My pa always said you know when you become a man. That you feel it in your blood, like life goes quiet for a minute, or two. For me, it was the day I got my ear drum bust. I was behind the bike sheds, watching as Davie’s head came up, blood dripping from his left nostril. The day was hot and we were both breathing hard into the warm air. Droplets of his blood landed in the dust at our feet, red turning quickly to rust.
I swung with my right again and it connected, I felt the sickening, exhilarating thud of knuckles against flesh. But he came at me again as though it was nothing, feinting a left and following with a right hook. This time I wasn’t so lucky. I was too slow for him. The blow hit me on the side of my left ear like a train. I heard thunder, clapping across my head like a ruthless wave, cleaving it in two. It sat me down hard on the dirt, amongst the debris of cigarette butts and old newsletters. I shook my head to clear it, like an old elephant trying to shake the flies off. Davie towered over me, a smirk stretching his features, ballooning his cheeks like the cartoon characters in the books we both loved. His hand was outstretched, but I hesitated for a second before I took it. There was that familiar light in his eyes, the exhilarated, wicked glint that always comes with the fight, before for the initiated, after for the amateurs. He waited, and suddenly I realised that the sound of the birds above was strangely muffled, as though someone had turned the sound down, casually twiddled with the volume dial for the world. The squawks of the older kids out on the field came as though from miles away. I closed my eyes for a moment, listening. Then I grinned and grasped his hand, landing lightly on my feet once more. We took our stances again, and the surrounding circle of boys shuffled closer.
Later that day we ate our sandwiches together, side by side, as always. I watched Davie out of the corner of my eye, his pale skin dappled by the sunlight poking curious fingers through the trees. I knew that it would never be the same after this. We were fighters now.