As the story opens, the narrator, Julian, is sitting at the River Bar with his friends Leon and Briceno. Leonidas, an older man, arrives and joins them. He informs them that Justo (another member of the group) will be fighting the Gimp at the raft that night. When Leonidas leaves, Briceno says that Justo is likely to lose, and the others tell him to be quiet.
Julian goes home briefly, changes clothes, wraps up a knife and puts it in his pocket, and tells his wife he will be back later. He returns to the River Bar, where he talks to the owner, Moses, who has already heard about the fight. Because Justo is his friend, Moses offers to help in any way he can. He fears for Justo and tells Julian that the Gimp and his friends were in the bar the previous night, bragging about how they were going to get Justo. When they finish talking, Julian notices Justo sitting alone. Justo tells Julian how he ran into the Gimp and his friends and how they challenged him to the fight. Julian shows Justo the knife he has brought, and Justo says he will use his own. They finish their beers and go to meet Leon and Briceno.
Leon and Briceno show confidence in Justo’s ability to win the fight with the Gimp, despite earlier doubts. The four young men arrive at the raft, which is actually a huge carob tree that fell into the river years ago and moves only slightly every year. They see that the Gimp and his group are already there, and members of the two opposing groups exchange hostile, sarcastic words.
Leonidas arrives, to the surprise of the fighters and their friends, but he insists that he has as much right to be there as any of them. Julian checks out the Gimp’s knife; he examines the width, length, weight, and sharpness and declares it fair.
Before having his own knife examined, Justo asks Leonidas why he is there. Leonidas replies that he came because he wanted to come. Chunga checks out Justo’s knife and declares it fair. Justo and the Gimp prepare to fight, and Leonidas approaches Justo with words of advice about how to win the fight. The fight begins slowly, but soon escalates. Both fighters manage to knick the other, but eventually Justo is seriously hurt. Still, he refuses to surrender, and the Gimp pleads first with Julian (who was once his friend) and then with Leonidas to make Justo give up the fight. Justo refuses, and the fight continues. Soon, Justo collapses. The Gimp and his group slowly leave the area while the others pick up Justo’s lifeless body.
Leon turns to Leonidas and says, “Don’t cry, old-timer. I’ve never known anyone brave as your son. I really mean that.” When the young men offer to take Justo’s body to Leonidas’ hut, he says, “Yes.”
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Mario Vargas Llosa – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.