We stopped talking and listened to the music. "But why do they fight?" I asked again.
"Like I said. Many years ago—"
"But I mean now. Is it still over llamas and women?"
"No, not now."
He shrugged, leaving only the trudging melody to reply.
Seventeen, suburban, scared and frail, drinking my first hard liquor with the brothers at Baltimore Arena between rounds of Ali-Frazier I. No other sport did this. Only boxing kept drawing me into different worlds...
All night I lay awake, partly because of the bacteria from the chicha at work in my belly, more from that music at work along my spine. It drifted to me from one end of the village, then the other; I would sit up rigid when it plodded past my door. Over and over, the same stark five-note cosmic statement: Isolated is a man, isolated is a man...
There was light now, and I had to find the music's source. I walked swiftly up and down the streets, turned corners, and finally came upon it: The campesinos who had come from the hills to fight. Drunken, red-eyed, they staggered about in small circles, knees bent, shoulders hunched, blowing through clusters of wooden tubes that resembled miniature organ pipes turned upside down. Behind them, women, equally drunk, flailed the air with flags of white rag, their leader snapping a sorry whip. I stood on the fringe and stared. Feathers and nails, trinkets and braids of cloth stuck out of the bands of their white peaked hats. On their backs, the women toted firewood and babies in colorful blankets. The men wore bright sashes and three or four layers of brightly colored pants, each pair hemmed progressively higher to show off the owner's wealth.
At the head of their ranks, a small statue of the village saint, Santiago, was carried high, a blue-eyed general brandishing a sword atop a horse whose hooves crushed the devil. They trudged toward me, looked right through me. One paused and urinated on my sneakers. I jumped back.