Curing the knuckles had become something of a tradition after each fight. His gloves had to be removed carefully, or the pain would drive him furious if he had lost or would have ruined his moment if he had won. The Hammer was the nickname chosen by the fans to refer to him and he certainly had some thing reminiscent of that object. Not only was he overwhelmingly strong, he was also taller than most boxers and would always use that in his advantage, in very clever ways.
Carefully, some pure alcohol would be applied to his hands and to the rest of his body, wherever he could have scars. This was done after he showered himself thoroughly. It had been known to happen that he was so weak after a fight that someone went into the showers with him in order to help him stand and use the soap. That normally happened when he had lost and it wasn’t a nice thing to witness. He would always be furious those times and it wasn’t great to be near him.
The Hammer had started fighting very early in his life. He had been a bully back in school but, thankfully, his religious upbringing had helped him seek an exit from his ways through a sport and boxing had always been very popular in that neighborhood, one of those parts of town where every single person has their family working in some store or factory. Boxing saved The Hammer from becoming a butcher, a machine operator or even a cashier. His future was slightly brighter.
He started in fights celebrated behind closed doors. He was still underage so it wasn’t legal to make him fight but it was the only way to properly use his skills. He had such rage; such need to be fighting other men. It was fantastic to see him use his fists, one, two and then both almost at the same time. His legs were fast too, so he had it all to be the very best boxer ever, in the world. And he knew this, so his ego started to grow each day, like a weed. It just got into his head.
When he reached adulthood, everyone in the boxing circuit knew exactly who The Hammer was. His techniques and legendary way of finishing his fights was very well known and he had received acclaim from every single part of society: the poor, the rich, the workers, the owners, the old and the young, as well as from men and women. That was in part his undoing, or the moment he started going downhill. When he lost for the first time, the felt everything that had happened before was just forgotten by everyone else. He thought he was going to be ostracized.
However, that’s when he met Howard. He was a guy his age but not physically fit like him. He wasn’t fat or lanky but just not someone as big and powerful as The Hammer. He was shorter and had shown the way of words and books. Recently returning from his stay abroad, he had gone to the university and learned quite a few things around there. He was well known once he got back to the neighborhood because he had chosen to become a nurse instead of a proper doctor.
His parents were not pleased by his decision and it was clear everyone in that part of town had their opinion about Howard. But he simply did not care. He had lived there before and he knew people would respect that, even if they spoke behind his back. And they sure did: in the supermarket and on the street, pointing and giggling and laughing out loud. It was especially the youngest ones around, repeating their parents behavior, who shouted word to the man, with no response heard back.
Two days after he had returned to the city, his sister decided to take him to a boxing match. She wanted others to see how Howard was a real man, and such a sporting event would be the perfect way to make them realize all that was said about him was a lie. When they reached the venue, they sat very far from the ring but were able to see perfectly when The Hammer lost, again, against a huge blond man who seemed more like a refrigerator than like a real human male.
Each punch, each swift move, hurt Howard deep inside. He was certain that was not the kind of sport he liked to see and he didn’t want to see that ever again. And then more punches came and some stitches blew open. Blood was all over the place and The Hammer was soon announced as the loser. Howard was so affected by what he had seen, that he just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. However, his sister had to go to the bathroom and took especially long that day.
As he waited, he saw the refrigerator man passing by. He seemed more like a robot than anything else. And then came two guys, holding The Hammer and trying to take him to his dressing room. He was badly beaten and it was obvious that place didn’t have a proper infirmary. His need to help kicked in and Howard helped the men carry The Hammer and take him to a sofa in his room. There, they waited for the nurse they had brought but she seemed overwhelmed by the blood and she lacked most of what was necessary. Howard jumped in, not thinking.
The woman and the men helped him get what he needed to patch The Hammer up. His face was severely swollen, he couldn’t speak at all. Alcohol was rubbed all over, carefully not to burn the fighter. Howard himself took off the gloves and the shorts and the shoes. Everything had to come off in order to help properly. It took several hours, effort and supplies, bought from a nearby pharmacy by the boxer’s friends, but he was eventually saved from further damage.
Howard’s sister had left, so he decided to join The Hammer and his friends to his house. He still lived with his mother, near the melting plant. He was carried by the men and left in a mattress on the ground, which was apparently his bed. He slept on a room downstairs, by the kitchen. The men, thanking Howard, asked him if he wanted to have something to eat. His stomach ached, so he accepted. So they all left to buy some fried chicken and he was left alone with his patient.
He changed some of the patched done and tried to clean the man’s face with a moist cloth. He carefully washed every single centimeter, trying not to make him feel any pain. However, The Hammer woke up as Howard was cleaning his neck. He wasn’t anxious at all, or nervous. He moved his swollen lips and Howard realized he was thanking him for his help. Howard smiled and the boxer tried to do the same. If anyone had been there, they would have told the male nurse that Hammer never smiled.
They stared at each other and no sound was made. The Hammer wanted to say something else, to try and pretend he was feeling fine. But every single bone in his body felt like it was bruised. He could stand it but he didn’t really know what else to say. Out of nowhere, Howard resumed his task of cleaning the sportsman, finishing his neck and then moving on to his hand and forearms. He finally cleaned his feet, which made the boxer laugh and then yell some curse words because of the pain.
Howard tried not to but he couldn’t hold the laughter. He tried to apologize but he couldn’t. When The Hammers laughed to, apparently ignoring his own state, he realized there was nothing to fear about his reaction. Laughter was definitely needed.
When the laughter subsided and just moments before they could smell fried chicken, the boxer grabbed one of Howard’s hands and told him his name was Kevin. They both smiled. Afterwards, they all ate and new relationships began to blossom, slowly.