The first time I arrived at the club I could think of nothing but my brother.
Bare walls covered with dirty blue tiles, foldable wooden chairs, a net on top of what used to be a pool. Five men inside.
Not a place you find in the newspapers; a place to which your friend brings you along. A place where you know that whoever is running the show must have a lot of friends and certainly the right friends – because if they don’t the place would long be shut down.
When you have crossed the parking lot the first thing the two large men ask for is your name. They don’t ask for you ID, but they ask for your name and if your name is not on the list then you won’t get in. The list says whether you’ve been there before; the list says whether someone trusted you enough to bring you along the first time. The list also has the name of the friend that brought you along and if you mess up then that friend will have a problem.
It’s all about trust. Do you trust your friend enough not to squeam? Not to run? Not to take photos when he shouldn’t?
Dylan would have loved the place. Dylan, the one that had his first run-in with the police when he was 12. Dylan, who my mother still cried about every night. Dylan, who ran away when he was 16. Not from our parents. Our parents were far too lax to make him run away. The police that came twenty minutes after he climbed out the kitchen window.
The place smelled like I imagined Dylan would smell and the people looked the way that I would expect him to look. Not the ones on the wooden chairs, of course. The ones on the wooden chairs looked just like me, often in suits or at least in shirts, all with wingtips or Oxford shoes and most sitting with their legs confidently spread but their arms struggling to find their place.
Nearly just men on those seats. If you want to bring a woman you’ll get a punch. If she screams or complains then you’ll get crossed off the list. If she nods you have a chance to stay. If she laughs you both can go inside. Not many women then, not because women can’t enjoy a good show, but rather because few would risk their spot to bring some chick inside. It’s mostly young ones, sitting next to young men or sometimes older men, eager to impress.
Would you take a hit to give your girl a good show?
Even the waiters are all male; for the crowd as disappointing as the warm drinks. But you don’t come for the drinks.
But those people, they were not Dylan. By character – sure. Not by looks.
The others looked like Dylan, the ones below the net. The ones between the blue walls of what used to be a pool and is now just a hole in the ground.
You pay extra for the close seats. If the action moves to a corner the back rows have to stand and likely still won’t see a thing.
The first time that Jake brought me along there were only three in the pool and only three rows of seats.
Last week there were five inside the pool and six rows and still people standing behind the chairs. The room is not as cold as before; it is heavy, warm, alive and smells of sweat.
You’ve probably seen man against man. You’ve seen it on TV, or one of those boxing matches that are more dance than fight, or maybe you saw an MMA contest where they don’t use gloves and where there are more than just fists, but rather also elbows and feet and knees and shoulders and worse.
But they still have many rules. No teeth; don’t gauge the eyes; stop when they are on the floor.
Here it’s the other way around. No rules except one.
You’ve never seen how sharp and strong teeth are until you’ve seen a man rip a piece of flesh out of another man’s neck. Then the third man jumps on top and gauges his eyes out.
You’ve also not seen human strength until you’ve seen the way a dying man fights. He knows they both turned on him. He knows he’s bleeding. He knows he’s blind. And yet he screams and pulls one man to the ground and jumps on top of him and rains his fists on the man’s throats. And the third man, the one with the blood around his mouth, just stands five feet away and waits.
He knows he’s winning.
He just waits to know which one he has to finish off.
I think, that first time that I came, the third man did an act of mercy.
One blind, the other with fists hitting his throat. The blind guy would have won.
If there’s not too much damage or blood yet, the throat can heal.
The third jumped on the blind one and pulled him down. And even as the blind one grasped for his eyes and neck and kicked for his balls, the third one got the blind one on the floor. One food slammed on the chest.
You don’t hear bones crack like that. Never like that. If you know, after twenty minutes of battle, “that’s it,” that’s the real crack. A bunch of ribs shattered at once and the foot pulls away and the second foot kicks first against the head and then stomps on the neck.
There were two men wriggling on the floor like rats with amputated legs and a third one that took his leg off the neck and lets it hover for a moment in the air, until he’s sure that the other is dying.
Then he, too, falls on the floor and watches as the blind one fades into the darkness and the other guy, the one that the blind one was choking, is still holding his throat and you wonder whether he will ever speak again.
That is why we come.
That is why we pay and drink warm drinks.
Not fiction. Not TV. Plain life.
Some leave at that point already, but I always liked to stay. Even from that first day, when Jake said we should get going so we wouldn’t need to see the mess, I sat there for another hour and watched as the chocked guy was slowly trying to regain his breath and noticed that he couldn’t even scream. And I watched as the winner sat on the floor, scuffled to the short end of what used to be a pool and cried until the guards pulled him out.
There is only one rule: You get out when you’re one less.
I heard there used to be just two fighters but I’m not sure if that’s true. It’s certainly more interesting with more fighters – there is strategy and cruelty to a degree you can’t imagine.
There is tension at first. No one makes a move. Then one is attacked, the first one, and you know right away that he will be the one that goes down. He will be the one that all jump on top of and when the victim is so clear they will rarely even attack each other. They often make it especally painful though, because they know that they need to do well. Do well and you can go back to wherevery you’re locked up and you can stay out of trouble. If you’re timid and shy or if you don’t bother to do a thing they will send you right back next week. And if you’re that timid you also know that you’ll be the next one that gets jumped.
Jake told me several stories where they get the guys. Some have debt and that’s how they have to pay back. Some have sinned and that’s how they are punished. And some are just picked off the street.
Homeless are great.
Homeless don’t skip rent payments. They are not expected to reappear at the same spot every day. They don’t have close friends or family that would bother to call the police.
For those fights, the men you need are those that won’t be missed.
Those that are lost.
Those that fell on hard times.
Those that don’t have family anymore.
Those that ran away from home when they were still just kids.
Kids like Dylan.
Last week there were five. Two I had seen before; two that had survived before.
I sat next to Jake. We drank warm gin.
The speech – more to the people in the pool, than to those around the pool. They have to know what they are in. They have to know that it’s about their lives – they don’t fight properly if they think they will get away.
“And we got too much suffocation,” said the speaker. “So today you can’t do that.”
He was so tall and skinny that I didn’t even recognize his body.
“Wanna make a bet?” said Jake.
“Two hundred on the the tall one. He’ll go down.”
The speaker stepped to the side.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “He’s tall.”
They released the ropes.
The men pulled the masks from their heads.
They stood there and stared at each other and I stared at the tall and skinny man.
Dylan was the first that moved. He just took a step back. He turned to look up.
Not even a second later one of the former champions was running towards him.
A fist towards the face; a body-check brought him to the ground.
The others ran towards them.
The champion had his foot on Dylan’s throat, but one of the guards poked him away.
“No suffocation,” said the speaker.
The champion didn’t hesitate. He kicked straight in the side, then towards the head, again and again.
Someone kicked him from the other side.
The last one was just watching the scene with a big grin on his lips.
People in the chairs got up and chanted.
They chanted for him to die.
I watched as they punched him until the tiles were all red and his body just a piece of meat.
I can’t say a word. They know who I am. They know who I came with.
Jake would have to run too. And if he runs than the one that brought him also has to run.
It’s the chain of trust and if you break it someone else will pay.
I hadn’t seen Dylan for more than ten years. And in less than ten minutes he was gone again.
I hadn’t seen him for more than ten years and yet, now, I miss him more than ever before.
I wonder if he saw me.
I wonder if he heard me shout his name.
I wonder if that’s why he moved so early on.