He thought about breaking his no-sex-before-a-fight rule. He pulled her toward him and wanted to say, don’t leave me. They kissed again, and she told him again to have a good fight and began to back away. He blew her a kiss, and then, as he was closing the door, she said, “Wait.”
“You want me next month like this month?”
He looked at her, envisioning himself saying a million other things, but settled on: “That would be nice. Same, yes, next month.” Their arrangement was 15,000 THB per month. He sponsored Anong, which meant he paid for her time so that she only “worked” for him.
“Maybe,” she said then, “you can pay me early? I need send money home, Songran is coming soon-soon.”
“Sure,” he said. “How’s tonight, after the fight?”
She smiled yes. “Message me when you want me, okay-la?”
For now, he kept the engagement ring in a tiny laced sack that wasn’t big enough to hold two nickels stuffed in his gym bag. At one-and-a-half carats, he’d bought it from a Nigerian man named Bobo who owned a jewelry shop at Jungceylon, the newest mall by the Patong beach area, and said he had the best real diamonds in all of South East Asia.
Cleveland had a few more hours before he had to leave for Patong Stadium. Flipping channels again, he found the next Seagal movie: Above the Law. It was near the end. There was a fight scene and Seagal killed all the enemies with swanky martial arts moves and clever make-shift weaponry.
He fell asleep and found himself in a rowboat paddling through a thick, cream colored sea. It parted like gravy, and he didn’t want to touch the surface or think what might be beneath it. Restless, he looked behind him: nothing. Above him: an endless pastel blue sky soared. Finally, in front of him: another boat. He paddled faster. He thought it was Anong. Her face wasn’t clear, but it was her body. Her legs. Shoulders. Petite, perky tits. Sweet, dimpled navel. Faster now, he paddled, thrusting, thrusting, thrusting. He was so close he could touch her. She shrieked. He realized she had been paddling too, but away from him, and he woke coughing. It was hot and his throat was dry. He’d forgotten to switch on the air conditioner. Sweating, he untied his robe at the waist and thought about how the day felt long and tedious and how the plain room smelled like last night’s sex. He got up and went to the mirror…
Remember, Cleveland, you’re the Miracle Baby. The miracle baby boy. You don’t remember every detail and how could you? At eighteen weeks, you were born. You weighed less than a can of beans. You were a fighter then, but you didn’t know it. No one expected you to live. You had tubes in every orifice and mucus and blood too. You didn’t have a chance, and then you did. You weren’t a Preemie, you were a Miracle. You are a miracle. You’re a survivor. A fighter. You can’t lose. Remember…
There weren’t many fans in the Patong Stadium when he arrived at seven o’clock; the youth fights drew only a few locals. Cleveland had at least an hour until the amateur fights, and then another couple of hours until the money fights. He was always scheduled for ten, but it was usually more like eleven or eleven thirty when he entered the ring, and by then the stadium was full.
He ordered the same pre-fight meal as usual: Pad Thai, two spring rolls, and roasted chicken. He ate in the back of the stadium, by the entrance to the locker rooms. He liked that back area of the stadium. Black and white photographs of fighters and the crowd and the scenes of a fight night lined the wall. Maybe that was his real wish: to be seen in a black and white still shot. Everyone wants to be seen and remembered like that.
The night he’d asked Anong out on a second date it was past midnight and he met her outside Suzy Wong’s off Bangla road where she’d just finished dancing. Bangla road was neon and excitement and yelling and stumbling and slurring and touching and, since their first date, he had made it a point to meet her at the end of her shift.
Why you come here, to me, every night? she said.
I want to make sure you get to your ride safely, with all of these crazies out here.
She looked around her and paused, then looked at Cleveland and said, You know what you want?
They walked together hand-in-hand. Anong was short, much shorter and smaller than Cleveland, but he had difficulty keeping up with her pace. He wanted to ask her if she knew what she wanted, but he said, I just want to take you out for dinner.
Yes-yes, dinner okay, but I know the man.
Anong’s smile was warm and honest and pleading, too. How could she do all of that with just her lips, Cleveland wondered? She had shy, lean eyes. She had a birthmark the shape of a tiny head of broccoli on the inside of her right elbow. He figured she was in her early twenties, and did that mean she was too young to fall for him? Why couldn’t the now thirty-something Miracle Baby find love in a young Thai girl? Anything was possible. Men, with varying intentions, hovered over her, Cleveland knew. He felt beads of sweat on his chest and back wetting his shirt even though the heat wasn’t stifling that night. I’d like to see you again.
You break law?she said.
What you run from then?
Not running, just sort of starting over.
It doesn’t start over.
Cleveland didn’t understand what she meant, but understood the resolution in her response. They were cutting through backstreets and alleyways.
Your family, she said. They know you here? For start over.
America’s a little different.
I know. I know the American man, he different. She stopped walking. They were at a street corner and a man in a taxi was waiting for her. I go now.
I can see you again?
For you, okay. Dinner okay. You know my price-la, yeah? For the night?
He nodded yes. Her price was 1,000 baht for two hours; 3,000 baht for the night. That was easy for the Miracle Baby.
Why I like you, Anong said to Cleveland on their third date when they watched an Adam Sandler blockbuster flick at the Jungceylon mall cinema, is because you honest. I see you can’t lie. Most foreign man they lie. You never lie me.
She was direct and simple. Life should be simple. He simply told her after the movie that he wanted to be with her and only her. She said, okay-la, just don’t be jealous me. If you jealous too much, you can’t love.
After finishing his meal, Cleveland wandered through the stadium. He watched the women sparring and shadowboxing and preparing for their fights. The crowd began to stream in, and then he saw Anong enter with a line of other Thai women, all clad in hot pink bikini tops and loosely flowing sarong dresses wrapped at the waist. His body reeled. The women were escorted to the second level seating. A bell sounded and the first two women fighters took their positions in the ring. Cleveland continued ambling around the stadium floor, casually alternating his attention to the ring and then toward Anong.
The music began: the sarama, the traditional Muay Thai music.Men’s hands patted and slapped hand drums and tickled the bamboo hand-made flutes and strummedsomewild version of a guitar. The women bowed and offered thanks and praise to the gods. It looked more like a dance or a yoga routine. All controlled, there was kneeling and bowing and lunging.
“Oh-ya-yo,” a voice behind Cleveland said. “You win tonight?”
He turned. It was Cecilia The Ladyboy whom Cleveland had known since he began competing in the money fights, some three years ago. The son of a famous and aging Thai Senator, Cecilia had studied in America, spoke like an American, and had lots of money. He was a regular at the Patong Stadium and a degenerate gambler. A he-she, a transsexual. Make-up and eyeliner thick and moist like silt, C-cup breasts, high heels, deep voice, and a penis taped somewhere against his groin.
“Yeah,” Cleveland said, “I’ll win.”
“You should have another name. Tiger or Lion.”
“Por Pramuk is good.”
“Baby, he’s no match for you.”
Cleveland nodded and then Cecilia leaned into him. “You can do much better than that,” Cecilia said, nodding toward the second level where Anong sat.
There had been many girls since Cleveland had been in Asia. He had paid for some of them, but none, he was convinced, was like Anong. Sure, she was beautiful and sexy, but there were a million girls like that, especially in Thailand. He paid for Anong. She grabbed his balls, but yanked his heart. Cleveland felt alive. Finally, obsessed with something other than himself, the Miracle Boy. Wasn’t that love?
Cleveland wanted to say fuck off, already, ladyboy, but the start bell sounded. They turned to the ring to watch. There was commotion and chatter in the stands, fan banter and side-betting. Cleveland looked again at Anong. She offered a soft, distant smile, and then turned to play with her phone. The rest of the girls around her were the same: bored and unamused with the scene, simply waiting for the rest of the night. Inside, Cleveland was a storm.
Cleveland and Cecilia watched the fight until a group of foreign men entered through the lobby. Cleveland didn’t know them, but he knew them: western businessmen. They’d probably just come from work where they made some multi-national exchange that loaded their pockets. The men were escorted to the second level and found seats next to and around Anong and her group of girls. The men and women shuffled seats. There were handshakes, hugs, kisses, and touches. Cleveland watched Anong greet and hug each man and then settle with one who looked like all the rest. Swirling storm of envy and bitterness, winds of want and hatred and lust and greed. And rage.
Cleveland paid Anong for her…loyalty. Standing there by the ring, watching, he felt every second. Inside the ring, one girl flung the other to the floor and they squirmed until their bodies intertwined and then one recoiled and they stood again and circled each other until one found room to kick or punch or grab. Cecilia growled and snickered at it all, while Cleveland turned into himself.
After the women fought, he returned to the locker room. He took a cold shower and washed and dried himself meticulously. He applied lotion and oil and Tiger Balm and Vaseline. He soaked his mouthpiece. He wore his maroon fighting trunks and his red, white, and blue robe. His mitts were tighter than normal and his hands began to feel numb when he didn’t move, jab, swing, or bob them.
A Thai man entered and said, “Oh-ya-yo, go-time soon-soon.”
At the front entrance of the locker room where Cleveland had eaten earlier, the music still sang in the background. In the stands, he saw Anong and the girls and the western businessmen were seated as couples now: interwoven hands, hips, thighs, and sides moving as one, even though they sat in stiff stadium seats. It was all part of the sleaze. Rich Thai business and governmental men invited western entrepreneurs and corporations to showcase potential imported goods and discuss deals that would make both sides richer. The local hosts would arrange for after-work activities, which in Phuket meant girls and booze and at least one night of the popular boxing. Cleveland didn’t see them every night he fought, but he saw them often enough. He imagined their conversations were stale and abrasive. Anong played along. How far would the night go? Cleveland didn’t want to think about that. It was just sex. Wasn’t it? Only sex? Sex, sex, sex. She was a ring girl. She was a model. A dancer. Anything she was paid to be. A girl friend? A wife? She sat next to one of the men. Her right leg straddled his left. If Cleveland looked real close, he could see her crotch slightly open through the sarong. It was night and everything was open. He felt sick so he bounce-stepped and shuffled his feet as if to warm-up. He swung his arms back and forth and punched his face with each hand until he felt nothing except the tightness of his mitts.
A crowd had gathered and continued to stream in. Cleveland noticed a few of the men where Anong sat, pointing to him. Who’s that? Cleveland imagined them saying. Oh, that’s Oh-ya-yo. He foreigner who fight good-good, a girl would respond. He was a spectacle to them all, and then he was in the ring.
The musicians played and the crowd cheered and yelled, but he couldn’t hear them. Sound waved through his mind like it was a placid, calm lake. Time slowed, space widened: he imagined the western man in some stale hotel room mounting Anong like a beast and the other girls are there too, and Cecilia The Ladyboy, all watching and the Miracle Baby breaks down the door, throws the man against the wall, and stomps on his crotch and head until Anong, sweet Anong, tells him no more and rushes to his arms.
Por Pramuk was in front of him. Cleveland moved, circling him, waiting, watching until the time was just right. The Tiger Balm he lathered on his face numbed his nose and lips and stung his nostrils. He could see the sweat on Por Pramuk’s brow and watched him spit and then grind his teeth on his mouthpiece. Cleveland breathed and drew deeper into himself. I am, he thought, a ravage…a ravaging ring rebel…
Por Pramuk struck Cleveland first—it was a shin-kick—and the crowd cooed. Ants, Cleveland thought, and he didn’t care if they cooed, cried, or called out. They’d all drown. All of them, Cleveland thought, except for Anong. Por Pramuk jabbed a punch at Cleveland’s torso, but Cleveland blocked Por Pramuk’s fist, leaned in quick and fast, threw his right elbow to Por Pramuk’s chin and then wailed a left jab to his temple. Oh-ya-yo…