Nerves are taut and muscles stand out on their bodies. Loincloths and talismans are their only attire. Each one of the two wrestling men tries to throw the other with a combination of hand and knee leverage onto the sandy ground. In the broiling hotness of the day Malik Ngom and Sheik Dioum shine with sweat. They had circled each other warily before this fearsome bear hug, reminiscent of that of two great world heavyweights at a standstill. In their mid-twenties, both wrestlers are jet-black in complexion; they stand 1.83 metres tall and weigh no less than 100 kilograms each. These two amateurs engage in a physically gruelling bare-fisted fight within the national stadium of roaring and clapping spectators – 30,000 or more people. But this is just a preliminary match. Ours, the professionals’, is scheduled for the dusk when I’ll lock horns with the indomitable Yékini.
Malik Ngom and Sheik Dioum are now still in each other’s grip. Their muscles stand out and tremble. Seconds become minutes as muscles crave for release. Then suddenly the men let go and start throwing punches at each other. Punches that seem to dance to the beat of the drums. Three men beat the seven frenzied drums of different sizes. They beat the Laamb samba – fast, light and jolly. I can’t resist moving my feet to the beat. The air shudders as the intoxicating rhythm fills me with fire. Like myself, these two wrestlers go at it to prove their manliness, and bring honour to themselves and their sponsors.
Now, the umpire blows his whistle. Its sound seems to stop the two wrestlers from throwing punches. For a few minutes, the two men gape and circle each other dispassionately, waving their arms. There he goes, Sheik Dioum; he has a grip of steel on Malik Ngom’s loincloth. His wide-opened, stiff, straight legs seem to be in his favour. But Malik Ngom takes this opening as a disadvantage. In goes his right leg in an attempt to throw Sheik Dioum to the ground. He fails and loses his grip. He staggers like a drunken giant that is about to fall. But Malik Ngom is quick to recover his stance. He pulls back a step, spitting onto the sandy ground. Then, he stretches out both arms towards Sheik Dioum who rushes to seize them. Malik Ngom withdraws his arms, and for a moment, Sheik Dioum loses his balance. But as he regains his steps, he lungs at Malik Ngom’s waist. This is him at his most impressive: his grip seems to scare Malik Ngom who must be wondering about his opponent’s next move. Then, Malik Ngom goes for Sheik Dioum’s waist too. Nerves and muscles continue to stand out on their bodies.
The drummers maintain a steady rhythm. The heads of the two wrestlers push against each other left to left, right to right. Their massive bodies are almost immovable. Then, all of a sudden, as if anticipating his move, Malik Ngom grabs Sheik Dioum’s body from the waist and stood him up. Frantically, Sheik Dioum throws a worthless punch into the air. Both men wrestle for control. Malik Ngom sees the dangling right leg of his opponent and takes advantage of it. In a flash, Sheik Dioum lies spread out on his back. I spring to my feet in jubilation. The spectators’ voices boom into a deafening roar as the drummers go wild. With the crowd still praising his name, Malik Ngom proudly bounces out of the ring.
The drummers, whose bodies shine with sweat, stop for a while before our match; my match. As they wipe their bodies with snow-white absorbent towels, they drink water and orange juice to bring down their body temperatures. I look around, perhaps for the very first time, and see those who stand or sit next to me. Bamba Ndiaye, a close fan of mine, approaches me.
“What do you think of Malik Ngom?”
“Malik Ngom is like a younger brother to me because we’re from the same residential area. At times, he prepares for his fights in my house. He hangs out with my younger brothers and those of Cheikh Mbaba, the former Minister of Culture. I keep telling Malik Ngom not to allow neither the death of his mother nor that of his to dampen his spirits.”
“I say to him, ‘such unfortunate events shouldn’t be harbingers of darkness in your life.’ Malik Ngom is a very good guy, very polite and religious.”
“Is that right? But there are rumours that he is a womanizer,” says Bamba Ndiaye.
“Well, I always ask him to do self-evaluation and compare himself to champions. I advise him not to allow women and money to divide him and his friends.”
Our conversation is interrupted by a slim coquettish lady who greets me amicably, and says: “Today is your day, and remember me when you win.”
“I’ll do so,” I say to her, smiling knowingly and nodding my head.
She smiles back at me and dreamily blinks her large sparkling eyes.
“You look confident and at ease with yourself,” she says, walking away from me, hips rolling.
“Thank you,” I reply, knowing fully well that my carefully-chiseled facial features and dark complexion make me supple and gracefully handsome at age thirty.
Today, we’re going at this fight for two things. One is to win a cash prize of one million FCFA. The other is for the winner to start courtship with Ndiapaly Seck, the country’s beauty queen. Like the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, Ndiapaly Seck is a gorgeous, perfect, eternally young lady. At age twenty-one, her seductive hips and curves gives her a magical sway, giving her a sexual attraction so potent that she compels love from men. Ndiapaly Seck, I keep calling her name, you’re going to be mine; I will have a greater claim on your heart than any man on earth.
Today’s fight is not a training session when my muscles are so sore that they seem to belong to another body. These are not the hours of getting up at 5 a.m. and running dozens of kilometres along the beach. Those were the days when my parents will give me a grilling for doing push-ups and hoisting weights above my head; those moments when I felt my courage waning like a departing moon. They never gave me their approval to practise such a sport.
“Barbaric. It’s meant for thugs,” my father used to say.
But at this very moment, I know that they will be glued to their television set waiting to see my performance. Since I have little formal education, wrestling, to me, is an outlet to shine and excel. It is now my reality and no longer a fleeting shadow on a cloudy day.
Pages: 1 2