"What are they doing?"
"Praying to God," said a man.
I followed them for hours as they plodded, bent and hunched, in a trance induced by the chicha and the repetition of the tune.
"When does the tinku start?" I asked a street vendor. She rolled her shoulders; I continued my pursuit.
The Indians reached the church on the plaza, staggered in, kneeled and blessed themselves. I heard a terrific bang and rushed outside. One of the Indians was hurling sticks of dynamite into the sky.
I heard a sound like a horned owl desperate for a partner. I rounded a corner and saw a knot of people a block away. My legs began to run. A strong young man stood in their midst wearing a bright green vest and the curved cowhide helmet I had seen once before. He hooted again and kicked at the dirt.
Two women pushed him back and scolded. His chest heaved; he cast an insult at the man opposite him and made the eerie hooting sound once more. Abruptly he shoved the women aside, took three swift steps and threw an overhand right. A man crumpled, and the crowd gathered around him. Blood seeped from his nose. I pushed my way among them and looked down. The man on the ground had no left arm.
I looked up. Most of the crowd had already dispersed, the warrior in green was gone. Is that all, I wondered. A young stud coldcocks a cripple and it's over? Head down, I walked back to my room. I had come to see men fight.
No sleep. All night the two ends of the cot trying to snap shut, folding me up like a crepe. All night the sound of urine hissing against adobe walls, of dynamite shaking the sky, of whispers, grunts and that tune. Once I scrambled to my door and swung it open. A man hitched up his pants and ran, a woman scampered into the shadow of a doorway. Soon it would be dawn and they would be kneeling on the cold stone floor of the church.
Stiffly I stood, walked outside and threw cold water on my face. The bread in my bag had hardened, the cheese was turning pungent. My stomach howled for food, and the smell of it cooking on the streets drew me to it. A toothless woman shoved a plate of something mushy, wet with grease, before me. I considered it for a moment, then turned away.