The crowd was deafening. A few drunken chants, a boo here and there was all I could make out over my asthma-like pants. I didn’t blame them though. For two rounds I’ve been dodging, shifting, and shoving myself around the ring. I didn’t stand still, I couldn’t stand still. I wasn’t going to win this one. He was too big, too bulky, too mean looking. “There’s no way he’s 76 kg, there must have been some sort of mistake” I kept telling myself. I was a half expecting the referee to stop us saying “Sorry gentlemen, there was a mistake in the matching, and I’m gonna call a ‘No Contest’”.
But I knew that wasn’t the case, just a bit of wishful thinking to ease the pain. He came at me again, this time more aggressively. It was probably the frustration, or maybe he wanted the knockout. Either way, I was losing and I knew it. For a second, I thought of taking the fall just to give the crowd something to talk about. He tried his best to trap me, but I kept backing up and prolonging this dance of ours. “Two minutes! Do something” I thought I heard my corner shout. I dashed back one more time, that’s when I saw the slight buckle in his knees. He was tired, exhausted, spent, almost expired.
His mass advantage worked against him when it came to endurance. Now is my shot, it was either hit or miss. But I wasn’t going to waste it on an offensive strike. It had to be a counter, or he would expect it. I planted myself, and like a fish to the bait he came for the trap and swung. I flung out my jab to deflect his and countered with a right straight while my eyes were closed. I felt the contact, opened my eyes, he wasn’t there. The referee pushed me to the opposite corner as he continued the count. Everytime he yelled a number, the crowd would repeat it more frantically. Yal Wahsh! ” I heard my roommate call from the corner.
By the seven count, the referee realized all hope for the staggering beast were lost and declared me the winner. I was overwhelmed, I had one my first prize-fighting match and it felt like it should. “I hate these things! They’re ridiculous” I complained to myself as I unwrapped my knuckle wrappings. The locker room was smaller than i was used to and it had this wet dog stench about it but my face still wore a smile. “Hey! How are you? ok? ” I was startled by a deep voice echoing behind me. I turned to see a small figure of a man.
An old man. He wore an unbuttoned shirt with a wife-beater underneath. An earring on the left ear, and a mountainous gut. “Yeah I’m good, thanks. ” I answered resuming what I was doing. “That’s a good win out there, you know I used to be a boxer? ” He questioned rhetorically. “Oh really? , What happened? ” I replied with a smug smirk on my face knowing the sarcasm went unnoticed. “You’re funny kid? eh? ” he replied with after a light chuckle. “Everyone will grow old one day, this will never change. ”
”True” I nodded, extracting his ideas from his broken English. This is for you,” he said while extending a hand lighting clutching a bulky envelope. “Oh, aren’t I supposed to stop by the manager’s office to pick up my check? ” I asked bluntly. It was received with a laugh, “This isn’t part of your prize, it’s just something extra from me. You made good money. Thirteen to one against you, I liked that and I won. So here, a tip eh? ” I blindly grabbed the envelope from him and thanked him, not knowing what I had started. A card slid out of the envelope and onto the ground. “Anothony G. DeBatista – White Arrow Bar” was what I realized it said after picking it up.
I recognized the place, I walked by it on my way to university every day, I just never really noticed it. Day after day, I found myself more drawn to the shady local bar. Everyday I didn’t go, I felt more inclined to do so the next day. It was as if I owed him something and I was putting it off. “The least I could do is drop by, right? ” I convinced myself one time after class. I walked in, startled by the simultaneous bell but quickly realized what it was. There weren’t many people occupying the seats, I could see a group, much younger than I, sipping away at their ill-gotten delights and rambling on about how tough life was.
In almost every sense of the word, it was shady, if not just plain out creepy. “Come around, to the back” I heard a familiar deep voice bark at me from behind the bar. So I squeezed under the counter and entered the make-shift kitchen Tony was sitting in. We started a conversation of senseless formalities, almost as if he was checking up on me. I was curious about what he really wanted to talk about. I was also intrigued by the question of why a simple bar owner carried a business card. But all these speculations were put to rest when I eventually realized all he wanted to do was talk.
Nearly every day after class, I would stop by at Tony’s just for a casual chat. We would talk about sports, politics, anything that caught our mutual interest; we would find a way to discuss it, constantly reinforcing the age gap with our conflicting views on the same matters. Sometimes we’d play chess, sometimes he would send me out on errands he couldn’t find the time to do himself. I had to admit, I enjoyed that old man’s company. I felt that I could learn a lot from such wisdom. It wasn’t until I was approached by a fellow classmate that I disrupted this pattern.
He had seen me constantly wandering off into the bar, and asked me who it belonged to. So i replied, “It’s Tony’s Bar” thinking it to be an inquisitive question. My classmate filled me in on everything I didn’t want to know about Tony. I didn’t want to know about how he owned 32 apartment complexes around Malta, had a significant amount of shares in the casino business, and was known to be a contact to the Sicilian crime family. I dismissed it all at first, thinking it too ridiculous to be true. “Believe it or not man, it is what it is. ” he added when he saw my disbelief.
Most people would cut ties after hearing something like that, “nip it in the bud” as they say. Not me though, I was still in a state of awe. To be honest, it was more of a state of intrigue than disbelief. There was something about that scenario that appealed to me. I had always loved mobster movies, everything from “The Godfather” to “The Departed”. I kept going to Tony’s bar, despite knowing who or what he was. Every time I walked through that door, I walked out a little more confident, a little more powerful, a little more corrupted. I was protected, and I acted like it. I really wish you luck, Omar, I’ve got quite a number on you. ”
Tony exclaimed before i entered the locker room. “Money in the bank. ” I replied with a smug smile. I spoke too confidently, I couldn’t lose this. I bumped fists with my opponent and with the bell began my downfall. Punch after punch, I couldn’t see them coming anymore. He was faster than I thought. Every time that bell rang, I sat in the corner preaching myself new strategies, although I knew I’ve already lost. I had to win this though, Tony was counting on me. What if he loses a fortune on this? What if I fall from grace?
Would it upset him? Would he do something about it? My mind went into a spiral of pessimism and panic. It had just dawned on me how dire my situation had become. “No worries,” I told myself, “I still have a round left, it’s not too late. I just have to take him down. ” The bell rang and I dashed for the offensive. I had gone in too fast, and extended my jab too early. Mere target practice for him, I was caught with a straight and a left hook to follow. Its a funny feeling, being knocked out. Your mind makes you believe you’re still awake while your body completely fails you.
You end up staggering fully conscious in mind, telling the referee you’re still alright to fight while your knees are giving in. The referee called the match, I knew I had lost. “God damn these wraps! ” I found myself saying again. The locker room was once again abandoned except for my sad self. The door was knocked and my heart along with it. I knew it was Tony. I just didn’t know what to expect. “Come in” I answered hesitantly. “Hey kid, quite a fight eh? ” he said not really expecting an answer.
“I’m sorry, Tony, I don’t know what happened” I shot back almost instantly. Sorry? I didn’t get hit, you’re the one who got hit” he replied jokingly, ”Why are you sorry? ”. “Aren’t you pissed about the money? ” I asked half-heatedly. He burst out in a chuckle “Malla, money is always coming and going my friend, you’ll do better next time, just train alright? ” With that, he walked out, leaving me to my own devices. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been. Stupid enough to assume that fantasy role I had taken, a gangster, in all sense of the word. I was no gangster, and I certainly didn’t have the heart for it.
I was a nine-teen year old kid with his whole life ahead of him, but that was a role I never wanted to be. It’s almost poetic, when reality sets in and your eyes open up for the first time since birth. That’s when I became fully aware of my surroundings, truly appreciative of the things I was, and the things I wasn’t, and couldn’t be. I proclaimed this my rebirth, and it didn’t take a spiritual awakening or holy revelation to acquire it. All it took was one situation, one experience, and one hell of a scare to bring me back to reality. I never really saw Tony that much after that.
Every time I passed that bar, I’d just leave it to sulk in its own gloomy haze. I’d remember how I sold out the memories, the laughter, the debates, the chess games, and the friendship to prejudge on reputation. Tony was a bad man, probably. In a way, though, Tony was a good man, at least to me. A friend when I needed him to be, a mentor at other times. No matter what the man had done in his past, I couldn’t deny him his wisdom. Eventually, I read in the paper that Tony was apprehended after a drug smuggling sting and sentenced to six years. He was out in three months. Like I was told, he’s connected.