The Gladiators

You know mos how it feel when you waiting for your boy to go in and you don’t know how he’s going to come out. Well, we was feeling the same way that night. We had the bandages on and wait around for the preliminaries to make finish, smoking nervous like and looking at Kenny. He just sit on the table with his legs hanging down, waiting like us, but not nervous like, only full up to his ears with his brag. He’s a good juba awright. Build like a bear if you ever see one, with sloping shoulders and big chest, and arms and thighs like polish teak. Not exactly like teak, because he’s lighter, just miss being white which was what make him so full of crap. He was sorry he wasn’t white and glad he wasn’t black. He got a nice face, too, except for the nose that’s a little flat from being hit on it a lot, almost like a black boy’s nose, but not exactly. Anyway, he’s full of crap, that white crap, and me and Gogs is worried because here he is waiting to go in and fight that black boy and we know he’s going to try to be mean and do something foolish that might lose him the fight.

We in the dressing room they rig up right next to the lavatory and there’s a smell of piss and tobacco and some of that dagga the hard boys must been smoking next door. Outside the hall was book out and we could hear the crowd groaning at the prelims so I reckon they wasn’t getting their money’s worth.

“How you feeling, Ken?” Gogs beckons to him. He called Gogs because he mos wear those big spectacles.

“I feel first class,” Kenny reckon. He grin and show his teeth and is just like this: “I’ll muck that black bastard.”

I reckon, “Look, Kenny, you don’t have that. Christ, we all blerry black, even if we off-white or like coffee. Be a blerry sport, man.”

“Muck,” Kenny reckon. “Sport. Awright. It’s sport. But what the hell I got to fight black boys and colored all the time?”

“You want to fight a white boy you got to go to England,” Gogs is just so to him.

“Or Lourenço Marques,” I reckon. “You know you can’t fight no white john here. So just do your best like a sporting ou, hey?”

Kenny laughed at us and reckons, “You rookers. I’ll fight in England yet. You see.”

“Now you don’t try nothing fancy in there, hey?” Gogs reckon to him. “Just go in there and do it like it got to be done.”

“Awright, man, forget it.”

“Okay. Now you shape up okay, so don’t muck it just because you fed up with fighting your own kind.”

“Listen,” Kenny reckon to us again. “Muck that own kind. That boy ain’t our kind.”

“Awright,” I say. “But we all get kicked in the arse the same.”

“For Chrise sake,” Gogs reckon, looking cross. “We had this blerry crap before. Now let’s think about the blerry fight.”

“I’ll make the Empire yet,” Kenny reckon. “You jubas see.”

The crowd is just buzzing and talking now so we reckon the prelims is over. We didn’t hear the final gong because why we was talking all this stuff, see? But the door open Noor Abbas who is promoting the show come in. He got on a black dress suit and look just like a head waiter, and he is smoking a cigar.

“Okay,” he reckon to us. “You on next so shake it up.”

He go out again and Farny push past him into the room. “Awright, let’s go.”

Kenny get off the table and we hang the dressing gown over his shoulders. It was orange color with Kid Kenny in brown letters on the back. I reckon it was a real smart gown.

“You okay?” Farny ask him as we go out.

“I’ll moider him,” Kenny reckon.

“Who do you think you is—Kirk Douglas?” Gogs reckon, laughing like.

“He think he’s Louis,” I say. “Only Louis is black. He don’t like black boys. Maybe he reckon he’s Potty.”

“Muck him,” Kenny say. “That boer.”

“Awright . . . Marciano,” I say.

“Shut up, you rookers,” Farny reckon.

We go down the aisle between the high, sloping tiers of seats built up on tubular scaffolding and the black boy is just climbing into the ring. He didn’t get a big hand. He was a good-looking boy with a dark, shiny skin and thick chest. He bounce around the ring a little and the crowd laugh. I thought, what a country. The black boy had a white robe on him with a real smart tiger work out in black across the back. He was the Black Panther on the posters, but I forget his right name now.

Further, when we come up the aisle the crowd start yelling and clapping when they see Kenny and he grin, braggy like, and we go through the ringside chairs to the ring. The crowd was mostly men with some goosies in among them and they shout themselves hoarse for Kenny and he climb up through the ropes and wave to them.

I’m just like this to Gogs, “This sonovabitch act like blerry Gentleman Jim Corbett himself. I bet he reckon he’s fighting the world heavyweight.”

“Hell, he’s okay,” Gogs reckon. “He just a little full of up-say. That’s all.”

Kenny hold his hands together and shake them over his head to the crowd like the champion in the beece, which is what we call a cinema, and everybody give him a clap. Then he sit down and the Panther’s boy come over and say Hello, and look at the tape and then we pull the gloves on, working them onto his hands and tying the strings good.

Gogs reckon, “Now you don’t do nothing smart, Kenny.”

“Ach, you jubas,” he reckon and wave his gloves at us.

I look across at the Panther and he a tall john with one-forty stretch over six-feet of framework and cover with a blue-black skin.

The ref call them to the center and tell them the rules and Kenny come back saying, “That tsotsi, that tsotsi.”

  • “Take it easy with him,” I reckon. “He look like he got a blerry long reach.”

“Watch me bugger him. That tsotsi,” Kenny reckon.

I take the dressing gown off him and he smile around. Somebody yell, Donder that k—r. I look across to see who it is but there only five thousands pack into the hall, all waiting for them to hit each other to mince. There some white boys out front in the ringsides, smiling and talking, and all over there’s a haze of blue-grey tobacco smoke.

The hall lights go mos down and the lights over the ring stay on, so you only see the fighters and the ref, and the whole crowd is quiet like, waiting to see blood. I thought, Bastards, paying cash to see two other black boys knock themselves to hell. What you in this business for then? I don’t know. Maybe just to see my boy don’t get buggered too much.

The gong go and we get out quick, Gogs carrying the stool, and we down there watching our boy go in.

In the big ring lights the fighter, Kenny pale, almost white, and the black boy, tall, move up towards each other careful like, and touch gloves, and as soon as the Panther drop his hands Kenny hit him twice in the face with the left and jump back. Kenny box good, but the Panther is a dancer, crouching and bobbing.

Three four times Kenny bring his left over but the Panther take it on the shoulders or the arms. He don’t seem to care about that left. He just bob and duck and keep those lefts off his face, and after a while the crowd is yelling at him to go in and fight.

Further, Kenny just stay in there knocking up points and for the next three rounds it is all his. Back in the corner he smile at us as we work on him, saying, “You see me floor that blerry tsotsi.”

In the fourth he go in like he’s going to finish the fight right then, and the Panther just let him come, dancing around and holding his gloves up so you can see the white of his eyes and his black shiny face between them. The crowd is stamping and shouting for Kenny to go in and make him finish so they can go home. They was sure hoping to see the black boy go down.

Well, the Panther just let Kenny come and even drop his guard. Kenny’s left come in, but the Panther just shift his head and let the glove go past and then he hit Kenny you can hear it outside.

That surprise Kenny and you can see it on his face and the Panther hit him again, and man, this time you can hear it down by the railway station, and then the blerry Panther dance away, like this, bobbing and dancing and waiting for Kenny to come after him and Kenny the blerry fool, go after him and the Panther hit him one two three and there’s big red patches on all two sides of him, under his ribs, and he look plenty shaken. Kenny come after the Panther again and the Panther go in and meet him this time, dancing forward, and Kenny reach out with the left and the Panther take it on the right shoulder and jab Kenny twice with his right in the ribs and now the crowd is yelling for the black boy to give it to him.

After the fifth Farny is worried and is just like this to Kenny, “Listen, man, take your time. That juba is a fighter, and you got to wear him down. You not going to floor him right off like that. Take your time, man.”

“That black piece of crap,” Kenny reckon, sounding like a damaged boiler. “The hell with him.”

Farny shake his head and look at us. I think, I’m leaving this blerry play-white penny-ha’penny braggard alone after this. Muck him.

Further, in the sixth round they get tied up and Kenny try to get loose of the clinch but the Panther come up with a uppercut that take him on the nose. Kenny’s nose bleed and he try to lean on the Panther but the Panther shake him off and hit him again in the same spot and Kenny got back shaking his head like he can’t see a damn thing and the Panther come after him, dancing, and hit him again and again. There blood all over Kenny’s face and he wipe it away with a glove. The black boy come after him again, but the gong go and we take Kenny back to our corner.

He got a nose like a doughnut, but he wave us off after we wash it. He was a hardcase john awright. I give him that.

“That bastard can’t do this to me,” he reckon.

“How you feeling?” Gogs ask.

“Any more like that and I throw the towel in,” Farny reckon.

“The hell with you,” Kenny reckon to him, “I’ll make that boy kneel.”

The gong go again and the crowd is screaming you can’t hear a thing. Kenny go in there but you can see he’s more careful now, watching like, and the Panther watch him, too, waiting, dancing and bobbing, his long body shiny with sweat. The crowd get quiet and everybody is waiting to see what going to happen. The two of them, Kenny and the black boy, just circle around, waiting for a opening.

Well, Kenny got some trouble with his nose and keep on dabbing it with a glove. He wait for an opening and the Panther feint with his right and Kenny falls for it, knocking the glove aside and the next thing the Panther hit him right in the V of the solar plexus. It was some blow. I reckon the eyes was coming out of Kenny’s head. He look pop-eyed and while he’s holding onto his body the Panther hit him on the nose again and then in the mouth and another one in the mouth and the blood run and Kenny is just staggering around with the Panther coming after hitting him one two one two one two one two like he was working on the heavy bag.

Now there’s no more shouting, just one solid noise of the mob. They all on their feet, screaming because they seen blood and they all gone mad with seeing it, because they seeing a man hit to a bloody mess. They don’t give a damn about Kenny no more now, and they don’t give a damn about nothing but seeing his blood.

Further, Farny is ready with the towel now, but he can’t make up his mind to throw it in, looking at Kenny and waiting for the gong to save him or something. But the Panther come after Kenny all the time and hit him one two one two, and the next thing Kenny’s down on his knees, one hand waving slowly about like it was looking for something to hang onto, then he’s down up there and the ref is taking the count.

Well, the black boy wins it on a knock-out and the time we get Kenny round the crowd is moving out and looking at us as they pass the ring, climbing over the chairs. Kenny come to, his face a mess and his mouth swell up like a couple of polonies, and we get him up between us. Farny is talking to the Panther’s people, and we help Kenny down to the floor and go on out towards the dressing-room with him between us, through the last remains of the crowd and the crunch peanut shells and crush cigarette ends.