By the end of round one, Cleveland was straddling Por Pramuk drilling his mitts into the man’s skull. For Cleveland, it felt syrupy. The bell had already rung. The musicians stopped playing. The crowd yelled in horror. The referees pried Cleveland off Por Pramuk and called the fight. Por Pramuk lay, bloodied and still, on middle of the ring. It’d happened so fast. Cleveland looked to the crowd and saw Cecilia The Ladyboy’s makeup sliding off her sweating face. The stadium smelled like metallic blood and rancid cooking oil and spilled Chang Beer. He looked to the second level seats, but didn’t see Anong. He was grabbed and handled. He felt swollen and heavy. It was a deep, oceanic sensation, like he was being dragged. He let go. There was rabid yelling. Shoving. Shouting. Pointing hands. You! You! You! Afflicted and soured. He watched. You! You! You! No longer Oh-ya-yo! He didn’t understand how, but the referees helped him move through the mob to the back of the stadium and into the locker room. “Stay-stay here, yes,” one of them said. It wasn’t a question. The referee slammed the door shut.
Cleveland scanned the room. His gym bag was in the corner and the white walls began to shrink. Lockers rusty red. The room smelled of damp towels and rubbing alcohol. He heard frantic voices on the other side of the door in the hallway. Fast-talking Thai voices trying to push in. There was a knock.
“Oh-ya-yo,” a voice said, and then Anong entered, unrelenting, a gust of potency and might. “You-you,” she said, “you, murderer.” She slammed the door shut again.
“Why are you here, with those men?” Cleveland said. He felt the sweaty hair follicles on his torso and around his navel and genitals burning, burning, burning.
“No. You no talk now. You murderer now. You must go.”
“Por Pramuk. You hit him too much-much in the face. He die.”
“He can’t be dead.” Hetore the tape that held his boxing mitts and used his mouth to pull off each glove. He felt Anong’s stare settling on him. “It was just a fight.”
“You just like other foreigner man. I know. I see now.”
“I see now.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes-yes. You too strong. You push too hard. You not even care. That worst part. You no love me. Life. Nothing.”
“Anong, I didn’t mean to hurt him.” Slowly Cleveland recounted the fight…maybe it was true. Could he have killed a man?
“Now, you lie me. I see you look me upstairs.”
“Yeah, I saw you with that man.”
“I tell you don’t jealous me. You can’t love when you jealous too much.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“Now you lie me again.”
“You know what’s in my bag? I have a ring for you. For you to marry me. You see, I’m not like the others.”
“Marry? You think I marry you now? You lie me twice and you kill Por Pramuk. He family outside waiting you and you think about marry me. You jealous too much.”
Distance settled between them in the shrinking room. He undressed. She watched him, arms crossed and stern. He covered himself with a towel and the robe he’d brought from the hotel.
“Nothing, see?” she said.
“Nothing can start over. I tell you.”
The door was kicked open then. Cleveland saw four Thai men, each carrying something that could whip or beat or strike. The men pushed Anong to the side.
“Hey,” Cleveland said. He thought to stand to strike, but he was struck first in the jaw by one of the men who threw a beer bottle at him. His mind floated then, like he was drunk. It was another type of numbness. He let go.
The men grabbed and punched Cleveland. He fell. One of the men poured a liquid on Cleveland’s face, maybe turpentine or some sort of vanish solution, that slid down his throat and he gagged. Three men kicked his sides. Another held him down harder and meaner like Cleveland was a wild hog. The man yelled, “Oh-ya-yo, I kill you now,” and then he dug his knuckles into Cleveland’s sternum.
Cleveland felt like the man was trying to rip his heart out. He squirmed enough that he loosened himself from the man’s hold and turning on his side then, with breath heaving and reeking of turpentine, he saw the loose, silky sarong that draped Anong’s lower half and wondered if she would leave him now. Let it all go. For good. Wet leather whipped him in the kidney, and he rolled on his back to shield that pain. It was almost done, he thought, and then a woman jumped atop his body. She was bony, not plump. Frail almost. He watched her squeeze his neck. The color of her skin was darker than Anong’s, which was like a milky latte. Adorned by gold on her fingers and wrists, the woman was not a killer, Cleveland thought. She must be an angry wife and mother, a sister even.
It stopped as it had started. Another fast-speaking Thai voice emerged through the door, a man’s voice, and said something and then the room sighed and breathed again. Cleveland heard the thud of the men’s weapons drop to the floor. The woman tip-toed around Cleveland as if it hadn’t happened. He watched feet leave the room.
“What,” Cleveland said. “What is it?” It was silent then. “Is he dead,” he said, “Oh, God…Is he really dead?”
He didn’t hear Anong approach, but he saw her above him; he felt like she floated there.
“It miracle he not dead,” she said. “You lucky.”
He exhaled. “See, I told you.” He wanted to reach for her, but didn’t. He couldn’t. “Everything’s fine. Let’s go get your money. Just help me to an ATM. We can sleep in and go tomorrow—”
“No, no.” She waved her finger at him. “Nothing same now. Your money is no good. You no good. I know man like you, I tell you. I only there with the men to helping Kanda. I wasn’t going to have naughty with them. I liked you, but…” She walked away from him.
“Wait, where are you going?”
She retrieved his gym bag and sat it by his side. “You take your ring and leave now. Okay-la?” She lowered her face to his and kissed him, this time on the forehead, as if it was a final, last action. A final goodbye, perhaps. Cleveland wasn’t sure about anything. Maybe he never had been. She closed the door shut and left the stadium.
Cleveland took his time getting up. He hobbled and stumbled. There was an eerie silence that was still and staged, as if someone were taking his picture. He ran the shower, but could hardly stand still under the frigid water. He put on swim trunks and a white tank-top. He laced and tied his running shoes. It was well past midnight. Leaving the gym bag with the ring there in the tiny-laced sack, he walked out of the locker room and passed the boxing ring and exited through the lobby and out of the Patong stadium. He continued walking with the same steady pace through the parking lot and headed west, toward Bangla road. He didn’t stop. Through the side streets he marched like he knew where he was. He followed his senses: satays flaming on the make-shift street grills, vendors squeezing colorful tropical fruits until they were suffocated rinds and peels, passing tuk-tuks thumping and bouncing base and blasting hip-hop music from speakers the drivers could hardly afford.
When he finally reached Bangla road, the neon lights reminded him of cotton candy. Bangla road was live and bare and gyrating and wiggling. He stopped at one of the long, open-air main street bars with the high ceilings, stripper poles on every table, and strippers pranced on every surface, sometimes hugging, kissing each other. Men groveled and begged for the women like they were starving. All the flesh didn’t faze Cleveland. Music pounding so hard. He sat at a bar and ordered sang som.
“You funny man,” the waitress said.
“Yes,” Cleveland said. “Very funny.”
“What happen you? You fight?”
“I got beat up.”
“Oh,” she said, and poured him another whiskey. “This one free. You okay?”
“I deserved it.”
To his right, five or six barstools down, a dancer—likely on her break, Cleveland thought—ate fried grasshoppers from a small, plastic baggy. He motioned for her, and she came immediately.
“Yes?” she said.
“Can I have one?”
She looked back toward her seat at the bar. “You want grasshopper?”
“Yes,” Cleveland said. “I want grasshopper.”
“Oh, yes-yes,” she said and smiled. She retrieved the bag and stood even closer to Cleveland, pushing her crotch to his side.
“You want this?”
Cleveland nodded yes.
She took one grasshopper and sucked on it so half of it protruded from her mouth.
“I can take it?” Cleveland said.
She nodded yes and moved her face toward his.
Their lips touched, hers wetter than his, and Cleveland steadied himself there, sucking either the head or the abdomen of the insect, he wasn’t sure which. She let go first, and while still chewing her half of the bug, she kissed Cleveland again on his lips.
“You can have everything you want,” she said.
“I can have those,” he said, gesturing toward the bag.
“Yes. Okay-la, no problem. You take me too?”
He thought about Anong. “No, doll,” he said. He’d never said doll in that way before. “Not tonight.”
He stood. Sweat beads cooled his skin. The sang som diluted the turpentine that still lingered in his throat. He realized he had no money on him, so he promised the waitress he’d return the next day to pay for the whiskey.
“Okay,” she said. “No problem. You go rest-rest, yes?”
He thanked the dancer, the one he called doll, for sharing her grasshoppers. She tried to reach for him, but he retreated.
“Oh,” she said. “What problem? You no want me? Let’s make naughty funny-funny.”
“I’m already too funny.” He smiled at her. She looks like Anong, he thought. Maybe she was Anong. “Next time,” he said, reaching out to touch her glimmering skin. Then he turned and walked to the middle of Bangla road with the plastic baggy of fried grasshoppers in his hand.
The rest of that night he ran through the streets and side-streets and along the beach pathways and back alleyways of Phuket. He stopped and walked when he needed. He sat too, when his body ached. The beach breeze of the night air felt good. That’s what he loved most about Thailand: the breeze in the night time. It reminded him that a new day was near. He came to the end of one street and looked out at the sea before him. Far out, high-beamed lights stretched across the horizon. He walked to the beach and collapsed on the cool sand. He looked again out to the lights. They were the safety and night lights of tankers and rigs that drilled the bottom of the sea floor to suck out black oil. Am I the rig or the oil, Cleveland thought. He wasn’t sure he cared, really, or if it mattered. Either way, it was a miracle, wasn’t it, how he always survived? You can’t lose. Remember, he thought.
He surrendered like that until daybreak when the morning sky looked like God had vomited all of the most vibrant colors in the world right there for him and then he swam in the tepid ocean water that felt like velvet on his flesh and the smell of the water reminded him of pickle juice.