© 2021 Harmir
A variety of people, friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike, have encircled the boxer. Winter is in its full swing and the cold is so severe that no one’s hands can be found out in the open; they are either kept in the pockets or encased in the refuge of gloves. The dusk is creeping in and the sky is turning into the color of violet of the harvest’s last apricot. And now, engulfed between one- and two-storied bleak buildings, the mob is oblivious of the italicized and delicate slogans imprinted on the gates—drawings and patterns doubly intended to stir feelings and be swallowed at the table of comprehension. The high-pitched breathing rules supreme here and there in the snow-covered enclosure; the wind has gone missing, along with the rustle that cannot be expected of the sporadic trees divested of their foliage.
The boxer is of middle height, slightly slim to the extent that his muscles are well pronounced yet are not bigger than average. The shoulders are relatively narrow, with the blades seeming somewhat out of proportion to the body. The ragged stomach is flanked by the sides that expose the outline of ribs. While inhaling and exhaling, he hovers half-fisted hands in front of his face, periodically protruding the left arm to make out the opponent’s nerve. This is Will, a man who is always self-assured: not that his tally of elite bouts is long enough; nor has he ever given a chance to be overpowered on that score.
“I’m a boxer, and who on earth shall I be afraid of; maybe just another boxer?” Will was thinking. But he was in pink jeans, whose fabric was raffling at the calves whenever the white sneakers that raised his height by a few inches would shift back and forth while keeping the spacing between the feet steady. This is probably the stretch, leaning on which imparts Will with sturdiness and fuses with underneath concrete through concreted tenacity. “Not a big deal,” thinks Will, “if he tries to hit first, the punch will not necessarily collide with me in its full weight, nor will it surely land on the most painful or otherwise unpleasant place to make me pass out. What is better: take the punch on the side or in the face? In the former, I will hopefully not fall into distress thus losing my ever-present will to counter. If his fist meets squarely with my face, I will not feel pain and will not see the flow of blood from my nose or brow. After all, blood cannot obstruct my breathing.”
Will’s eyes were blinking amid his movements becoming circular along and within the edge of the surrounding human wall. Here facing off were two characters with open arms which are so frozen that upon impact will either shatter like ice or, given they touch down at the proper spot against all the odds of cold and numbness, are likely to brace up all the hidden potential and crush the target in an indomitable rocket-like thrust that disregards own faith.
There are two characters and one enemy…
The spectators suddenly started to chant, “Soul, don’t drag your feet.” There was always him in front of Will: tall as he was, about four inches towering over the opponent, with broad shoulders that would not allow the hand to cover the face whenever the punch arrived. The wedge-like body was steeply narrowing down to the hips in a flesh coated with dreadful muscles. He was trudging heavily in the improvised ring; this was clear. And even though the people assumed in the beginning that Soul had to be the initiator of the first strike, thus far he was just placing himself point-blank before Will, making certain of attendees to think of that maneuver as just mimicking the opponent – contrary to him and against him. The fists were red and scarlet; the unbruised knuckles, however, unmasked the fact that unlike Will’s, his strength was not put that frequently into action.
“The fists are probably thirsty for blood, otherwise they wouldn’t turn red,” thinks Soul. He had short hair, and his gaze could be found in that of Will’s only. The mob was gradually constricting the circle. These two are going to bump into each other; one needs only to see who will hit first. The one who strikes first has always greater chances, but maybe that wasn’t the case here, as none of them was in much hurry. “Wait, but he’s yielding space: I wonder whether he has come up with some unexpected counter, or just fails to comprehend that now I can floor him,” instant thought cut across Will’s swinging head covered with cold-lacquered hair that radiated black waves in stark disagreement with white of the underneath snow. By now Soul was no longer chasing Will – standing in the middle he had his right hand blocking the chin with its left counterpart in relatively lower posture. Likewise, Will stopped in place, blinked his eyes a few times, and approached Soul with a stance of an orthodox fighter who had a devastating southpaw punch in his bosom, marking his step-by-step stride toward the objective with a combination of diving and raising. Poised for counterthrust, what Soul needed was just raising his left hand and putting forward the shoulder….
“I shouldn’t allow him to stand tall: even if he is the first to hit, I will still have my window of a strike, and mine will put a full stop to all this affair. I cannot afford to lose my chance; so, catch me if you can, giant,” was thinking Will while he reached Soul in an abrupt spurt. Soul, heedless to the exposed flank, leveraged his height, leaned on the left foot, bent a little, and rearraying the fists amidst hissing air, put the entire weight unto a single center of gravity, and stretching as he could, skidded both toes symmetrically toward the right, rammed his left fist into Will’s right, crushing and beating it off all the way to the cheek….
Yesterday’s accident came before Will’s eyes, when, while jogging in the rainy and wet streets he noticed how the traffic light switched and how the cars—piled up in three lines—readied themselves for the forward rush. At that moment he made up his mind to take his chances and cross the street in a rapid-fire race: nothing but surge ahead!
The car at the head of the first lane yielded without much hesitation and stayed put, whilst the second one was approaching slowly when Will came close to the vehicle on the third lane. This was a black sedan mantled in the polish of perfidy that absorbed the drops of rain as a spit of condemnation from aloft. It spared no effort to reach the crossing first before Will would reach the spot. Tearing along voracious and headstrong, it would soon take Will with him. None was ready to back off, but Will knew that in the course of the collision he would damage some tiny part of the car only, whereas the latter would not have left much of him. The contest was for a single life, even though another intoxicated life was part of the drama. Every rising and lowering of Will’s feet conflated with the screech of wheels and background noise in an unmistakably moribund rumble. He decided not to look left; and even if on the balance unable to reach the sidewalk across, let him stay in the dark about what and how happened; at any rate – nothing but surge forward!
Will’s was a hairbreadth escape; this was such a bizarre thing that contrary to nature’s laws, the unbridled horse unwittingly stopped its dash on the very first yard of the sidewalk. It was dark, and the heart was refusing to stop pounding, while he was still not coming to his senses, even though the nightmare was probably over….
Everything comes about offhandedly in stressful moments, and now, as a boxer, Will had managed to accommodate Soul’s hefty blow on his face, and in bold defiance of the opponent’s rightful turn for exploitation, was resolved to press into the queue his own out-of-turn blow. Whilst Soul, almost cuddling Will, was trying to push him left or right, the latter bent to the opponent’s stomach, and with elbow just slightly ajar, enchanted the exposed ribs with his signature right.
Abrupt and agile movements came to a halt. Soul will fall before long; his knees can no longer endure pain. But shouldn’t the fighter be impervious to pain? Thus, he cannot afford to display signs of sunken spirits in front of all those in attendance.
Once again Will looked into the opponent’s eyes, and positive that now they were in search of something other than in connection with today, right after the punch instantly withdrew from his combat stance of both hands blocking the jaw. He held Soul from underneath his arms. “It is over buddy; I battered you, you battered me, see how purple my face is. Ease your fist,” said Will, and, positioning himself at Soul’s side, put the latter’s arm over his shoulder, grabbed by the wrist, propping up Soul’s spine by the other hand, and thus they left the arena enclosed by the mob.
“What happened fellas? Weren’t we expecting something completely different? This is a fake fight,” the strangers were grunting unaddressed, while they could not challenge the opening of the passageway for the two fighters yet a single enemy….
The day was declining, and its end was dissimilar to others. Snow has painted the whole ground white, never to be stained by black. The nearby buildings and items are not visible – they have literally vanished. It turns out the people have drawn a circle of black, yet the circle is devoid of perpetuity for two white beings have already crossed over and transcended it.
Within the circle, they could be discerned and materialized, but when the dark sky fails to blacken the whiteness of ground, Will and Soul are lost here.
“The land is plane with no distinguishing features; there are no to-and-fro routes either,” would say any being who by chance appeared here. Otherwise, the whole space is a single route from the vantage point, and for the sake of a beholder. Will’s and Soul’s fate will no longer be of interest to anyone; they recognized one another as WILL and SOUL as the result of clash and by way of it.
The number of black-clad people is decreasing; they hurry home one by one – it is cold for them out here. But are there still homes left indeed? Isn’t it true that Will and Soul will be walking for good, yet reach nowhere? From now on, the whole planet is their home, whereas others are bereft of such luxury….
Years thereafter, this place retained its original appearance with but one addition. The unfinished fight that had lasted a few minutes had spurred such interest and discussion that the townhall’s official artist was even using a ladder to reproduce the modest yet towering boxer in a garb worthy of the stature of sport. His head was lowered with eyes elevated a little, and this time the gloves were at the guard of the fists. One of them slightly stretched forward, the other close to the jaw: one was Will, the other was Soul.
“There is no victory….to this day no one has been able either to win in life or vanquish life and if there have been cases to the contrary, we do not know of them. What is crucial though, is how do you perceive yourself and live on in the fight.” The artist was dipping the brush in the container of blue paint held by the other hand while leaning down and talking. Meanwhile, the child seated by the wall was listening with intent with a gaze focused on the old yet newly portrayed fighter at her back.
Harmir is the sobriquet of Harutyun Arirkhanyan, an Armenian young writer born in August 2002. Being well into inception since the beginning of adolescence, his literary faculty was largely inspired by the Second Nagorno Karabakh War unleashed in September 2020. In the wake of the war, Harmir published his first book Varvogh Barakhagher (Burning Play of Words) in Armenian in November of the same year. With the short story Will and Soule Harmir is venturing into the realm of prose, trying to uncover gravitational powers that tend to bring contradictory essences together.
Translated from Armenian by Zhirayr Amirkhanyan
Good reading indeed, very vividly rendering the physical and inner fights people experience quite often yet are not usually well aware off.
No emotion is spared: joy and terror, tragedy and hope, all wrapped up in prose that is so beautiful it hurts. Thank you Harmir, one of my favourite reads.