There is this chubby black kid with chipmunk cheeks and a goofy smile that always imitates me when I walk into the gym on sparring days. It looks like he’s whipping up a batch of pizza batter with his arms, but he’s actually trying to throw uppercuts. The ritual started ever since he saw me step into the ring with Michel.
Last week, he strapped on a helmet and stepped in himself. He wore checkered shorts with cargo pockets and a long black t-shirt stenciled with a graphic designed for juveniles, pretty much clothes kids his age would wear walking around the street. His opponent, on the other hand, was draped in full uniform - matching red tank-top and shorts, boots that went past the ankle. He was well-trained and visiting from another school. I don’t know why they were matched together. I don’t know what the coaches were trying to prove.
The chubby cheeked kid wasn’t scared, in fact he had a confident stance. He held his hands up near his face, his shoulders relaxed at ease, but he didn’t know what to do. He winged his punches wide, his feet shuffled all over the place. He did full-circle ballerina spins, twirling around like a baby calf learning its first steps. The onlookers snickered and laughed, but the kid was not deterred. He was getting beat pretty badly, but he was still there. I didn’t know what was keeping him up; most kids his age would have gone down much earlier, but not this one. This one had a fire in his eyes. He didn’t even close them when he went in for an exchange. I’ve boxed for 8 years now, and I still blink from time to time.
The trained fighter began to tire. The exchanges were still uneven, the chubby kid still spun around, but the laughter grew silent. At one point, I don’t know how, the red jersey fighter found himself dusting off his gloves and picking himself up from the canvas. The crowd yelped in surprise, but the kid remained undisturbed. He didn’t stop to admire his glory, didn’t rest on his laurels; his eyes remained focused on the fight. He finished the stanza standing on his feet, may have even won it on most accounts, but the point wasn't winning or losing. The point was that he never stopped throwing.
As they go to unwrap in their corners, I run up to the kid and say to him, “Boa luta!”. He flashes that same smile that he has always flashed, but this time with a slight tinge of sinister, as if he’s just told a well-kept secret that nobody's ever heard. He is greeted by a sea of congratulations, high-fives given around the table. He goes around to the other corner and embraces his adversary, who only has a look of apology and respect. He spends the rest of the time sitting in a white plastic chair, leaning back with a slight grin of satisfaction on his face. Gloves still on, he rests his chin upon one of them, looking on as the fights continue.