He finds the ritual again. He sits on the bench underneath the obelisk near the trees. He observes the lights as they stutter on up and down the scrapers sprouting from the fringes of Central Park like weeds. He waits for the last light on the top floor of the tallest building he can see to tell him it’s time. Tonight the seaweed doesn’t sit right in his belly. The taste was too much like home.
There’s the light. It’s time. He stands. He follows the ritual.
He descends the stairs of the subway, two at a time. He pays his fare, takes the turnstile. He descends more stairs, two at a time. He walks to the end of the platform and waits. He taps his toe in time with the squeaking of mice under the tracks. Two teenagers kiss on the opposite side.
He checks the clock on the screen over the tracks. Still plenty of time. He wonders where he is on the ticket. There was a time, he’d be the main event. But at his age. And he hasn’t fought in years. Not in the spotlight.
He bounces on his toes. He cracks his knuckles. He lifts his hands, lowers them, lifts them again. He wiggles his eyebrows. He swings a fist. Everything creaks. His body is a haunted house. He checks the clock again. Still time.
A crumpled sheet of paper blows across the tile, sticking under his shoe. He picks it up, smoothing it out between his hands. Holding it up to the black mouth of the tunnel so he can read. Tonight. There’s a list of fighters. He takes his reading glasses out of his pocket. He knows many of the names. Names he’s overcome, names who have overcome him. Waves lapping over the same shore.
He still remembers his first fight. Each one after was payback. A strong wind blowing down an empty corridor. A series of rituals leading him tighter and tighter to here. He checks the clock, there’s still a little time.
He looks back at the page. There near the bottom, in the fine print, the undercard fights. He finds his own name.
A pinhole of light opens up over his name, lifting him off the page.
He crumples up the paper again. But the light is in his fist now. He lets the paper go, but it spreads across his belly. The ritual is coming out of him.
The teenagers on the other side don’t notice. They are conducting their own ritual. Exploring the secrets inside their mouths. He wonders where this ritual will lead them. How many years they will follow its path, round and round. Tracing the centre of their personal labyrinths.
He shouts across the tracks. There is nothing at the centre. All rituals are hollow. But they can’t hear him over the shriek of metal. The thunder in his belly. The light blooms over him, as he steps out, floating for a moment in all that light. Every angle, every contour of him seen. Known. All his time flares up. His routine breaks into a thousand tiny points of light.