face we still couldn't see. He stood at last, blood running from his mouth. Our Louis, our Frazier, our Ali.... I let someone's head block my view.
When I looked again, he was peering at the blood he had wiped with the back of his hand, hopping on one foot then the other, grinning. Everyone was cheering and laughing and beating him on the back; I heard myself laugh, too. No, people don't fight for pride or money or ego. People fight, and people watch them fight, to feel. And if being human is to be born, grow strong, level off, then decline, fighting is a thing too much like being human to expect a man to stop and walk away before his ride is over.
There were a few more fistfights, and then there was a quiet intersection, an Indian woman beating sugared egg whites and finger-painting them on rings of bread.
In the morning our truck rolled out of the village. I stared through the slats, watching the Indians trudge over the ridge of hill, the other side of which I couldn't see.