Last night we caught a glimpse of two men locked in a dance of swinging fists. The incandescence of the lampposts shone a spotlight on their tango as all else scurried away. I slowed. Through the sanitized censor of my car window, we witnessed what was probably an ordinary occurrence in Manila’s slums, where the only law that ruled was the law of the strong. I had not seen violence in proximity for quite some time, and the glint of blood was an energizing jolt.
The slighter of the two was swaying unsteadily on his feet, as the bulkier one aimed shots at his body. The bigger man, muscles bulging in his wife-beater, stood sure on his. The one on the receiving end of the blows was not fighting back. Was he drunk I wondered. One, two, three, four blows. I did not hear bone connect with flesh, but my face grimaced in shared pain. Slighter Man did not even attempt to block the flurry of fists coming his way. Some people stood at the sidelines, and other cars slowed to watch in what must’ve been a mix of curiosity and horror.
I looked away a moment to see whether I was about to rear-end the vehicle in front. Next I looked, a ribbon of blood flowed freely from Slighter Man’s nose. Its color was unlike the blood we see in the movies. It was a rich, deep shade of red, not unlike the skin of ripe Australian plums. It caught the orange light from the lamps and glinted a sinister little shine. It spilled now to his lips, down his chin, all the way to his neck. I wondered what Slighter Man thought as he tasted the copper of his blood. Was he being beaten over money? A woman? Some unnamed injustice? Bruised pride?
I honked my horn once, as if this would halt the violence unfolding before my eyes. But the insignificant little noise made by a passing vehicle went unnoticed. Bulkier Man was too intent in his pummeling. As we drove past, more people seemed to slow and notice. But no one came to Slighter Man’s aid. “This is a hard part of town,” said Butch. I made a noise at the back of my throat, as the men shrank in my rearview. A hard part of town indeed - where the rule of law was a luxury. Beat or be beaten. Kill or be killed. Slighter Man was crossing the road to get to the other side, slow and deliberate in his movement, as Bulkier Man gave chase. Their bodies bathed in the headlights of oncoming traffic, marionettes still engaged in a deadly shadow play. And we drove away.