Posted by RuddersWriting
Frankie Watkins was good with his fists, so good in fact he might even have been a champion. But getting a title shot would have meant hard-work and fighting guys who were also good with their fists; that wouldn’t have suited Frankie at all. You see, Frankie was a coward, and a lazy one too. The thought of someone hitting him back terrified him even more than hard work.
Knowing that he had let his chance of stardom pass him by, Frankie took out his frustration on all the young lads that attended his gym, particularly the ones willing to put in the work … and take the knocks too.
He encouraged the bigger lads to bully and go in hard on the little ones. And when he didn’t have some younger version of himself to do his dirty work, Frankie insisted on giving extra ‘coaching’ to the weakest and smallest boys. Few left without a fair few bruises or a cut lip – “just a bit of character building,” as he told them, “and don’t be such little cry-babies,” he would often add, delighted when he saw some frightened kid was trying to hide the pain he was in or holding back a tear.
Eleven-year-old Ricardo was the latest addition to Frankie Watkins’ stable of stardom-dreaming young boxing hopefuls. Even at such an early age, Ricardo had a natural boxer’s physique and determination—and Frankie Watkins took an immediate dislike to him for it, seeing in the boy the potential champion he could never be.
Ricardo’s dad, Samuel, knew how much his son wanted to be a boxer when he grew up, ever since the wee lad had marvelled at seeing Muhammed Ali knock out Sonny Liston on the television. It wasn’t a sport Samuel had much interest in himself, but since the death of his wife, Amelia, during the last hurricane back in Haiti and then the move to the US, he was determined to do whatever he could to fulfil Ricardo’s dreams.
Samuel looked down and took hold of the ruby amulet he wore around his neck, the one Amelia had so treasured. It contained her soul, just as she had wanted. They had agreed that whichever one of them died first, the other would house their soul in the precious jewel in preparation for them to both take that last step to the afterlife. It was their wish to embrace Dambala together, their guiding spirit god or Ioa as it was called in the old language.
It had not been an easy ritual to perform, the transference of the soul from the body to an inanimate object, but Samuel and Amelia were both powerful voodooists, skilled practitioners of the old magic.
Samuel peered in through the small window, watching how Frankie Watkins ‘trained’ his young would-be boxers. He was no boxing enthusiast, but he’d attended just such a gym when he was a boy too, and as tough as they were, the coaching staff there would never have hit young boys as hard as Frankie did.
Like his own son, none of the lads complained, believing Frankie’s spiel about how he needed to be extra hard on them if they wanted to make ‘the big time’ someday. For many of the boys, they knew it was the only way they were likely to escape the poverty and squalor of the neighbourhood, and so they just accepted it as normal. But Samuel had noticed the changes in his son, his gradual lack of enthusiasm for the sport he loved, and then there were the bruises; he even suspected a possible hairline rib fracture judging by how the boy sometimes winced when he coughed or made a sudden movement.
This wasn’t training, Samuel thought, but plain and sadistic bullying masquerading as ‘coaching and character-building’, the very words he had prised out of his son.
He might not have possessed Frankie’s boxing skills or indeed, his son’s love of the sport, but since buying the gym following Frankie Watkins’ mysterious disappearance, everyone agreed Samuel was a much better coach and mentor.
A mischievous smile curled around his lips while answering young Eric Ruiz, the latest addition to the now Samuel’s stable of stardom-dreaming young boxing hopefuls …
“I know, everyone reacts like you do, but it’s just the leather and years of soaked in sweat that causes it to make that sound.”
“An … and the blood?” ten year-old-Eric hesitantly asked.
“That’s no mystery to that either. It’s just a trick of the light, and the red dye in the leather seeping out and getting mixed in with the sweat on your gloves and the perspiration in the air.”
Eric gave the punchbag another whack, and then another and another, chuckling at the gasp-like sounds the punchbag seemed to wheeze when he hit it.
That corner bag was a good one. It had a good feel to it when you gave it a solid whack. And the apparent squealing sound it made when you hit it made the lads laugh, imagining they had winded and blooded some imaginary opponent. Yes, the lads loved whacking that bag for all they were worth. They weren’t to know that Frankie Watkins felt every punch they landed, and as they got bigger and stronger, Frankie felt the blows even more. Had those that had previously suffered at the ends of Frankie’s fists known, no doubt they would have given it a few kicks too.
Samuel figured with regular re-stitching, the lads’ favourite punchbag would last another ten or twenty years before someone punched the last painful squeal and drop of blood out of Frankie Watkins’ trapped soul.
It had not been an easy ritual to perform, particularly transferring a soul into the battered old punchbag. Samuel doubted he could have completed it successfully anywhere else in the US other than the Creole quarter of Louisiana’s New Orleans. But Louisiana voodoo was almost as powerful as back in Haiti and West Africa.
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