We traveled to Nice, France in April 2013 with dreams of sunbathing on the French Riviera. Once we arrived, however, we found that one crucial component was missing—the sun. Instead, the Mediterranean Sea greeted us with spitting rain, which was actually quite rude, considering how far we’d come to pay it a visit. So we turned our backs on the ocean and found one of the last things we expected to find on the beach in France: a ping pong tournament. At least, that’s what I originally made of the large white tent lining the boardwalk, parallel to the shoreline, with large posters proclaiming “Ping Tour France” with a picture of ping pong balls constructing an Eiffel Tower. The posters also said, “Graduit,” or “free,” so naturally we went in to find out more.

Instead of an actual ping pong tournament, we discovered an arena of family fun: tables, balls, paddles, and people of all shapes and sizes, some trying out toddler-sized equipment while others played on circular or triangular surfaces. It was ping pong, certainly, but not the kind I had envisioned. Upbeat pop music blared through the speakers; volunteers in red shirts passed out paddles and smiles; an emcee used the microphone to periodically shout things like “Is everybody having a good time?” even when it was abundantly clear that everybody was.

I watched as a small boy gripped a paddle bigger than his head and awaited his challenger. The volunteer in the red shirt dropped the ball into the machine, where it whirled around before being spit out in the direction of the boy. As the ball approached, the boy drew back his arm, swinging with all his might but very little aim, missing the ball completely but shrieking with joy regardless. I watched this process continue, again and again, with very little progress in the way of aim and timing. But the thrill did not diminish, and the boy did not stop.

Early the next morning, a fight broke out in the Nice train station.

It was that time of day that feels too late to still be dealing with last night’s drunken debaucheries but too early to be causing trouble before the day even has a chance to show itself. Why it started I did not know and I honestly did not care. Victim and perpetrator rolled on the ground, blurring the line between right and wrong, justice and cruelty. I just wanted it to stop.

But despite my wishes to the contrary, the fight continued, quickly progressing from a scuffle to a full-blown brawl. A bystander tried to break up the pair to no avail. Finally, finally, security arrived on the scene. The aggressor was restrained momentarily, but the instant he was released, the dance resumed. Aim and fire, right on target. He would not stop. Given the option, he was going to keep fighting.

Eventually that option was taken from him, as he was forcefully escorted from the building. Both the tourists and the early morning commuters let out a collective sigh. Order had been restored, neither party seriously injured, at least not to the naked eye.

I got on my train, wondering if the boy is still smiling, wondering if the man is still fighting.

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