Agua had a girlfriend. I’d heard rumours but had never actually caught sight of her. The day she turned up at the gym, heavy rain – one of those seasonal downpours that regularly drenches Panama, was pounding the tin roof. Agua and Agrazal were at each other’s throats again. Something about one thinking he knew more than the other.

Ladiana wasn’t what I’d expected. Older than Agua, just a few years, but she seemed motherly in his presence. She was also, unmistakeably, the boss. Slightly bedraggled from the rain, Agua brought her a towel from his cubicle, and we sat outside on the gym’s portico. As she dried herself, stroking and patting her dark hair that seemed unnaturally straight as if it had been teased by a strong wind, we discussed the future. They planned on moving in together. An apartment in a tough area: a no go for outsiders. It was on the sixth floor: no lift, but a view from the common balcony that swept across Panama’s poor neighbourhoods toward the elegant waterside in one direction and to a green jungle clad hill, part of the canal zone and still graciously off limits to developers, on the other. Drug deals were not uncommon on the dank, badly lit stairwell— muggings took place.

Ladiana had a number of children from her previous partners … how many exactly, I never found out. A ten-year old daughter was still living with her. The couple planned on using the two hundred I would pay Agua each month for rent, and they would live off the money Ladiana earned selling state lottery tickets on Avenida Central. Of course, their great hope was Agua’s future fight earnings. Ladiana seemed only marginally friendly as she sat straight-backed in her chair, arms tightly entwined, popping her large breasts until they burst above her T- shirt. The rain had stopped. Tempest or calm. The heat that had been salted with moisture became oppressive.

Then the other question arose: how were we going to make Agua legal in Panama. Unknown to me they were already busy. Ladiana, it seemed, had a friend who was a lawyer.

Agua said the fine was seven hundred dollars. We pay that, he can travel?’


Y su residencia.’ Ladiana answered succinctly. I hadn’t even given his residency a thought, but then I suddenly remembered Jaime telling me the fine would start to build up again if that problem was not solved. She gave me a number. ‘Esa es nuestra abogada.’ Agua, not a man to stay quiet, kept mum. They walked out of the gym’s front gate and past the cock fighting stable arm in arm, leaning inward as if holding one another up.