A boxer is running through the city. He heads down a street with tall buildings on either side, darts between parked cars, runs diagonally across a junction, down a bike path, crosses a bridge and follows the curve of the tram tracks. Anyone passing would think he was in training. But he’s running faster than usual. His breathing is out of control. His eyes are wide.
His boxing boots fly silently over the pavement. Fragments of sentences echo around his head, accompanied by the ringing of a bell. Disconnected words thud against his eardrums, buzzing sounds, distorted, far away. Then suddenly they become clear.
He lands a punch.
Stop that!
He lands another punch. Again he hears a bell, sharper and louder than before. Stop, someone screams. He feels a hand on his shoulder, fends it off with a jab of his elbow. He throws a left hook, hits the man square in the face and turns back to his opponent.
Stop that! he hears again. He lands another punch, and another, and another.
He crosses a busy main road and runs into a park. He comes to a patch of grass with a bronze statue in the centre, a woman holding a child in the air as though she wants to entrust it to the clouds.
The boxer slows, panting, and looks at the statue. He sits down on a bench. The bushes and trees stand motionless between him and the street with the tramlines. Dark grey clouds slide past behind the trees. There are no birds, not even pigeons.
He feels fine drops of rain on his face. The leaves on the trees move gently in the breeze. A man in a denim jacket is standing on the other side of the park, beneath the awning of the cigar shop on the corner. He’s looking in the boxer’s direction. Another man comes out of the shop, lights a cigarette, and says something to the man in the denim jacket, who replies without taking his eyes off the boxer. The smoke dissolves in the air. The boxer looks down at his legs and at the wood of the bench, as it slowly darkens in the rain.
He hears footsteps. For a moment, he seems resigned to his fate. He waits for a deep voice to say something, to speak his name, to pin him to the bench. When it comes, the tone isn’t what he expected: Hey, you’re Danny Clare, aren’t you?
The man walks over and stands in front of him, turns up the collar of his denim jacket. The other man stops behind his friend, off to one side. With no expression on his face, the boxer looks at the two men.
You are him though, aren’t you? The boxer?
Danny gets up.
We saw you, says the man in the denim jacket. He tugs at his collar again, trying to shield his neck from the rain.
Against that big blond guy, it was. The Hungarian.
The other man corrects him: Bulgarian.
Danny doesn’t react. He just clasps his hands.
Good fight, that was.
The cigarette falls to the wet gravel and the man crushes it with his foot. The two men smile at the boxer. The man in the denim jacket says something else, but his voice fades away and Danny looks down at the cigarette butt, which is still smouldering, and then at his feet. Now he can hear words from his conversation with Pavel, at the boxing school. And there’s that click in his head again, when it all fell into place, and the click that came afterwards when everything around him imploded and went black.
I don’t know what you’re talking about, he says.