Agua and Water.
Agua couldn’t read or write, but he had organized his intellect in such a way that when he performed tasks it put me in mind of a chef laying a plate: everything had a system, precision was imperative, and the result had to leave him with an aesthetic satisfaction.
Memory was of the essence because there were no detailed directions he could later refer to. Of-course, sometimes memory alluded him, that came with the territory, you can’t have twenty-eight professional fights and expect to come out with total recall.
Agua opened an eye and smiled. It was beaming, a little mischievous. I stopped abruptly. It was Bimbo’s room, all trainers had one. It had become Agua’s domicile. The room was three by three. I had measured it once out of curiosity. All the trainers had one- it was for their paraphernalia of fight. This one had a small, old television, a chair and shelf. It was a place they could take some respite from their duties as governors of physical and technical guidance. A mattress now covered most of the floor.
The shelf, normally strewn with the odorous refuse of the boxing game, was hidden under neat stacks of clothing: pants together, t’ shirts folded, socks and underwear piled decorously. Next to those, a toilet case. A towel hung from a nail. Shoes had been orderly placed underneath the shelf. The fight posters were still pasted to the walls. I noticed a new one; Agua heading the main event. The place smelled of roses. Agua had placed scent neutralizers, the things you normally find hanging from car rear vision mirrors, strategically about the room.
‘Buenos Dios,’ he said to me still smiling.
He had been up at 4am running, doing the hard yards. If a boxer doesn’t, he can’t make it in the fight business. There are people who still call it a game but boxing never was.
Watch football if you want to see a game, was the consensus among the fight crowd. It was his sleep time. He wearily closed his eyes as I nodded a greeting back.
In those days Agrazal was still his trainer. A small, extraordinarily neat man with a face flattened by gloves, the nose dented just below the eyes like a banged in fender. He had a terrier nature, and feet nimble as a foal. His raspy voice never quit-up and down it would go following scales of anger and frustration. An instruction would be repeated and again repeated because he demanded perfection. It was the difference. It didn’t mean his fighters would always win, but it gave them every chance. Agua was an arguer, knew better. From the start, I wondered about their future together.
The gymnasium was a pallet of extraordinary grace and will. A concert of grunts to the of slap and beat of leather against bags, the wheeze of a jump rope, the click as it grazed the boards on its unbroken whirl, the loud bemoan of a trainer who may have been a champion or at the very least a battler and who certainly understood many of pugilism’s secrets. A Latin beat blasted from old speakers, saturating the cacophony, giving it a pulse and gaiety.
Agua always caught my eye. He was liquid in his weave and bob. When he skipped rope, it was with relentless and brisk precision. He could make a speedball blur, evasively dance around a heavy bag as he thumped combinations. But he was brawler and when he sparred it was with serious intent, no backward step. Take heavy punches to give- a slugger who had all the skills of a boxer but not the will.
It was his courage. It had carried him away from his youthful poverty in the Dominican Republic, but at times it worked against him. Agrazal wanted to change him- could have, if there was time enough.