I continued to pester Enrique until he agreed to take me to the horse races. In any case, it was to his advantage- the bets on our behalf would come out of my pocket.
We met at restaurant Coca Cola. Mythical and affordable, the colonial building had stood since 1875. It had taken the name Coca Cola in 1906, when the soft drink company moved into Panama. It made business sense. Countless Panamanian Presidents, writers and poets had called the place home. The old timers, the ones who were served each day by young angels in black uniforms with green aprons, told me that the US president Teddy Roosevelt had supped there. They hurled famous names at me as if there was no end: Evita and her husband Juan Peron: Julio Iglesias, the incongruity giving them no sense of pause. It was even said that Che and Fidel Castro had planned their defeat of Batista while drinking Coca Cola’s excellent coffee. The fight crowd loved it. Now the restaurant found itself on the edge of the bad lands, the resurgent Casco Viejo at its back- its liver and onions still famous deep into the barrios.
Enrique arrived with Agua in tow. It was not long after his last fight, but he showed no physical or psychological damage as far as I could tell. He was a bubble of cheer. At the time, I still didn’t know him well…only stories. They had discovered him in his home country, cocky as a fattened pup, and although not having a perfect fighting record, he was known to be fearless. Agua was brought to the US where he boxed out of New Jersey for three years. It was then his handlers made the fateful decision to bring him to Panama to fight. The arrival wasn’t a problem, it was the return trip to the US that became impossible. Agua did not have the correct papers to live permanently in the States, and after overstaying his permit, he was now in the same predicament in Panama.
Agua’s hair that had been pulled into tight twists, was shoved under a baseball cap. He wore white tracksuit pants and an orange t shirt with assurance. His opaque sunglasses, a shade darker than his skin. His trainers bright as buttons. A rapper or hood; could have been both. It’s my style he later told me when I complained he looked like a delinquent. We piled into a taxi and headed for the racetrack. Enrique Pinder and I were given a senior’s discount on our entrance ticket. I protested, even though I was eligible.