Luca had gone back to sparring with her friends after school, though as referee, Félix noticed that she seemed hesitant now, her confidence dampened. She wasn’t winning as many matches as she normally did. In fact, she was on a bit of a losing streak, choking in half of her recent pairings after school.
The kids’ schoolyard scoresheet and the winner’s pot: Toficos candy and a US wrestling magazine.
She had also refrained from attending the weekly matches at Angélico’s gym, even though Félix had floated the idea a couple of times. “I think I’ll study instead,” Luca had said.
Félix, by far the more academically inclined of the two, was surprised by this, and quickly deduced that his cousin was avoiding Diego, which made him mad. Diego had no right to mess with his cousin’s passion the way he had. But Félix decided to say nothing, hoping Luca would recover with time, and instead chose to study with her.
On the Friday afternoon after the last exam, for a special treat, their parents took them to the kids’ favorite taco stand: a crowded little spot near Teatro Juárez owned and run by a charmingly grumpy bulldog called Tío Anselmo. The delicious smell of the guisados could be detected from a mile away.
The whole family came: Luca, Félix, their parents and siblings, and Abuela.
While they were eating, Luca’s father leaned over to the kids and smiled mischievously, “Hey kids, there’s something I forgot to tell you about this afternoon.” He was grinning from ear to ear.
“What is it, dad?” Luca asked excitedly, her mouth still full of taco. The kids (five of them in all: Luca, her brother and sister, Félix, and his brother) looked up from their tacos expectantly, their faces tired from exams, but also excited about the break from school, and now excited to hear what surprises Luca’s dad had in store.
From the pocket of his trousers her dad pulled out a handful of tickets. Luca and Félix recognized them immediately: they were for the Friday night fight at the Deportes Angélico gym.
The young foxes’ faces lit up – they had never had actual tickets before, always having to sneak in and avoid getting caught. The kids all cheered with excitement. Luca gleefully grabbed the tickets from her dad to take a closer look at them. She felt a sort of magic emanating from them.
As they approached the Deportes Angélico gym, it was ten times more jam-packed than usual. The line to get in was around the block. When they finally got inside, there were extra folding chairs crammed in wherever they fit, and the guard rail separating the audience from the action was a mere couple feet from the ring. The crowd was buzzing with excitement. Luca wondered what was so special about tonight.
Luca’s family took their ringside seats, chatting excitedly. Martín Angélico, owner of Deportes Angélico sports store and gym, emerged from behind the curtain with a small megaphone in hand. The crowd began to notice and became even more boisterous as he made his way up the metal steps at the corner of the ring and slipped in between the ropes.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he announced promptly and gregariously, not waiting for the crowd noise to die down. “Tonight, we have a surprise for you! It is a very special night indeed. A special guest has come to join us.” The audience hushed. “That’s right, what many of you heard is true. Here, for a special one-night performance, the one and only Ciclón McCool!!”
The crowd roared. Luca and Félix turned to each other beaming, mouths open in awe. Not only did they have real seats to a real fight for the first time in their lives… they were going to see El Ciclón, the masked wonder, in the flesh! This was beyond anything they had dreamed, and confirmation of Luca’s suspicions. Mr. Angélico had indeed fashioned El Ciclón’s mask!
“But first, folks,” Mr. Angélico continued, “Guanajuato’s own semi-pro tag team!”
Luca wondered to herself why the "bad guys" always wore black.
Diego emerged from the curtains with his teammates to massive cheers from the crowd. The young horse, ever soaking it in, strolled slowly down the makeshift corridor to the ring, arms outstretched to offer high fives to the crowd excitedly reaching out to him. Luca’s dad nudged her and Félix, encouraging them to reach out for a high five, and Luca, not having told her family anything about her encounter with Diego a few weeks ago, reluctantly reached forward.
Diego made brief eye contact with Luca and, just as he was a few paces away from the cousins, he stopped greeting spectators and raised his arms triumphantly to the crowd. Tossing his head dramatically, he jumped clear over the ropes into the ring. Luca rolled her eyes at his snub, but on the inside, she was ashamed.
The match went splendidly, with Diego rescuing victory for himself and his partner on the third fall, forcing his opponent to give up with a camel clutch. The bell rang to indicate victory, and Mr. Angélico proudly raised his son’s hand and shouted congratulatory platitudes into the microphone.
The rest of the matches went by in a breeze, and before Luca knew it, Mr. Angélico was pacing animatedly around the ring hyping up the crowd again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to welcome a legendary wrestler to the ring this evening. Coming straight from a match in the capital, please welcome Ciclón McCool!” The gym broke out in cheers as the veteran luchador exploded through the curtain and rushed to the ring in his characteristic fashion.
Luca marveled at El Ciclón’s technique. He was getting on in years, and was not perhaps as agile as he was in his heyday, but his footwork and grappling were still top-notch. His theatrics were also very entertaining, and he made quick work of his opponent while simultaneously hyping the crowd and adding some slapstick humor.
As El Ciclón reveled in the crowd’s cheers and graciously helped his defeated opponent back up, Mr. Angélico announced that there would be a meet and greet with El Ciclón, where fans could shake his hand and get an autographed picture.
Luca could not believe her triple stroke of luck. “Papá, papá !” she pleaded, “Can we get autographs?” Mr. O’Reilly, who was relieved to see his daughter so delighted after what had seemed an eternity of her less-than-sunny disposition, was about to say yes when he caught his wife’s disapproving look.
“It’s getting a little late for the children to be up,” said Mrs. Morales de O’Reilly, though it was still daylight outside. “Hadn’t we best head home?”
“Cariño,” answered Mr. O’Reilly, “it’s Friday and the children are done with their exams. It’s the beginning of vacation! Surely we can make an exception?”
“Yes, please! Can we? Can we?” Luca and Félix pleaded, as they nervously realized the line to see El Ciclón was getting impossibly longer with each passing second.
“O.K.,” Luca’s mom said finally with a sigh. “I’ll take the others home and you can stay with Félix and Luca. But don’t come home too late! You know the children need their rest.”
Luca, her cousin Félix, and her father waited in line for what seemed like hours to see El Ciclón. Luca was eager to see his legendary mask up close, and couldn’t believe that only a few weeks before her greatest hope had been to drill Mr. Angélico about it and the famous wrestler behind it. Now she was going to meet the raccoon himself!
Luca could see the tip of El Ciclón’s bushy tail poke up over the heads in the crowded line every time he leaned in to sign an autograph or shake a hand. At first, she worried her father would take them home before they reached El Ciclón, but she soon realized by her father’s craning neck that he was just as excited as she was to meet the famous luchador.
At last, Luca found herself looking into El Ciclón’s eyes and striking blue and gold mask. Suddenly feeling inexplicably shy, she pushed Félix in front of her, watching as her cousin greeted El Ciclón and received an autographed photo. Then it was her turn.
“H–hi… Mister Ciclón, I’m Luca. It’s… very nice to meet you! I’m a big fan,” she said, struggling to contain her excitement and nervously reaching for a pawshake.
“Hello, Luca!” the luchador said with a smile, vigorously shaking her paw.
Luca struggled to formulate her next sentence, but she finally spit it out. “Mister Ciclón... why can’t girls wrestle?”
El Ciclón looked surprised. “Where’d you get that idea? Of course girls can wrestle,” he chuckled. “Why, in the capital we now have many great female wrestlers! They’ve become quite the talk of the town.”
Luca’s face lit up in excitement. El Ciclón continued: “Something tells me you’re a budding star yourself, little one. But you should know, being a luchador is hard work, it’s not easy at all. You have to really want it. You have to give it everything you’ve got.” Luca nodded but didn’t say anything. She felt reassured, but also a little silly because she had never considered how hard people like El Ciclón had to work to become ring legends.
"You have to give it everything you've got."
The animals left in line behind Luca started murmuring impatiently, and she stretched her paw out again to say goodbye to her hero. “I think more people want to meet you, mister Ciclón!” she said. “Thank you for talking to me!”
“Hey, wait, can’t let you go empty-handed, can I?” he said, rummaging through the gym bag at his feet. “Look here. This is for you.” In his hand was a beautiful new mask, slightly different from the one he usually wore, and in a different, shiny blue pattern. He took his pen, signed the inside of the fabric mask, and offered it to her.
“Mister Ciclón!” Luca said, taken aback, “I can’t accept this, it’s yours!”
“It’s okay,” he insisted, “this one’s too tight anyway. I came to pick it up from Mr. Angélico’s shop, but it doesn’t fit me. Martín said I’m getting old and fat,” he said chuckling, “so he’ll have to make me another one. I want you to have this one.”
As they made their way back home under the pleasant gaslights, Luca was over the moon, clutching her new mask against her chest. Félix jokingly tried to trade her the mask for his signed photo.
The exhaustion from exams and the excitement that night was truly setting in. Luca could hardly keep her eyes open while Abuela tucked her into bed.
“So Angélico’s boy told you girls can’t wrestle?” Abuela asked her softly.
“Yes…” Luca admitted sadly, without questioning how Abuela knew this. Abuela always knew.
“Ah… silly boy. Jealous and vain. Boys like that like thinking they know better what people can and cannot do, don’t trouble yourself with that.”
“But he’s a great luchador!” Luca insisted, “don’t you think he knows?”
“No, I don’t,” answered her grandma calmly. “Honey, every opinion has a story behind it. People hold opinions not only based in fact, but in belief, faith, and sometimes fear. Our opinions, in that way, are also little confessions. When Diego tells you girls don’t wrestle, he may be telling you more about himself than anything. Does that make sense?”
“I think so…”
“It’s up to you whose opinions you value and heed, and which ones you ignore. Your dear grandpa, may God rest his soul, would have a lot to tell you about that.”
Luca nodded silently.
“Good night, Luca.”
"Good night, Abuela.”
Luca soon drifted into a deep sleep, her hands clutching the mask against her chest, her heart pounding with newfound motivation. She dreamt that night of her future as a luchadora.