Aguilar, this one at least, wasn’t a real boxer, so boxing history buffs needn’t get their gloves in a twist. I pulled a name out of a hat, liked it, and went with it. It’s another pre-dawn creation that gets left to pickle all day until I can get back home and tinker with it. I found my mind resting on a Cuban table just after the revolution
We sat and listened to the Aguilar fight on the old, battered radio which normally lived on the shelf but was now placed before us on the table, with a couple of rum glasses and an ashtray filling with cigar ash for company, imagining the scene at Madison Square Gardens. The crowd of Fedora-wearing men, looking like Sinatra and staring at the ring through the smoke of a thousand glowing cigarettes. The ring girls parading around the ring while holding the number of the next round, and showing off their bathing suits.
We didn’t bet. It was enough to go halves with old Fernandez for the bottle of rum and a few cigars. The smell of the grilled chicken and rice we’d eaten earlier still filled the air, even above the cigar smoke.
“He’s going down in this one,” said Fernandez, his chin resting on his hands, squinting and coughing, “he won’t last until the eighth.” I stayed silent.
The bell sounded for the seventh round, we heard that bell all the way from Madison. A cheer went up, probably a sympathy vote for Aguilar. We love to see bloody people, it must be a trait left in us from the days of the gladiators, they suffer and we love them for it.
“He’ll go down in this,” repeated Old Fernandez, “his legs have gone and he can’t see.”
Fernandez could sense how the fight was going even without the commentator. His battered face a reminder of his bare-knuckle fights 50 years before.
I was willing Aguilar to stay on his feet and for the Lord to put strength into that mighty right of his. I felt my prayers failing as he fell to the canvas once again. The wind outside the open window moved the palms to a low lament, as the commentator lamented his bloody face. I carried on willing my strength and prayers to cross the slip of ocean between my land and his.
“Aguilar ha terminado, no puede continuar asi!” the radio screamed at us.
“Courage Aguilar! Courage!” I shouted back.
The rum sat shimmering in the glass as my hands twisted and wrung themselves into knots in my lap, unable to help. My cigar had fallen onto the table.
I would feel every hurt Aguilar took to the very end. I stretched out a hand for my cigar but it never reached it.
“Un milagro! Un milagro!” yelled the commentator. I looked at Fernandez’ stony, face and saw his wrinkled eyes shine. A miracle? What miracle?
He’d done it. Aguilar had done it. That mighty right hand had found the strength from somewhere and the referee was still counting out his opponent above the roar of the crowd.
My cheeks were suddenly wet and I look at the old man in front of me, his handkerchief in his hand. Aguilar. My little brother. Quito, the fifth son. The only one of us who had made it to the promised land but who could now never come back.