Matt swam a few laps the next morning with Justin to show him a few swimming techniques. There was never a danger that Justin would drown but he had never competed, so continuous swimming was foreign to him. He was a fast learner but still had problems with syncing his breathing and his stroke. Instead of blowing out through his nose while his face was still underwater, he kept waiting till his face was out. Then, he’d get water up his nose and start to panic. Matt swam beside him to watch and help.
Justin just stopped, all of a sudden, and floated on his back in the middle of the pool. “I’m so frustrated,” he cried. He refused to budge.
Matt couldn’t get through to him and began to get frustrated, too.
Luc swam by and saw the two. “Matt, quit trying to be a hero,” he said in French.
“You’re not doing this to help Justin,” he continued in the language the two shared. “You’re doing this so that Andersen and Smith won’t yell at you for being a bad Squad Leader.”
“No, you go improve your butterfly stroke; it needs a lot of work.” He turned from Matt towards Justin and just floated beside him.
Matt heard the two talking quietly so he left.
After breakfast, Andersen called them to the gymnasium and had them standing in one of the white circles on the mats, their towels wrapped around their waists. “We’re going to start with basic wrestling moves, then work up to hand-to-hand combat. Pair up. Take your towels off and try to push each other out of the ring.”
Matt and Luc were paired up as Andersen had them ordered by bunks. “So what was that all about this morning with Justin?” Matt asked.
“Oh, he was in need of a break. His whole life and outlook have changed.”
“For all six of us,” said Matt.
“He said in some ways he’s profoundly relieved but in others he’s just as deeply disappointed.”
“Well, that’s rather cryptic.”
“Matt and Luc,” interrupted Andersen. “I didn’t ask you to stand and gossip. Get to wrestling.”
Matt undid his towel and threw it in one swift motion. His bright orange, wrestling singlet fit him tightly but stretched like his skin. He didn’t feel very modest wearing it. It was more like a pair of undershorts with a bib and straps. He ignored it, reached for Luc’s towel and pulled on it.
Luc stepped back with one foot and slid his other behind Matt’s left foot. He pushed the same direction his opponent was pulling and down he went.
Matt rolled over and looked up at Luc. “You wrestled in school?” he asked, rubbing the side of his face.
“Vovinam,” he said. “Vietnamese martial arts. My uncle was there in the war.”
“My older brother, James, is in Iraq.” Matt got up, leaned forward and charged Luc who was fast. Matt really wasn’t sure why, but he found himself on the ground again. He was still in the ring, so he charged again and again.
Picking himself up, yet again, he readied himself, breathing hard.
“Stop Matt,” said Luc. “I’m not even tired. Look, I’m using your energy against you. What am I doing? Taking a step, pushing you. Taking another step and pushing you again. And what are you doing? Picking yourself up, running that far, flying through the air, falling, picking yourself up again. Look at all the running you’re doing. No wonder you’re tired.” Luc stood next to Matt then put his hands on Matt’s chest and shoved him out of the circle. Matt lay there in a Matt-shaped smear of sweat.
“You fight like a Celt, Matt,” said Andersen. “Lots of energy and passion. But the better organized Romans beat them horribly. Fight smarter.”
He sat up and stayed there, his feet apart, his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands.
His thoughts were interrupted by Joel and Owain. “I got you, you Aussie!” “Not today Cowboy!” Matt looked over and saw both boys grappling.
Their backs, arms, and legs were covered in red hand prints. Joel had mat burns on his face and it looked like Owain had scratches up his left side. Their competition really was a sight to see.
Matt stood and walked over. Both his hips and both his shoulders hurt. Luc had thrown him six ways from Sunday. He picked up his towel, wiped at his face then threw it over his shoulder. He was joined by the three others to watch the big show.
Nehto looked over at Matt and said, “I’ve never wrestled before, but Justin seems pretty good.”
“Thanks, Nehto, I wrestled in school for a while but gave it up. Speaking of which, Matt. Don’t give up your day job! You must be the worst wrestler here.”
“I got you now!” “Nooooooo!” Suddenly both wrestlers fell outside the ring still grappling each other. ”Puthi al’chuth!” They both swore in the camp language.
“Alright, alright. You’re done.” Andersen threw both their towels. “We need to start a lesson on the history of the Destroying Angels. But first...” There was a flash, and all of Matt’s pain vanished. He reached up to his face and the floor rash on his cheek was gone, too. Five more flashes and, “Now get a shower and dress up for class.”