My apartment isn’t magazine material, but it’s mine. A little loft, with brick walls and apparent pipes, a futon and the bathroom on one side, the training stuff in the middle, and the kitchen on the other side. A few flowers as the only decor. Home, not for long. Unless I win this fight.
The thermometer shows 101.2. I swallow four Advil and leave.
Sifu used to say the joy of the fish is not thinking of water. He always talked about it. Discarding thoughts, possessions, ambitions. Focus on getting better and that’s all. That may work in a small village in China, but in America, lose your home and you can’t sleep in a cave somewhere. The Uber stops in front of the abandoned high school in Oakland. Driver peers at me, worrisome. I wink.
Gloves on, I fix my hair in a tight bun, and put my reddest lipstick. The other guy always gets uncomfortable with my cherry mouth. A mix of arousal, guilt, surprise. They called me geisha once, the ignorance of the American white male never ceases to amuse me. I check the temperature again. 103. Fuck.
A minute later, I’m in the cage. Beyond the wires, shouts of encouragement. They all have money in the bets. A black kid goes to the chalkboard on the balconies and writes the odds. A few years ago, it would be 2 or 3 against me. There aren’t many girls fighting men, after all. But after 12 consecutive wins, things changed. “Tigress! Tigress!” The crowd is mine.
Bell rings and the ritual of mutual measurement begins. We walk around each other and try a few hits, just to test reflexes. This one is a tall black dude with basketball limbs and an afro. The brutes I face here don’t offer real risk, but they allow me to experiment against live pressure. To keep my forms current and real. For me, this is training. Tonight is for counter strikes.
A jab comes my way. I dodge, the back hurts. The fever must be rising; I need to finish this fast. Another jab, now with a cross. I get away and hit him with three hooks on his rib then wobble on the other direction. It must have hurt more on me than him.
My eyes start to cross and I begin to sweat. Breathing gets harder. The whole body aches. Hold on, Claudia. It will be over soon.
For a second, I am back in China, training with Sifu, getting belabored for trying to use force against him, a grown up man, when I am just twelve. “Block strong, dumb. Block stronger, very dumb.” I always had trouble letting go.
The Savage, that was his nickname, had pretty fast legs. He throws a kick that barely misses, then a spinning fist I manage to block. I hold his arm, he pulls. We are at a lock. I can smell his breath, hear his grunts. Our sweat mix as we slip against each other. My stomach protests, but I don’t want to bring the fight to the ground. Not feeling like this. But I can’t let him go. What’s wrong with me? I palm strike him on the ear. He backs off. Now he’s deaf and furious.
My head is slow. My muscles, in pain. I blink and sense my eyelids burn when they touch. Lights dim up and down. I try to launch an attack, but it hurts too much. Better wait. Then he comes, running. I can’t think, can’t react. A flying knee gets closer and closer to my face. Hold on, Claudia. Not now, not now. I jump on his direction, desperate. I have no plan.
The world spins. It all goes black.
I wake up in a place with blue walls, a tube plugged into my arm. A hospital. The booker is seating next to me. “That was stupid, you know? Fighting like this, sick like a possum.”
“The fight?”, I ask.
“That was an impressive move. Crazy, but amazing. Knockout of the night!”
No idea what he’s saying, but try not to show. He hands me a check. “Here, blood into ink.” He doesn’t think that guy is ever going to fight again, and I have no idea why.
Need to go.
I call the nurse. “I’m feeling great. Will be fine.” She says she needs to talk to the doctor, but I get dressed and leave anyway. Have to pay the rent.