Millie Bruce again was enthusiastic. "Wait till you see that man skip rope. They asked him to do it on television. Just come on television and skip rope." She beckoned Robinson over. The ex-champ was affable, smiling and extremely brief. His quick handshake and mumbled acknowledgment of the niceties smacked of old rituals. Though he looked tired, the only mark on him was a healing cut above the right eye. He seemed shy and withdrawn, but you realized his was artful shyness. Like a practiced politician, he gave a tidbit and with it the illusion of feast. The rule book said. "Smile and keep moving," and Sugar moved quickly to center court, smiling ever so slightly.
Millie's enthusiasm grew. "Look at this. See, music goes with this. Only they don't have any." Sugar Ray's rope made its own music on the hardwood floor: tappa, tappa, tappa, tappa. Abruptly, he stopped: "That's all." He rewarded the silent spectators with a lackadaisical wave, and for a moment he threatened to smile.
Promoter Weaver frowned his way over to Millie Bruce. "God, he looks tired."
"Sure, he's tired. He ran this morning. Two times around the reservoir."
Weaver looked doubtful. A tall man who once boxed lightweight in the intramural program at West Point, his chest has slipped and his hair thinned. He asked, "How far is that?"
"A long way," Miss Bruce said vaguely. "You know, Ray's been up four straight nights because of his mother's operation."
"That mother thing worries me," Weaver said. "That can mess him up." The promoter tapped his head. "Up here."
"Don't worry about Sugar. He just needs a good night's sleep."
The boxing crowd clustered around Robinson, their professional eyes inspecting him for flaws. They thrust out hands, still wanting to shake with the "champ." Robinson endured their advances, then in response to some private signal he suddenly broke away, jig-danced over and pecked Millie on the cheek and followed this with a mock left uppercut to her chin. Robinson was acting. He is not talkative as he once was, and one gets the feeling around him that he would love to shuck the burdens of being a celebrity. But he is still not ready for the last hurrah.
Gainford spoke to the crowd. He said how Sugar Ray appreciated their coming by and would be grateful should they come out to back him Thursday night. Then he told how Ray's ol' mama was bad sick, and how Ray needed rest because he'd kept a faithful four-day vigil at her bedside. Everybody clapped, but Robinson wasn't around to hear. He had vanished to the private world of his dressing room, where no hands awaited the fraternal grip and you did not need to grin, even slightly, unless you felt like it.