He sits in the hallway in one of those uncomfortable plastic chairs. The kind made for schools and prisons. He looks left, he looks right, watching the people walking past him. He’s just part of the scenery. A dead tree. A crumbling wall. A pane of broken glass.
He looks at his invitation one more time before tucking it in the pocket of his robe. They spelled his name wrong. He wraps his hands again and unwraps them again. Not for luck. Luck is something for people who still have a hope. It’s just a habit. Like breathing. Maybe today he’ll make it a few rounds. Maybe he’ll go down in the first. He leans back in the chair and pulls his robe tight around him. He’s tired. He’s retired. He could use a nap. Or a coma.
He can’t remember the feeling of winning, but it happened. Once. His first fight. He’s never been much good with the hook, but that day in Vincennes he took Halimi down with one punch. But not before the old champ got him in the jaw. It hurt, it shook him good, but he stayed on his feet. Of course Halimi was as good as retired by then, half-blind, but no matter. Those were the days. He was making a name for himself. L’incassable. Unbreakable. They said his jaw was made of stone. A rock wall, they called it. But even then, the cracks were spidering out into him. He didn’t even know.
He shivers. The robe’s so threadbare he can feel the cold seep of the arena. They ran out of dressing rooms so he’s stuck out here in the hall. The place smells like popcorn and piss. He looks left, he looks right. None of the other fighters are here yet. He came early to settle his nerves, but they rattle around inside him like a gutful of busted glass.
He wraps his hands and unwraps them again. Luck. Unluck.
Luck got him all the way to the States for a title match. They made him believe he really had a shot, but one shot was all it took to finally break his jaw. And when it healed up something stayed broke. And he stayed on, broke and broken in Brooklyn.
And here he is now, in a ugly plastic chair, like the kind in waiting rooms and hospitals. Morgues. He looks left, he looks right. There are so many losses behind him, but only one more ahead.
The first few hurt, because he tried. The next ten or so were pillowed with bills. After that, he lost count. Sometimes he tried, sometimes he took the fall, sometimes he didn’t know which he was, on or off. He’d flutter between punches like a film reel. Jab. On. Hook. Off.
He leaves the wrapping alone and pulls the gloves on. He looks left. He looks right. The hall curves at either end, encircling the arena. No end he can see. He doesn’t know the line-up, but he’ll be the first fight. He always is. He doesn’t even know who he’ll be losing to.
It’s that one win that hurts. It never changes. Lodged in him like a bit of wood. A shard of glass. There it is, all alone, weaving and dancing, just out of reach. It would be easier to be zero. Then at least there’d be a way out: œuf. A circle, a porthole, a drain he could slide down and out. An escape.
But instead it’s 1-99 or 1-999, an infinity of loss running headlong into that brick wall. One. Un. Unluck. Luck.
Pretty soon, they’ll trickle in. The other guys. People he used to know. He’d call them by name. Maybe they’d trade some war stories. Remember when you beat that guy? Remember that hit you took? He’d laugh with them. They’d know his name. Unbreakable. They’d say it without laughing. They’d put him back together, one piece at a time.