Chapter 1. One Day, I'll Be the Winner
My head slams sideways from the punch and I spit. I bend and put my gloved hands on my knees, heaving deep breaths while saliva drops to the floor. Dizziness makes everything swim around me, including little stars.
″Miranda. Miranda, are you all right?″
The coach, Michel, places a gentle hand on my back. It’s as though he considers me made of fragile material. It should comfort me, I know, but the thought of requiring extra care sends anger cascading over me.
I try to smile, but my lips twitch into a grimace of irritation. I hate being vulnerable, and most of all being seen as someone who needs protection. It doesn’t sit well with me. I exhale a definitive sigh, hold up my hand and nod.
″Y-yeah…″ I manage to say.
Boxing is hard and requires intense self-discipline, but I’m willing to put in the efforts to reach my dream: becoming a world-renown boxing champion. I remember watching boxing matches on the TV with my grandfather; we’d make popcorn and drink sodas and stare at the screen. We’d shout with pride every time our favorite boxer hit the other and groaning when the other challenger had the upper hand. My eyes would widen and I’d imagine myself as one of them, right there on the ring, and people would chant my name and cheer me on. And I’d punch just the right way and win. In other words, I was in awe, and my desire to become a boxing champion grew with each match until it became my sole focus and dream. My grandfather passed away right before I started boxing, which is thanks to my grandmother. She helped pay my boxing classes when she was still alive three years ago, and now my mother is working two jobs so I can continue. Along with my own desire, this support and love drive me.
I’m also lucky there’s a Sports-études program at my high school école Édouard-Montpetit. It was a relief to learn they allow boxing as a choice of sport. This had me worried for weeks before I got the answer I wanted to hear. That’s how I came to this boxing club four years ago, and started training with Michel every week day all afternoon. Thanks to the years I spent training with him one-on-one at Club de boxe de l’est, he is aware of my temper. Though quick to light up in a blazing fire, he knows my kindness knows few bounds. The kindness queen is without a doubt my mother, but I’ve been raised well by her and her only.
This is getting too emotional. I must counterattack. ″Take the emotions to fuel your fight but keep a cool head. Strategize!″ my coach would always say to me.
I straighten up and turn to him, my features set in a serious expression.
″I’m ready again.″
With a sudden conniving smile, I start to bounce on my feet and try to perceive an opening.
I’m getting better, but he beats me every time.
* * *
I cluck my tongue as I push away locks of dirty blond hair. I wipe the sweat off my forehead with my palm, thinking about my boxing. Training has been harsh, like always, but I feel spent in a satisfied way. I open the locker room’s door and take a step back, apologizing to the exiting woman. With a heavy sigh, I enter the room and find my locker. Something catches my eye as soon as I open it, intent on finally getting home. This certain something is a Batman comic book, looking at me sideways—it features Batman gripping the Joker by the collar. It’s a collected edition of Batman: Europa and I’m proud of owning it; it’s my refuge, I love the art by Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latorre and Gerard Parel—it is gripping and raw. As for the writing by Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello, it’s poignant, ominous and involving. What do you want more than Batman and Joker going around Europe, trying to stop a deadly virus with which they’ve been infected while working together? Sounds crazy, I know. But it’s highly entertaining and… It somehow feels personal, I keep going back to this story.
I may have rushed to training, but I didn’t think my comic had tumbled out. Yet, it makes me smile, excitement in my chest. I’ve always loved comics, mostly of the superhero kind, as well as movies and tv shows about them. My favorite has to be Batman: he’s damn clever and helps Gotham with nothing else than his righteous sense of justice and gadgets. No superpowers. At all. And that, my dear, is greatness in a nutshell.
The door to the locker swings open behind me and strong, assured steps resound on the tiles. Gloria lets her gym bag slide from her dark shoulders into her hands, then she leans so hard onto the locker next to mine it vibrates. She’s grinning, her arms crossed over her generous breasts. Her golden loop earrings dangle in the air, and her small afro rules the empty room.
I smile at the other teenager and catch her nodding to my comic book.
“No new reads, Miranda?”
Her thick accent is charming, almost singsong-like. Gloria always strikes up a conversation with me when our schedules cross (every Friday) and I let her. I would enjoy having another friend, but from her clingy behaviour, I suspect she wants more… Not that I mind her, but I prefer boys (for what it’s worth, anyways; they always leave at some point or another). Though I don’t bring myself to tell her in case she stops talking to me altogether…
My eyes flick to my Batman comic, then back at her round face with chiseled features. She looks grand and strong; she’s been training for longer than I have though, and I’ve deduced she’s more intense on the gym aspect overall, too. Her defined arm and leg muscles sure do point in that direction. Excitement bubbles up in me as my thoughts turn back to the comic; I love when someone asks me about my comics and reading habits, and I just remembered my new read.
“Actually, yes! I found it at the BAnQ, but I left it at home,” I reply.
“What’s it about?” she asks, squinting with interest.
Nothing else is needed to have me going!
It’s a shame I’m not a lesbian—things would be simpler.
“Real Life Superheroes by Nadia Fezzani,” I explain. “It’s about real people who act as costumed superheroes in our streets. Like Phoenix Jones in Vancouver! Isn’t fantastic and just incredible?”
Gloria’s eyebrow shoots up as she smirks. She shakes her head slowly.
“You and your superheroes…” she says.
“But they’re great!” I exclaim.
Gloria lets out a soft chuckle and pushes herself off the locker. She smiles at me and tightens her grip on her bag.
“So, I need to get ready. Don’t forget to call me, Miranda!”
I offer her a shy smile and wave her good-bye. I’d love to call her and have coffee, but I’m afraid it’ll just get awkward. I sigh and look at my clothes piled up in my dull blue locker as Glora leaves for her own.
After taking out everything I need for a shower, I carefully put my comic back into the bag. I walk over to the showers and put my clothes and shoes on the wooden bench, all the while daydreaming about superheroes. Wouldn’t it be awesome to roam the streets, costumed, ready to bring justice? To use gadgets, fight against villains and right wrongs in the world… Be a superhero. I’d be so down for this! Laughing softly at this thought, I massage my shampooed hair. Yeah, that’s a stretch, but it’s a fun one to imagine. I’d love to make a change in someone’s life. Saving them or helping them through a bad time would be mission achieved, and my gift to the world.
I can only dream about being one of them. It must be so thrilling, but extremely dangerous and complicated… There’s no real guide about how to be a superhero, and even then, I’m not sure I’d jump into this vigilante life. At least not without a good reason. I turn my thoughts to boxing and how I could twist being a superhero into it. What if when I become a boxing champion girls will look up to me, understanding they can succeed too? That if they work hard, dream with enough force, and grow as a person and on a professional basis, they can achieve everything they want. Yeah, that’d be perfect. I tilt my head, push forward a few locks of my hair and duck my head under the water, rinsing my hair. As shampoo runs down my shoulders and chest, I make a promise to myself.
″One day,″ I think longingly. ″One day I’ll be a hero, too.″