by Bryan Murphy
Two fists smash into Ali’s vision.
One fist hits him between the eyes. It knocks him down but sobers him up. His opponent waits for him to get to his feet, then rushes in at him. This time, Ali’s head and vision are clear. He steps aside. As the other man flails past, Ali lands a sharp right on his ear. The other man falls to his knees. Ali moves in, then halts when he sees the blade in his opponent’s hand.
Ali speaks. “That wasn’t part of what we agreed.”
The other man starts to laugh. Louder than the laughter, Ali hears his father berating him: If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. Before the other man stops laughing, Ali kicks him in the head. That was not in the pact, either. Ali kicks the other side of his head. The knife falls from the man’s hand. Ali kicks him in the abdomen and, as his head comes down, knees him in the face. The fight is over. Ali turns his back on his prone opponent, picks up the knife, flicks it shut and buries it in his pocket.
As he strides away down the lane, Ali begins to feel woozy again. He breathes hard and deep in the cold city air in an effort to clear his head. Hassan’s words come back to him. Brother, if you want to drink: drink. If you want to fight: fight. If you want to become a cabbage: mix the two.
Ali feels that things are escalating. The time is coming when he will have to choose. The imam has said that drinking is evil, fighting can be a duty. He was talking about fighting far away from here, in our own lands. The kind of fighting in which mistakes or bad luck can turn you into a corpse, not a cabbage.
The weight of decision sits heavily on Ali’s young shoulders as he turns into the High Street. He pays no heed to a group of three shaven-headed men standing quietly by a shop front, smoking ordinary cigarettes, which they throw away as they start to follow him.
Bryan Murphy is an English translator who lives, works and writes in Turin, Italy.