His opening attack almost had me. His large flame pointed weapon nearly caught me on the side of the head as he attacked. I ducked as the flame slightly singed my coiffure. I smelt the acrid smell of human hair aflame.
I parried the next few blows and then stood back, Muhammad Ali in a Krommar, against the ropes. I surveyed my attacker.
His hair was long and dreadlocked. The stench from the offensive barnet was such that ringside seats were not as full as expected. In it he had sewn bangles and beads which made an irritating clicking sounds as he moved. He usually covered his dreads with a curious tea-cozy of weathered wool but he had removed this for combat. His torso was bare and covered in tattoos. They were all in foreign script and much to my amusement were largely moronic.
On his right breast he had a detailed menu for a Thai restaurant. On his back he had written in Chinese script, ‘Ignorant pillock‘. He had entered the ring wearing a ‘Red Bull‘ singlet, so beloved of his various friends and followers. He had removed this and fought wearing only slightly stained black trousers. They were not original and had been bought (for three times the local rate) at a market in Bangkok. His weapon of choice was a solid stick, which was concluded at each end by flames. He was using his article of expression, however misguided that expression was, as a weapon in the ring.
My musings were cut short as he thrust forward again. The flaming cotton bud brushed my side and I winced and fell back. He was upon me and I was forced to roll along the ring in a somewhat undignified manner. I popped back to my knees, crouching like a furious sun bear. I reared to my hindquarters and attacked him with a determined combination of punches and kicks. He backed into the ropes and held his flaming stick forward to prevent a further attack.
The bell rang.
I retreated to my corner, exhausted, and called out for my cut-man ”Teukaleuk!” (fruit shake). He came to my side and applied a traditional remedy to my badly singed torso.
I had found Teukaleuk in a bar in Sisophon. He had fallen, somewhat spectacularly, from grace. He was now involved in a banned ring of elephant niggling, a strange sport, even by Cambodia standards, in which participants enrage elephants by nibbling their knees. He had enjoyed a much more celebrated career in the 1950’s when he had been one of the finest kick boxers Cambodia has ever known. He won prestigious titles in Bangkok, Chang Mai and Cambodia. However, he was also unscrupulously honest and had been punished during Lon Nol times for refusing to throw a fight in Kompong Tom. His right eye had been removed with a sharpened chopstick.
I was yet to discover why exactly his name was Teukaleuk. Legend had it that a one-legged hospital orderly had spilt a drink on him shortly after delivery, while others said it was because his character was particularly fruity. I was certain of a different reason altogether. The man placed a small mandarin (of the type that is in season at the present time) in his hollow eye socket. It was a ghastly site but he had been doing it for years so most people were quite used to it, despite their initial revulsion. The fruit, poorly situated, would shake when he talked, hence ‘Fruit Shake.’