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Chapter Four

An Encounter
in the Alley

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n Monday, Luca complained all the way to school, wishing she could skip classes and go straight to Mr. Angélico to quiz him about El Ciclón and the mask. The school day dragged by at a snail's pace.

At last the teacher rang the bell and dismissed them for the day. Luca jumped up and grabbed Félix by the leg, marching him quickly towards Deportes Angélico.

When they arrived, the front store area appeared closed, so Luca and Félix went to the back entrance that led to the gym, in the back alley, to see if anyone was around. They could hear sparring from inside the building, but no one came to the door when they knocked, and when they peaked in, Martín Angélico was nowhere to be seen.

“Maybe Mr. Angélico is on an errand,” Félix said.

“Could be. Let’s stick around to see if he comes back,” said Luca, though she knew she was expected back home soon for her merienda. Félix, who had no desire to go home just yet either, agreed.

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To pass the time, the cousins started sparring, and the afternoon grew darker as evening approached. They were deep into their third match when their wrestling was interrupted by a voice.

“What’s going on here?” The voice was male and a bit raspy, but in the dusk light, the cousins could only make out a general silhouette and a small plume of cigarette smoke. They stopped playing, but did not immediately answer. Luca bristled at a hint of rudeness in the stranger’s voice.

“Girls don’t wrestle,” the voice continued, without waiting for a response, “you ought to find yourself a real wrestling partner, son.” It was obvious the voice was addressing Félix. The silhouette took a deep drag from the cigarette, and blew the smoke out at the cousins.

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Luca snorted, unable to stop herself. “Oh yeah? If girls don’t wrestle, then what am I doing right now?”

Just then, the bright light on the display window of Deportes Angélico was switched on, allowing the two cousins to recognize their visitor. It was Diego Angélico, the shop owner’s son and one of the stars of the semi-pro team. He looked annoyed—probably because he’d done poorly in practice that evening—and surprised that Luca would talk back to him the way she had. Luca felt a pang in her stomach.

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Diego was only a few years older, but was already in training to become a full-fledged professional luchador. Well-known by local lucha fans, Diego was the youngest member of the semi-pro league operated by his father, and had made quite a name for himself with his skills and discipline. He had just finished a fight, and was a bit sweaty in the face and still wearing his wrestling attire. A rice paper cigarette balanced on his lower lip.

Luca swallowed the lump in her throat. Her indignation overcame her nerves, and before she could stop herself, she said, “if girls don’t wrestle, then how come I win all my matches?”

“You?” Diego scoffed. “I don’t believe that for a second.”

At that moment, Félix seemed to snap out of his surprise in meeting Diego, and he interjected. His tone was neutral and calm, and he was obviously playing to his natural instinct of being the mediator. But he was firm in his response: “Luca can fight better than anyone at our school—she beats kids twice her size easily.”

Diego continued to look bored and  unimpressed. He took a last drag of his cigarette and flicked the rest of it away. He squinted at Luca and slunk back inside the shop without saying a word.

On the way home, Luca marveled at what had just happened. Diego hadn’t even seen her wrestle, and he’d already made up his mind that she wasn’t any good. She wasn’t at all new to being dismissed because she was a girl, but it was one thing coming from one of the kids on the playground, who she could prove wrong in a second, and an entirely different thing coming from a respected athlete. She was deflated.

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“Don’t listen to him,” said Félix, attempting to console her. “He talks like he knows everything, just because his dad runs the league. He’s just being petty.”

“But he’s a great fighter,” said Luca.

“Sure he’s a good fighter, but that doesn’t make him God’s gift or anything. What does he know? He’s never even seen you fight.” Félix countered.

Maybe so, thought Luca, but she still could not shake herself free from this feeling of the rug being pulled out from underneath her dreams. She had always thought she would one day make it in the ring, but the fact that Diego, who was already doing it, thought she couldn’t, made her second-guess herself. She thought back on all the articles she'd cut out of the wrestling magazines. As far as she could remember, none of the fighters were female. Maybe Diego was right, maybe girls didn't wrestle. Could she be the only one?

As she and her siblings drifted off to the sounds of the requinto guitar played by Abuela that night, Luca could not help but wonder if anyone had ever told El Ciclón that he shouldn’t be wrestling.

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