When visiting the area of Lispanola two things you should remember:
- Don’t carry a camera. They don’t like it.
- Don’t marry into the family. They don’t like that either.
If you have to ask, don’t bother said the father of a beautiful young lady there. It was a weary smile full of knowing. He was a fair man who warned me soon after meeting. “We speak a proud archaic and dialectic tongue here. How will learning it help you where you are going?” And he was right. Lispanola is a nice place to visit, but the welcome does not extend beyond sunset.
That was my experience. But I was told the shopping along the main drag was nice enough. I remembered that tip and said goodbye to my fair lady and her father. And one day passing through, I didn’t hesitate to visit the big box store in sunny Lispanola.
It turns out shopping on Saturday morning is not just something to do in Lispanola. For the locals, it’s an event. I was there looking for practical goods, a bottle of antifreeze, a bag of chips, a few odd items. It occurred to me I was the only one there actually shopping. The locals were doing something the whole family could (and did) take part in. It was a surreal slow-motion kind of promenade called “Walking the shopping cart in the land of plenty.”
I got what I needed, but I was not fast enough.
I heard the crashing of store shelving in collapse. Glass and canned goods hit the floor. Another shopper standing in the beer aisle and I looked at each other in shock. There was also the sound of a scuffle. When a lady screamed for help, we both jumped to it. A couple of aisles toward the back was the deli area. It was a complete mess, and two men were going at each other like animals.
Clenched in a knot, they swung their bulk to crash blindly into another display stand knocking it loose with blatant disregard for marketing’s store plan. Bags of chips and cans of bean dip littered the floor as from a disemboweled pinata.
This muscle-bound pair had entered the state of exclusive tunnel vision, a white fury, where nothing else in the world matters so much as beating the other guy to a pulp. And so locked, their groaning mass shifted across the floor like an item of heavy machinery broken loose of all restraint on a rolling ship.
The crowd moved back, giving the center a wider berth wherever it was needed, and more people joined round. Someone nearby said, “Ouch!” Another replied, “You can say that again.”
“Baiya! Give him his Tomas!” a man yelled.
There was some laughter about that.
When a huffing clinch broke loose again, wild punches flew between the fighters. The store patrons began to lend their verbal support. “Hit him back! Hit him back.” It was generously impartial support, but I didn’t have to like it.
One of the mothers present, hardly more than a girl herself, wore sweatpants with the word PINK emblazoned across her rear. She cheered as though leaving her chair ringside at the World Wrestling Foundation. She jumped and jabbed into the air, “Come on now, hit him.” It was a severe kind of pink she represented. Muted cries for help and a plea for someone to call the police rang of role-playing authenticity. The crowd swelled.
Before we arrived, the shorter of two fighters (no-less thick-necked as a bull) had received a blow to his head that loosened a section of his scalp. And it hung a bloody flap drenching his face and shirt a deep red. But he raged blindly on to rally, making a series of connections fist to face. The crowd roared.
I turned to the fellow I’d stood next to in the beer aisle. “This is madness,” I said.
“Of course,” he said, keeping his eyes on the fight. “You’re right about that, man. Not a fair match.”
If there were any present feeling contrary to the sudden change of the morning’s agenda, I didn’t see an objection go up. Maybe all this was on the agenda. The thing for everyone seemed to be to find out who was the best man, and only then could they resume the morning promenade. It made me angrier all the time, and if it weren’t for that anger building, pushing aside any actual smarts, I would never have broken from the ring of spectators to step inside.
The fighters slammed into another dissatisfying clinch, huffing, horn-locked, entering a phase of exhaustion.
I don’t consider myself heroic. Any stranger would have acted the same. But, surely I was the only stranger in the crowd.
I got close enough to whisper that any minute the cops were going to show up. It was probably true but was merely the first thing that came to my mind.
It worked. They broke from one another in that instant to blink in ail directions for signs of the police. The biggest guy strode off with a little hurry toward the front of the store – looking inconspicuous as he could but for all the blood on his face and shirt. People let him pass.
The remaining man stood stunned, the flap of scalp hanging over his forehead and dripping steadily.
“You better get yourself to the hospital soon,” I told him.
He didn’t seem to hear me. Watching the other guy leave, he spit and called after him something in thick Lispanolese. It didn’t sound too sporting. The other heard this and stopped in his tracks and turned around. He seemed to think it was sporting enough and started back toward us.
“You think so? You really think so?” he said. “Alright, here we go again.” He rose in height and swung his shoulders as he came on.
Now the crowd decided enough was enough. Men and women stood barring the way. “No, no, no, you don’t,” they said. “Go away fast.”
He pushed through them but finally raised his hands in the air and stopped, announcing to everyone. “It’s okay; it’s okay. This cabrones is my cousin.”
There was laughter and nods here and there. This is what was needed, and it worked. Everyone relaxed, the fight ended.
At no point did during all this did I see a single store employee present. I wanted to find an intercom and announce the cleanup needed in the deli department. Instead, with the crowd dispersing, I went back to my cart in the beer aisle.
Selecting a random six-pack, I felt done for the day and headed out with my stuff for the checkout.
Waiting in line, I finally found the time to get nervous and jittery. It was surreal falling into the slow pace of the checker scanning items one by one. Looking around me was the familiar stony gaze of customers suffering the indignity of waiting in line. A lady behind me flipped idly through a tabloid. Baggers moved from one counter to another.
It was my turn, and the checker had trouble getting a barcode to scan in. She did not want to enter the SKU by hand and passed the item back and forth in vain.
I am sure I only wanted to get a comment from someone who’d not been there and cheering. I leaned close to the cashier and said softly, “Do you realize there was a tremendous fight at the back of the store?”
“When?” she said.
“Just a minute ago.”
She stopped swiping the problematic item. “Are you for real?” She raised an eyebrow and paused for a moment, sucked a big breath. “Oh! Was it the employees?”