It was the middle of summer, a twenty five degree night, and the air was thick and sweet. I was walking home from the local cinema and I cut through a carpark. Rain must have drifted through the area while the movie was on. It wasn’t any cooler but the smell was there, like the tarmac was sweating.
There was music coming from the bar on the far side of the carpark, just across the road. A few people were mingling outside and wafts of cigarette smoke were giving themselves to the sky. There was no wind to carry them away and they dissipated lazily. Over the snatches of laughter, a sound cut across to me as I was nearing the bar. I could feel the aggression, the rage in the sound. It put my back up. The door jerked open halfway, then was kicked wide, and a man was thrust out onto the sidewalk. He was a ropey guy with pale white skin and the way he landed on his shoulder said he was drunk. He stood up, the back of his blue singlet damp from the sidewalk, his shoulder oozing through a deep graze.
I ought to have walked on. Instead I stared. I think it’s a reaction in me to the way I was brought up to love pacifism, to think that violence was archaic. Deep down I’m sure it’s not. This wiry drunk was beautiful. The blood from his shoulder had joined a few drops of rain on his arm and paraded messily down to his fist, which was clenched now that he had steadied himself. He straightened his back and drew his shoulder blades together. The bouncer who had ejected him, a fat, bearded biker in a black jacket, watched this recovery carefully. He stood with his arms by his sides, filling the doorway. He would have looked relaxed but for his unblinking eyes, trained on the sinewy man.
The man growled something at the bouncer. The bouncer raised a hand, palm outwards like a traffic officer stopping a car, and replied in a level tone. The man dropped his shoulders slightly, then raised his left hand across himself to inspect the messy pink patch that took up most of his right shoulder. He made as though to shrug the wound off, then turned and made his way down the sidewalk away from the bar.
Once, when I was fourteen, I went into a moshpit. The crowd formed an enormous open space in the audience in anticipation. I was close enough to see their faces as they waited for the crescendo of the song, marking the moment they would leap in. There was one kid across the circle, couldn’t have been more than a couple of years older than me, whose face read like the music as it played. Everyone could feel the drums and some could feel the bass, but this boy could have been a part of the band, feeling it along with them when the crescendo would be reached. As the crescendo neared, the ring-goers were frenzied. Just before it peaked, that boy leapt into the air, right into the empty ring like a bullseye with a face, and as his feet hit the ground, the song kicked like a mule. No one else in that ring was ready for that peak like he was. It looked to me like the song peaked to him, not the other way round. Seconds later he had been immersed in flailing, sweaty limbs and I never saw him again, but just like he read that song, I can read a man with a fight lying under his skin. And that man, the one with blood oozing from his shoulder, making as though he was done, was the first man I ever read a fight in.
The bouncer had only just turned to walk back into the club when the man turned on his heel, took four gliding leaps back towards the bar and launched himself at the bouncer’s back, carrying him in a thunderous arc through the propped open glass door. Scrambling, the man forced a window of air between him and the bouncer beneath him and began emptying his knuckles into the bouncer’s face like greased pistons. The pain must have brought the bouncer to his senses because he suddenly swatted the man from on top of him with one ham of an arm.
The bouncer rolled onto his front and was bringing his knees up underneath him when the man kicked him in the face. The bouncer seemed to feel the shock down to his feet, lurching up onto bent knees and then backwards. For a moment, it looked as if the bouncer might topple back through the empty doorframe. The fighter thought so too and backed off. The bouncer shook his head and brought one leg up so that he was kneeling. The fighter watched him, flung on adrenaline, dancing on the spot. He waited, making no move to finish it. Then the bouncer was up. He shook his bloody head. Retraining his eyes on the man, the bouncer began shifting his weight from foot to foot. The man stepped lightly around him, just out of reach. The fighter ducked in to land a jab. The bouncer anticipated it. He caught the fighter’s outstretched fist in his massive left palm and, holding the arm at full extension, brought up the heel of his right hand into the man’s elbow and broke his arm with a wet snap.
Years later, I can still remember everything about that fight: the police that seemed to cloud it with imperfect justice, the bystanders who only appear as a grey fog around the dancers, the sound of the wet smacks made by the man’s fists on the bouncer’s face, the smell of steaming tarmac and tobacco, falling in love. Something that simple is easy to love: uncomplicated, violence has its own rewards in pain and damage, in victory.