I can feel my whole bodyweight on my 10-ounce gloves, the blood… the blood feels cold, little cherry-red drops mixed with sweat authenticate on the wrist wraps. I find my bearings and barely grab a hold of my fallen mouth piece.
“Get up… get your ass up, champ!” I turn and, as if time had slowed down, make out the blurring figures of my uncle and coach yelling and slamming their arms on the canvas.
The crowd, thousands of them, their chants and screams no longer audible in my ringing eardrum – I could barely feel my legs. The fingers in my gloves tighten into a fist and I assume a fighting pose almost instinctively. Like a wounded bull, I take a few drunken steps closer towards my defeat…
Six years earlier –
“Hey, Sarah! Look at the way my fingers stick, haha!” Sarah was my first love, a Jewish girl with aristocratic grace and beauty. We were fourteen-years old, without symbols or labels, just simple love with correspondence in our little beating hearts. “Oh my God! It’s so sweet, what is it?” Sarah asked after licking my finger tasting the honey and syrup mixture residue from a local Moroccan sweet.
“It’s called ‘Shebakiya’, uncle Mohammad makes the best ones in his bodega store!” I enthused Sarah about the sweets, clearly making out the glare in her hazel eyes.
Grabbing a hold of her hand, I pulled her running down the street into the farmer’s market while negotiating a crowd of shoppers at late afternoon hours. We snuck under makeshift beds of tables and a mess of broken boxes until we were a few feet away from my uncle’s shop. I had Sarah stay behind while I waited for an opportunity to strike at once. There were no customers left and my uncle along with my cousins were gone for prayer, “this was the chance!” I thought out loud. I got so excited that I accidentally knocked over a bucket and spilled water over newborn kittens resulting in a threatening hiss from the mama cat. I jumped out of the way only to make more noise and have some heads turn towards my direction.
I snagged a precious sweet delight of Moroccan Shebakiya laden decoratively on the marble top for display. I then grabbed a hold of Sarah with my other hand, pulling her out of cover and legging it out of the market! We ran towards the ocean, the adrenaline rush in our bloodstream rendered us tireless with endless stamina. The turquoise pallets of the Atlantic became more visible with the national road eavesdropping on its ebb, dipping into the heavens beyond – as far as the eye can see.
“Do you like it?” I asked impatiently as she took the first bite.
“It’s so good! Oh, it’s just… just sweet!” She exclaimed as small pieces of sesame hung out the side of her lips. “But, Bader! You didn’t have to steal it, I had money!”
“Well, I didn’t have any… and, you’re worth it, consider it a gift from me to you…” I responded shamefully with my eyes trained on a wave until it broke against the rocks below us. Then I looked back at Sarah “wait you have this… seed or crumb on your lip.” I carefully moved my little finger on her lips and pushed the sesame off.
“Well, I really had fun with you today, but promise me you’ll never steal again!” Her expression went from happy to serious in a matter of seconds.
“Okay, I promise – I won’t…” I assured her. “But, before you move back home… I wanted to write you a poem to take with you. So, you can remember me.”
“What’s a poem?” She replied with her usual glare of beauty that marked the forever imprint in my mind.
“The sweetness in this syrup dew / is only but a residue, / not the glare in your basking eyes, / below mile-long stare into fields, / have all emptied into our tiny hearts. / To make us one, / even when we are to be, / many lands and seas away.” I wrote on the back of a morning newspaper in the philosophy section. “Here, keep it so you can remember me…”
She took it, read it and quickly kissed me on the cheek before running off as the sun set upon the Atlantic – I felt the cool air dry her lip stain where she kissed me. I can still feel her mark to this day and when I think of her I’m absent of all the bullshit, young adult charades and the purulent of my spiraling early midlife crisis I call: “life”.