Translation by Tanya Huntington
We knew him to be capable of serious damage. But we never could have imagined how far he would go. He was considered a local, since he had been hanging around the neighborhood long before any of us got here. The shabby rags, the rancid odor that would turn your stomach in the summertime, the slicked-down hair and the groin catching a breeze through the holes in his pants were as familiar to us as Pancho’s, or the auto body shop, or the sickly-sweet aroma of Doña Luz’s taco stand.
He never told us his name. We called him the Champ, because rumor had it that back in the day, he’d won the Golden Gloves. It was probably one too many punches that left him all funny like that. And he wouldn’t take crap from nobody. At the tiniest offense, he would launch into a shouting match and for a little more, he’d start throwing punches. He said he was defending his freedom. The right to take his bare feet for a walk down the block. And he was pretty much content, until the city went and tore up the street across from here to make way for the boulevard. You know, all for the sake of progress. A city’s got to grow.
Urban renewal cost all of us our peace of mind, but the Champ took it especially hard. Poor guy, he’d spend all day running back and forth from one curb to the next, dodging the cars that roared past full throttle, barely missing him every time. It took him a while, but once he had decided he wasn’t going to put up with it anymore, the guerrilla warfare began: he responded to the honking with curses and arm waving, to the insults with obscene gestures. He would even drop his pants if the driver happened to be a woman. We were rooting for him, cheering him on. And he kept on alleging that you had to stand up to these monsters and who knows what all…
And then, over the summer months, his craziness started to get dangerous: he’d toss rocks and glass into the lanes, throw mounds of garbage into the paths of oncoming vehicles. It wasn’t so funny anymore. On one occasion, a taxi driver got out of his car all angry, because a broken bottle slashed one of his tires. I saw the whole thing from the shop window. They got into it and the Champ, channeling the good old days, left the driver for the meat wagon. He could really dish it out. After a while, the guy showed up again, this time with a patrol car, but they couldn’t find the Champ: the mechanic hid him and all us neighbors swore we never saw him before. They left empty-handed.
In my humble opinion, this encouraged him to keep it up despite the heat wave. He just got more and more reckless. Seems to me that dog days combined with rush hour were what accelerated his madness. One afternoon, after sprinkling all four lanes with trash, he stretched himself out in the middle of the boulevard. I realized this because I heard tires squealing and on my way outside to see what was going on, found all the traffic at a standstill. Doña Luz warned him, you gonna get run over! And sort of stuttering, he answered that if that sacrifice were necessary, he would gladly lay down his life. Then all of a sudden, the cops showed up and the Champ started throwing haymakers until a bunch of them took him down. He got all roughed up and strip searched. Some say they threw him in a cell; others say they locked him up in the loony bin. Either way, in less than two weeks here he was again, right back where he started. And history repeated itself until it got old: the Champ with his death wish, stretched out there on the pavement like road kill, followed by cops jabbing him into patrol cars with their nightsticks.
Until one day around noon, he got ahold of a gallon of gas. Incredible as it may seem, nobody caught a whiff of what he had in mind. It was rush hour and the Champ, as was his custom, turned over the garbage bins and kicked open the trash bags, disemboweling them among the roars of cars that brushed him as they raced past. He was about to take a stand in the middle of all that traffic when he remembered something and headed on over to the store. He looked serene, which was odd for him. He found me helping a customer and just asked me if I would give him a light. I handed him a book of matches and he left. Actually, right at that moment I felt a tickling in the pit of my stomach, something like a foreboding. But I was busy, so I let it go.
The first one to sound off was Pancho: don’t do it, Champ! Right after that, two kids stopped short outside with looks of horror on their faces, and one of them started yelling. Then all hell broke loose. As I was jumping over the counter, I heard a horn honking followed by screeching brakes and then came the dazzle, like the sun had just taken a nosedive onto the pavement. I didn’t make it in time.
And that was the end of the Champ. We never saw him again. Word has it that they got him in a special facility and that he just sits there, real quiet like, grinning away. When that commuter saw him coming in close, like he was about to clean off the windshield, he opened his door and took off running. Then the Champ sprayed gas all over the car. He took his time about it. They told me he looked pretty pleased with himself as he lit the match. Then he settled in to watch the flames, beholding them in triumph. And why not? It was like he had finally defeated the enemy.
Posted: January 19, 2015 at 4:52 am