“CAMON,” Billy roared, raising his gloved hands and beckoning on his opponent with ferocity. Blood streamed down his face from a cut above his eye which had been opened up in the sixth round of his title fight. His corner had done what they could in between rounds but his opponent was far too skilled, landing every strike almost at will. Billy bobbed and weaved, avoiding a couple of quick jabs but was caught with a straight right which landed flush on his nose, rocking his head backwards, dazing him.
He saw black for a moment but forced himself back into consciousness, dancing out of danger, narrowly avoiding another dangerous right hand that came whizzing towards him at breakneck speed. The bell rang to signal the end of the round and the referee jumped between them, forcing Billy back into his corner. Screaming in frustration he wobbled back to the corner, still slightly dazed. A blue stool appeared from between the ropes and Billy dropped down onto it, opening his mouth and allowing his mouth guard to slip into the shiny silver bucket that materialised in front of him. A sizable amount of liquid trickled from the side of his lips and down his chin. He looked down and saw a patch of his own crimson blood spattered on the white canvas.
He grinned stupidly at the sight of it then shuddered as he felt a cool bag of ice being rubbed over his wide, muscular back, cooling his blazing skin.
“Billy,” said an urgent voice in his ear, and he turned to stare into the face of his coach, Jim, who wore a worried expression. “Billy we’re definitely down on the scorecards.”
“What you think I don’t know that,” Billy snapped scathingly, staring across the ring at his opponent. “His defence is way too good. I can’t hit the guy. I never could,” he added dejectedly, staring at the ground defeated. His long, muscular arms fell loosely to his sides, his huge chest heaving as he took deep breaths of air.
Jim stepped between the ropes and crouched down in front of him. Billy raised his thick neck and looked into Jim’s bright green eyes. Jim reached up and placed his veiny, knotted hands on his shoulders, shaking them. His lined, wrinkled face wore a look of fierce determination.
“Billy, why the hell are you here,” he said angrily.
“What,” Billy asked confused.
“Why are you here,” Jim repeated, slapping him in the face. “What crazy path led a good lad like you into this? You could have been anything. You’re smart, well spoken, determined. Why the hell are you here?”
Billy closed his eyes.
Billy was walking down a dimly lit street, his skinny arms swinging from side to side, humming to himself happily. His black and white school tie hung loosely around his neck, and his blazer was slung over his shoulders. It was a pleasantly evening, the cool breeze a welcome break after the few hours of football he had just played in the blistering heat at the park.
Suddenly he heard the clattering of heavy footsteps behind him. Stopping quickly he turned to see several hooded young men sprinting towards him. They surrounded him in seconds, pushing him down an alleyway and forced him roughly against the wall. Billy flew back with a thud, his head bouncing off the solid brick wall. He felt large, strong hands grabbing him, pinning his own arms to his sides and forcing his shoulders and neck back. He tried to struggle but there were too many of them.
His heart was beating extremely fast as he looked up at the hidden faces of his attackers. There were four of them, all towering above him, their pale eyes gleaming from between the dark hoods that obscured their faces. They couldn’t have been much older than he was but all were huge, strong and powerful. Billy began to shake with fear as they leered at him, his heart beating so fast he was sure it would jump out of his chest.
“Where’s your phone blud,” one of the guys said in a deep voice which oozed confidence.
“I don’t have one,” Billy stammered, not looking at them directly.
Billy felt a sharp pain in his ribs as a fist made a sharp connection with his side.
“Are you dizzy blud,” said another voice. “What you think we didn’t see you rolling through the high street flashing that shiny new ting around. You think we dumb blud?”
Billy didn’t answer, but continued to look at the ground, his body suddenly drenched in ice cold fear. The phone had been a gift from his mother for his birthday. For a year he had been pestering her for a phone, begging her to get him one. She had worked hours and hours of overtime to save up the money for him and finally obliged by getting him the best one on the market.
“Look after it,” she had said to him as he hugged her tightly with happiness.
He couldn’t let them take it. He looked around trying to find a way to fight his way out but he never had been able to muster the courage. He looked up helplessly, praying with all his might for someone to come walking past and rescue him but nobody came. Moments passed and suddenly one of them became impatient. He grabbed Billy by the throat and leaned in his hot breath down his neck.
“Blud if you don’t give us your phone now we’ll shank you, you get me?” he said menacingly. Billy trembled as he felt something sharp dig into his stomach. He looked down and saw the flash of a long silver blade, illuminated by the street lights from above.
“OK, OK,” Billy said quickly. He felt the pressure release from around his throat and hands as the blade disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Billy, trembling heavily, reached into his jeans and pulled out the phone, holding it out in his shaking palms.
A second later it was gone as a gloved hand snatched it.
“Safe blud,” said a voice and Billy breathed deeply as they hurried off into the distance laughing and joking.
“Billy,” screamed his mother as he stumbled through the front door. He slumped to the ground as his mother, father and sister sprinted down the hallway towards him. “What happened my baby?” she yelled again, falling the ground beside him and cradling his head in her shoulders.
“Mugged,” Billy murmured, feeling humiliated. He heard a sharp intake of breath as his sister clasped her hands to her mouth.
“Get me the phone,” yelled his mother hysterically, sobbing loudly. “Call the police.”
“Mum calm down,” came a voice from the stairs. Billy looked up and saw someone walking down the stairs towards him. A pair of large feet, long, muscular legs, a ripped torso, a pair of penetrating eyes and a chiseled, handsome face. It was Billy’s younger brother, Michael.
“What happened,” Michael said in a calm voice. He strode down the stairs and crouched next to Billy.
“I got mugged,” Billy said quietly, avoiding his brother’s gaze.
“Where,” he asked.
“The alley between Twyford and Welbeck.”
Michael’s expression didn’t change, he just continued to look at Billy calmly, surveying him as though plainly for the first time. He stood up, placing his hands on his mother’s shoulders reassuringly.
“Don’t call the police,” he said. He jumped up the stairs taking two at a time and within a minute he was out of the front door, sprinting off into the night.
After half an hour Billy was sat on the sofa, his feet up and a strong cup of tea clasped in his hands which were still shaking. They heard the front door slam and Michael appeared at the doorway of the living room. He strode across the carpeted floor, and sat down next to Billy, dropping something into his lap. Billy looked down and almost spilled his cup of tea. It was his phone. He looked up at his brother whose face was again expressionless.
“How,” Billy asked weakly.
Michael said nothing but tapped him on the shoulder, stood up and turned to walk towards the kitchen. Billy sat there, feeling worse than he had only an hour earlier. Not only was he not able to keep his phone but he had, had to rely on his younger brother to get it for him. Ashamed, he let his tea on the small table and went to bed, staring at the ceiling, his heart heavy with humiliation.
“Mum, Dad, I’m home," Billy yelled happily as he stepped through the front door.
His father poked his head from the living room, his face shining with anticipation.
“My boy,” he said, striding towards him, embracing him. “How was your first year at university?”
“Good Pops,” Billy said excitedly.
“You’ve put on some weight,” he remarked as he stepped back and surveyed Billy up and down. Billy had indeed out on some size. His formerly skinny arms were now toned and his shoulders much wider than they had been.
“Yeah I started going to the gym,” Billy said proudly, tensing his biceps, and glancing quickly in the mirror. “Where is everyone,” he added, looking into the empty living room.
“Your Mum is at work and your sister is busy at the library,” he replied. “Michael is out in the garden with his friend Ibrahim.”
“Cool,” Billy said. He dropped his bags and hurried through the kitchen and out into the garden, stepping down the steps. It was a bright summer’s day, the sun shining through the trees onto the thick green grass. At the back of the garden were Michael and Ibrahim. They both had boxing gloves on and were both sparring.
Billy stepped out onto the grass and took a seat on the bench. He watched closely as Ibrahim threw a few fast jabs at Michael who dodged them all expertly and countered with a quick and speedy right hand which caught Ibrahim flush in the face. The longer they fought the more intense the fight became, as Ibrahim relied on his speed and Michael his ability to counter. Billy marvelled at the strength and skill his brother showed as he combined flurries of attacks with expert defence, rocking Ibrahim a few times. Ibrahim was just as skilled, his combination of speed and power evident as he managed to catch Michael with a few sharp shots to the body.
After twenty minutes they both stopped, touched gloves and embraced.
“Woah,” Billy said, standing up and clapping.
“What’s up bro,” Michael said as he strode towards Billy, sweat dripping down his forehead. They bumped fists and Michael stood back to survey his brother. “You look good.”
“You too bro,” Billy replied quickly, shaking hands with Ibrahim. “I didn’t realise you guys were so good,” he added.
“Yeah we spar quite a bit,” Ibrahim replied smiling. “I always get the better of your brother though, he said mischievously and he ducked as Michael aimed a heavy blow to his head, smiling.
“Aren’t you scared though,” Billy replied, as he surveyed them both closely. His eyes lingered around the heavy bruising around Michael’s left eye and the heavily cut lip.
“Of what,” Michael asked raising his eyebrows?
“Of getting hurt,” Billy said, gesturing at the injuries they had sustained?
Michael and Ibrahim smiled at each other. They touched gloves and Ibrahim hurried inside to say bye to their father and left to head home. Michael and Billy sat down on the bench, soaking in the sun. They didn’t speak, the silence slightly awkward. Even though they were brothers they didn’t have a lot in common. Billy was always hard working and did well in school but Michael, though highly intelligent himself was always much more street smart.
They sat for an hour before Michael broke the silence.
“It’s in our nature to fight,” he said wisely. “We’re survivors. Before all of this technology humans were forced to live in the harshest conditions. Rain, snow, sun, and wind we had no choice but to adapt, survive and fight. It’s coded in our DNA. With fighting we’re just unleashing what we already know.”
“I dunno,” Billy said after a while. “I definitely don’t have it in me. I can’t fight like you guys did just now. I don’t have the guts to.” His insides squirmed as he remembered the mugging in the alleyway which had happened several years before. He felt timid, like a child unsure of what to do.
Michael’s expression changed. Instead of remaining calm and collected as he usually did he looked irritated all of a sudden. He stood up quickly, walked over to the ground and picked up the gloves Ibrahim had left, forcing them into Billy’s hands.
“What do you want me to do with these,” Billy asked.
“Put them on,” Michael replied. “We’re going to go a few rounds.”
“Shut up,” Billy said smiling. He thought Michael was joking but he looked more serious than Billy had ever seen him.
“Get up,” Michael said, lacing up his own gloves, shaking out his muscular arms and moving to the centre of the garden. “Come on.”
“But,” Billy stammered but Michael stared at him.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll go easy on you. Let’s see what those muscles are all about.”
Billy hesitated, but then seeing Michael's face he stood up, pulled on the gloves and stepped in front of him.
“Guard up,” Michael said and Billy raised his hands awkwardly. “Three, two one…fight!”
Billy saw it coming but could do nothing to prevent it. Michael had hit him with a jab so fast he could do nothing to counter it. His eyes watered as tears streamed down his face. He turned away as his nose stung in pain.
“What the hell,” he shouted, turning to face Michael.
“Hands up,” he said sternly from between his own guard. Billy yelled in frustration and threw a huge hook at Michael who ducked underneath it and caught him with a soft shot to the stomach. Billy doubled over wheezing at the impact, dropping to his hands and knees. The soft grass brushed against his forearms as he struggled to gain breath.
“Get up,” Michael said angrily.
Billy roared and stood up, placing his hands in front of his and swung again but Michael danced away, dodging every single one of Billy’s wild swings. After a minute Billy was on the floor again, gasping deeply for air. Michael smiled as he fell to the ground alongside him.
“That was good,” Michael said.
“Are you kidding me,” Billy replied. “That was the most one sided beating I’ve ever seen.”
Michael laughed loudly.
“But you took your beating,” he said. “And you took your punches. But you kept getting up and you kept coming forward.”
“Your technique though,” Billy said, sitting up.
“You can teach technique,” Michael said. “But you can’t teach heart. You’ve got bags of heart.”
Michael tapped Billy on the shoulder, stood up and walked back into the house. Billy lay back on the grass and looked up into the sky. An orange tinge appeared above the trees as he lay there, the Sun setting down into the horizon, and slowly turning to a deep velvety black. As he lay there he thought about everything and one thing stood out to him. He’d finally connected with his brother.
Billy awoke with a start. He groaned as his body and muscles ached from the long day at work and the heavy sparring session at the gym afterwards. Checking his phone he saw it was two in the morning. Sighing he rolled out of bed, pulling a vest over his chiseled physique and walked downstairs to get himself a drink of water.
He walked through the living room and saw a light was on in the garden. He peered out of the door and saw Michael was sat on the bench, a furious expression on his face. In his younger days Billy would have feared that look but now he embraced it. He jumped down the steps and walked over to the bench.
“What’s up bro,” Billy asked.
“Can’t sleep,” he replied.
“Let’s go jam at the park for a bit,” Billy replied. “I’ll grab my hoodie.”
“Cool,” Michael replied and the headed off down the street.
The entrance to the park was flanked by a couple of young teenagers who were smoking in silence.
“Billy the boxer,” said one of the voices. “Wagwaan blud? When’s the next fight.”
“Couple of weeks,” Billy said, bumping fists with them both.
“Good luck cuz,” the other one replied. “What’s good Michael? We down studio later yeah? We’ve got to mix and master that final track before we release it.”
“For sure,” Michael replied. They nodded and walked through the gates into the park. The wind whistled through the trees as the moon shone down, illuminating the silvery grey slabs of concrete path ahead of them. Leaves crunched as they stepped through the grass towards the pavilion, chatting animatedly. There were a two people there that neither of them recognised.
“Check these man,” said one of them, pointing at the two brothers stopped in front of them. “Coming out of nowhere and thinking they can step to us. You’re on a mad ting cuz. Do you know who…?”
“Listen,” Billy said raising his hand interrupting them. “I haven’t got time for some Martin Luthor King speech about who you are, who you know and all that so do us all a favour yeah. Don’t crack jokes with your stupid looking friend. Don’t talk about how gangster you are, how hood you are, how real you are, how you’re gonna end our lives blah, blah. I haven’t got time for that. If we’re gonna do this, let’s do this, otherwise seriously don’t waste my time.”
Michael laughed loudly and the two men looked shocked. The light shone on their faces and they were shaking with anger.
“This man’s on a mad one,” said the man on the right. “Allow it, we’ll deal with them some other time.”
Michael smirked and watched as they left the park, disappearing into the darkness.
After a few moments Michael spoke.
“You’ve changed,” he said, looking at Billy.
“What do you mean,” Billy asked.
“You’re not scared anymore,” he remarked, nodding at the place where the two men had been sitting.
Billy shook his head.
The two brothers sat there in silence for hours afterwards though it wasn’t the same silence from their youth. It wasn’t awkward. There was a mutual understanding between them. Michael was right. Billy had changed. Gone were the days where he would stand fearful of another human being. Gone were the days were he would lie on the floor, afraid of what another man could do to him. His brother had taught him that, and for that he owed him everything.
A bell sounded and Billy jerked back to reality. He felt the stool being taken away from under him and he stood up suddenly, looking around at the cheering crowd who were screaming in anticipation at the final round. He looked between the ropes and saw his mother, father and sister smiling with pride.
Determined Billy hobbled to the centre of the ring towards the referee.
“This is the final round,” he said, his voice echoing in Billy’s ears. “This has been an amazing fight so far. You’ve shown true heart and determination. No matter what happens you’re both warriors. Billy, Michael, touch gloves and let’s finish strong.
For the first time that night Billy looked up and directly into the face of his opponent. There he was. Tall, chiseled, rangy and muscular. His brother Michael, his face battered and bruised from Billy’s punches, grinning from ear to ear with pride. He leaned forwards and Billy did too, embracing him.
“Thank you,” Billy whispered into his brother’s ear, a tear rolling down his cheek.