Charlie's Story


by Charlie Marais

Against the ropes and eager to get out, I drew back my right arm to get some sort of distance before the upper-cut.  With all the strength I could muster I accelerated my right fist.  This was going to create a gap to escape.  I remember clearly how surprised I was when my arm came to a sudden stop.  It was hooked behind the rope.  Kimber was having a good time.  With only my left hand to cover, he now had a field day in landing the punches.  My next move was the left and to my utter horror, it got stuck behind the ropes as well. 

 I was now taking punches at a mean rate and Kimber knew I was in serious trouble.  As it was infighting the distance was limited and the body blows were not too bad, however, he was slowly eating away at my reserves.  I saw the uppercut coming, or rather; I sensed it and moved my head hard to the left.  As the top of my body twisted quite a distance, my right arm nearly got free. I realized this and I consciously had to concentrate on getting the right arm out, then the left. Both were free, but my reserves were depleted.

 No, it was not like it is in the movies, although it was as if the fight slowed down and every move and manoeuvre could be seen, anticipated and experienced, everything was over in a second or two.  Twisting my body very hard to the left, away from his right hand, I managed to escape the ropes.

 Kimber saw that my strength was nearly depleted, and so he stormed in.  With my hands in a perfect position to cover face and body, I retreated in a circular pattern so as not to be caught against the ropes again.  He came in hard.  I produced a right uppercut, which slowed him down a bit, but the energy behind my blow was by no means a show stopper, but the bell was.  I know exactly what it means to be saved by the bell.

 That was only round one and two more remained.  I was super fit, but so was he.  I was quick, but so was he.  We weighed the same, but he had a few centimetres in height, so I had to fight coming in low.  Round two belonged to me.  I boxed in a classic way. I gave him no opportunity to corner me and on the contrary, had him against the ropes a few times.  I recovered in that round, but the main damage was still very real.  Scared?  No way, not during a fight.

 Before a fight you all but crapped yourself.  You are willingly and knowingly walking into a fight where the opponent has a reputation of ruining his opponent's life.  My stomach was turning and the toilet was visited triple the normal amount, as my bladder wanted to be emptied all the time.  Yes, I was very nervous and aware of it.

 Once in the ring the distractions of the referee and other activities help a bit, but when the first contact is made, the senses to fight and survive take over completely.  No one expects a knockout when two youngsters in the Spider Weight class start to exchange punches. 

 "Round three, helpers out the ring!" was the referees call and Kimber stormed forward.  He was briefed, as was I, that this was going to be the deciding round and we needed to give it our all.  As if I never do… I neatly sidestepped him and as he came past my right hand side, a loose swing caught him on the chin and he went down like a brick.  I was quickly sent to the further corner of the ring and the count started.  "Why is he not counting faster?" I thought and to my utter displeasure. Kimber mustered strength from somewhere and he got up on the count of nine and a bit. 

 The roles were now reversed and I was on the hunt to finish the job.  I chased him all over the canvas and worked him into the corner.  I rushed forward to deliver the coup de grâce.  Well, not really a blow of mercy, but I desperately wanted the fight to end. 

 I do not know how you experience a hard and unexpected blow, but the next moment I was on the canvas.  My mind was sluggish and it took me a fraction of a second to understand that I was down and not a happy cowboy.  I wanted to get up, but my body rejected me without notice.  I heard the count of five and thought that the guy should just slow down a bit; I needed recovery time, seconds yes, but not just another five.  I heard "nine" and then from somewhere I managed to get to my feet.  I was very wobbly on my feet and I understood exactly what Kimber felt a minute ago.  The fight was on and as Kimber started forward to end it all, the bell rang.  "Damn, saved again," I thought and went back to my corner.

 I can't remember if the crowd went crazy, but they sure enjoyed these two little fighters.  Soon the referee called us to the centre and he grabbed me by the right hand and Kimber by his left.  The ref knew who the winner was and I knew that he knew. He would make a faint movement on my arm as he increases the pressure slightly in order to not make the mistake of lifting the wrong hand as the winner.  That little gesture of increase in pressure never came and Kimber's hand was raised as the winner. 

 No, I was not devastated, but disappointed and needed some time to lick my wounds.  Everyone gave their condolences and it just irritated me, I needed me-time.

 It was now one fight each for Kimber and me.  Soon the third fight would be matched, but for now I had to mentally recover. 

 Growing up in Stellenbosch was fun. It was the time before TV, computers and internet.  To the youth of today, I believe this is something that cannot be imagined.  We kept ourselves busy with many outdoor activities and maybe a few indoors.  I boxed, played rugby, did gymnastics, played baseball, took piano lessons and was a keen fisherman (at least I pretended to be one, as I got ridiculously sea sick).  With my Chicado 50 air gun, I was an aspirant hunter of birds and on occasion very small animals.  With the mountains, grape farms and many open areas to discover, my formative and young developing years were full of adventure on a daily basis. 

 Besides all the above mentioned, I was also a good pinball player, guitar player, mouth organ and electronic organ player.  I collected spiders, different insects and reptiles and kept them in formalin in my room.  Uriah Heep was my favourite band followed by Jethro Tull.  Life was not very complicated, except when you had to write exams.  Schoolwork was for the academics and in Stellenbosch there were enough of those.  Touch rugby in the afternoon with the friends, followed by horse riding and swimming in the Stellenbosch University pool at Coertzenberg, was a normal day filled with activity. 

 I had my bicycle, which was everything to me. I had to move many kilometres per day to get to all the activities.  It was possible to ride in the streets without fear of being trampled, or so I thought till that fateful day.  I was on my way to a friend and was approaching a crossing without stop signs from any of the directions.  Yes, I knew the rules, I heard the Volkswagen and somehow I decided that chicken-run was the order of the day.  Okay, it was not as if I deliberately decided to play chicken, or that I had a death wish, life was good, but for some unknown reason I did not pay serious attention to the danger of which I was aware.  The vehicle was not in sight yet, but as soon as I reached the intersection, the Volkswagen was there approaching from the left.  I slammed on brakes, but it was too late.  The bike skid and the front brake cable broke, making the collision inevitable.  The world became slow motion.  I can still remember the driver's facial expression turning to disbelief and then to a sort of terror.  He braked and the Volla reduced speed rapidly, but again the impact was inevitable. 

 I hit the car on the right front mud guard. In those days a mud guard was made of solid, thick pressed plate steel, or something like that, and the impact confirmed the solidity of the Volkswagen.  The front wheel of the bike landed under the front wheel of the car and on the rear exit it was category 5.  It was a complete write-off.  I remember becoming airborne.  Strangely I felt absolutely no pain.  I felt as I hit the car and knew that some things were going to be slightly bent and coming back down to earth did quite a bit more visual outer damage than the internal, as I found out later that evening.  Hitting the tar was not nice.  As hitting the tar was not something new to me, I knew that quite a bit of skin would be missing.  Strange how the tar grazing my arms, hands, elbows and knees made me freak out a bit.  Not "freak" as in collapsing from fear, but "freak" as in cringing from disgust as it made me think of mincemeat produced from my flesh and bones.

 It was all over in a matter of a nanosecond and I slowly got up from the tar, observing my skinless body parts.   The Mercurochrome was going to sting…my mother always used it and the burn as it was applied was not for the faint hearted.  My body felt stiff, but still no pain. I then started to feel slightly faint as the driver asked about my condition.  I sat down next to the road and suddenly the pain started to make its unwelcome appearance.  The fact is that I did not stop at the crossing, but then neither did he.  Who was to blame was not an issue as the Volkswagen had a slight scratch, my bike was destroyed and it was clear that I would have to recover a bit before Saturday's rugby game.  I was playing for the G-team, but still, it was fun and as hooker, I always looked rather small amongst the big front rows. 

 Mom and dad both worked, so when they got home that evening, I was already lying in bed with my left wrist swollen like a balloon.  Something was seriously wrong there and that night I could not sleep from the pain.  The next morning I was taken to the hospital for x-rays of the arm and wrist, only to confirm that the wrist bone, some little one lying sideways, was cracked.  It was not broken, but apparently the healing of this bone would still be a 50/50 chance.  Later that day I was the proud owner of a massive plaster cast.  They were going to have a look every month, but the plaster cast would be on for a minimum of three months.  In that time I saw others with casts coming and going. The wait was punishing to say the least. No writing with the right hand, no guitar playing, no sport, no piano, no nothing.  I was forced to pick up my books and study a bit, read a bit, but mostly I just felt sorry for myself. 

 The school was very generous.  They allowed me 15 minute extra per subject, seeing that I had to write with my left hand.  I gave it a go, but a heavily injured fly could do better.  My results that quarter were not good.  Imagine the pleasure, and utter relief, when they removed the cast after three months and declared the bone healed.  Slowly, but surely, I got back into the business of being a busybody.  I trained hard, but took it easy when it came to punching with my wrist.  Push-ups took longer, but another 6 months later and I was back.

 Kimber was on my list.  There was a lot of discussion in the house as to whether or not I should continue boxing, but boxing was always done to please my dad.  I actually wanted to take Karate.  I was convinced that all the hitting on the head in the ring was not good for mathematical results, which my marks proved.  The point is, I liked Math and I had to choose.  To orchestrate a win-win situation I had to make a sacrifice.

 This was going to be my last fight.  I discussed it with my dad and he was not a happy man.  As an old Second World War sailor he had no time for babies.  I had to go out with a win and fate drew myself and Kimber for the third fight.  After this, one would be the champion.  He was already a National Spider weight champion and I a Western Province Spider Weight champion.  He boxed for the YMCA in Cape Town and I for the Matie's Club in Stellenbosch.

 The nine months out of the ring showed early in round one.  He was the well-rounded boxer by now and he had learned a new trick or two.  Being slightly taller, he would step far forward, pinning my left foot for a slit second and that was enough for me to lose my balance and fall to the canvas floor.  I was not hurt, just hopping mad at this cheap trick, but none the less, it was an effective trick.  I was losing my cool and soon I was storming in with a street fighters attitude.  Not good.  He waited for me and slowly but surely he added the points against me.  It was the longest three rounds of my life.  I kept standing and never ran away, but the toll was showing on my face.

 The last round had just started when Kimber again moved in quickly and overeagerly to clinch the match.  I nimbly moved out of the way to the left and swung low with the right. It hit him solidly on the abdomen.  For the second time I saw Kimber go down; ending up in a heap I desperately did not want to rise up from again.  Unfortunately, miracles those days were not easy to come by and again to my astonishment he rose from the floor.

 "Okay," I thought, "this time I can win, but I have to put him down." Time was running out.  I stormed in, now with newfound bravado and adrenalin pumping right into my fists.  I hit him hard and he staggered against the ropes.  Now was my chance to end it and as I stepped forward to finish it…the bell rang.  This was indeed my round, but sadly it was too little too late and Kimber walked away with the title of champion between the two of us.  I never fought again.  My dad probably never forgave me, but I forgave myself and then knew that the future now depended on my cognitive and coordinative skills.  Physically I was not going to make an impression.  Why did I never take up Karate?