A countdown went on above Hakim as he lied on the ground looking off to the side. He made out blurry faces that whirled around like a wave. He looked up and saw what appeared like a man pointing his hand out with every count upwards.
“5…6…7…,” the shapes started to come together, the crowd became clearer, and his senses centered. His brain gave the signal to his joints, but they were slow to respond. One glove made it to the ropes as he tried pulling himself up. Through the ropes’ three openings, fans pumped their fists in the air and hollered out inaudible words. He threw his other arm up and over the rope, and like a pull-up tried raising his body upwards.
“8…9…,” He gave everything he had, from his core down to his ankles. He felt his body give way until all the energy, determination, and hope evaporated. As if dropped, his body slammed back down to the floor.
“Ten! He’s out!”
The referee looked one last time at him, and waved his hands over his head sideways, and the crowd erupted. Hakim looked over at his opponent who climbed the turnbuckle and started pounding his chest towards the crowd. The opposite corner men hugged each other, and threw their arms around their fighter as he jumped down to greet them. Hakim slid himself back to the turnbuckle, with his hands at his torso, and just breathed, and breathed.
He sat alone in the fighters’ locker room on a bench in front of his locker. His damp body air dried with only his neck receiving the touch of a white towel. The floor became his mirror and there he went into utter silence for a minute. As he looked up, his bruised, battered, and bloodied body glanced back at him through a mirror placed on the wall in front of him. He began touching his wounds, starting from a purple and brownish spot on his rib that pulsed with pain as he pressed into it, all the way up to his reddened cheek bone. Before he turned away from the mirror, a silver ring on his finger caught his attention. He averted his eyes from the mirror and looked at the ring for a few seconds, going over it with his other finger.
On a bus, Hakim sat in the back looking out the window. He wore a green v neck t-shirt and black soccer pants with his duffel bag sitting on his lap. Having passed the suburban posh homes, the GH 35 entered the rough area of Chicago’s neighborhood. Broken down fences, graffiti sprayed walls, and rims stripped of nets basketball courts.
Three men, two white and black, entered the bus at a stop wearing hoodies and beanies.
“Man you crazy, shit was getting heavy out there with that one dude,” one of the men said. Hakim glanced over at them for a second then looked back out the window.
“Ey yo look at her,” one of the white males said, pointing at a brunette woman sitting in two rows ahead of Hakim. She pulled her purse to her lap from her shoulder, and put her head down as the men made their way towards her.
Two of the men sat down a row ahead of the girl, while the remaining one leaned on the edge of the seat in front of the woman. She looked up at him, then back down.
“Wassup girl,” he said. She kept her head down and looked to the side, “You goin’ ignore me? Why don’t you scoot over a bit? Let’s chop it up real quick.” He slid his hand down her shoulder, and she punched it away with an open palm. He grabbed her wrist and pushed her into the corner, while the other men watched. Hakim slid his duffel bag to the side, stood up, and cracked his knuckles.
At the next stop, two of the men carried off their third member, whose gray sweatshirt now bathed in almost dried up blood. Hakim sat in the same position as before, in the backseat with his duffel bag on his lap. Both his knuckles had blood on them, some of his from punching so hard, and mostly from the man he had punched twice, once on the chin and once in the nose.
Hakim got off on Samper Road, and walked a block down the street to his apartment complex. He unlocked the door to find the place dark. After clicking on the lights, the room looked tidy and cleaner than before. He narrowed his eyes and looked up at the clock that read 9:30. The floor had been vacuumed. He could tell through the soft impact made whenever he took a step on the carpet. The counter, the table, everything had been swept, wiped, washed, and mopped, but Hakim only looked worried. An envelope sitting on the counter next to the sink, caught his eyes, and he dropped his duffel bag to the floor.
He lifted the seal, and took out from it a neat handwritten one page letter. It read:
I told you that I didn’t want to see you fighting anymore, and despite my plea, you went out and did just so. What’s worse is you left without telling me and lied about where you were when I had called you the other day.
We’ve been married for just over a year now, and I don’t feel happy anymore. You promised you’d make things work before we got into this relationship, you said if things got out of hand you’d leave boxing. I don’t care if you deny it or not, but look at where and how we’re living. Whenever I want to talk or spend time with you, there’s either a cut over your eye or a tear on your pride that I have to mend.
Hakim, I have no problem with being your support, but how long can you or I keep this up? We’re living here because you want it to be like this, because you don’t want any favors or anyone else offering any kind of help, not even me. Call me whatever you like, but this is beyond financial security, your career, or our marriage, you lied to me and couldn’t heed my one request. For that, I can’t go any farther with this relationship.
I’ve left you with a bit of money, please don’t let it sit and just accept it. It’s three months of rent, including groceries and other things.
I’m going to spend some time in New York with my family. You should also know I’m filing for a divorce, and the papers will arrive in a few days to a week.
I love you Hakim, and I always will. Please forgive me and I’m sorry. I wish you the best with whatever it is you do. Take care.
He stared into the last words of the letter, and the letter began to dampen as a tear from his eye fell onto “take care.”
At around 11pm, rain sprinkled the concrete floors outside and trickled against the windows, making enough noise to keep Hakim from his already in-and-out slumber. He hadn’t changed, nor had his eyes shut all the way in the past half-hour. He felt strange without the warmth and comfort of Faizah, who usually soothed him of the pain with her sweet words. He had twisted turned, laid on his back and his side to no avail. The sheets came off, and he walked out of the room.
In the kitchen, he opened the fridge that revealed milk, peanut butter, cheese, a few loafs of bread, and several yogurt containers. He looked at them with distaste, and pulled out the bread and cheese. As he put his bread into the toaster, he fetched himself a glass of milk and leaned against the sink. Thunder began to roar outside as the rain slipped off the windows. The mixture of lonely thoughts, pain from his wounds, and the cold air made him almost paranoid. Before it all overtook him, the ring of the toaster brought him back to the moment.
But he stared at the toaster, the sound bringing back painful memories, almost amplifying his current cuts and bruises to another level of pain. He snatched the two pieces of bread from the toaster, and smacked a piece of cheese between them. Without a plate, Hakim dropped on to the couch and turned the TV on. He flipped through about 20 channels until stopping at a highlight of professional boxing.
“Johnny “Quicks” Benson with lighting fast combinations put on a clinic as you can see here with an array of precisely timed power punches he..,” the highlight of Benson continued as the commentator narrated, “Roberts Jr. finally came toppling to an end when Benson connected on a two-punch combination in the 8th round, holding on to this welterweight title.”
All the while, Hakim hadn’t touched his sandwich, his eyes stuck to the screen and Benson’s ensuing post-fight interview.
“Man I just want to thank God, the city of Chicago for letting me do what I do. I grew up in tough times and I did what I had to do to come away with this victory and I just hope I can keep proving to the world why they call me one of the best in boxing,” Benson into a microphone looking into the camera.
Hakim turned the television off, and remained still, deep in thought. His milk stood on the table, and sandwich in hand, yet to have been bit. His eyes gazed into the sandwich for a few seconds. He threw the sandwich sideways and let out a yell.
“Ahh,” he slapped the glass of milk to the side that shattered into tiny shards covered in milk.
“Fuck,” he lifted the table with both hands and flipped it on its head, “Fuck!” He crumpled onto the floor, with his arms wrapped over his knees and chin tucked, “Fuck,” he murmured. He sniffled again and again as another, yet more aggressive, round of tears fell from his eyes. The blinds, halfway open, gave way to the only light in the room, with occasional thunder flashing up the inside like a disco ball.
He lifted his head, and faced the windows. From his pocket, he dug out Faizah’s slightly crumbled letter he had folded. The letter crushed and shrunk under the vice grip he applied to it from inside of his fists. His palm swiped away at the tears, and he propped up. He flung open the door and took a few steps out to the small lawn next to the driveway.
Hundreds of droplets of rain dabbed his face as he closed his eyes and lifted his chin to the sky. He let his hands dangle at his hips. After a few seconds, his band aids dampened and began to come apart, but he stayed still. Cool tingles went down his spine, and with every crack of thunder he held his ground.
His hands pushed his now silky wet hair back, while his eyes reemerged open. His tears and rain mixing, he looked down at the letter. The ink began to drip from the paper that had become soft as tissue paper. After bringing the letter eye-level, he ripped it apart, and let it fall to the ground. He stomped on the letter once, then pressed his forefoot into it and pivoted back and forth.
He looked back up to the sky, “I was doing this for you! This was all for you!” He punched at the rain falling on him, “I took the fight for you! Got hit for you! How much more do you and her want from me? Answer me damn it! Answer me!”
He fell onto his knees, and continued to bathe in the rain and thunder.